Bhang : Entheogenic Use of Cannabis in India

Bhang, the Holy Drink of Lord Shiva, is LEGALLY sold in India and its use is not restricted to the Sages and Holy Men (Sadhus) who have renounced the material world to maintain singular focus on Shiva, for everything is Shiva in the eyes of an initiated Shaivite. All bhakti (devotion) finally leads the bhakt (devotee) towards the realization of absolute oneness with the deity, whoever the deity might be. The use of Cannabis in the form of Bhang is deeply rooted in the Indian culture and has references in the Vedas as well. The Atharva Veda, estimated to have been written sometime around 2000 – 1400 BC, mentions Cannabis to be one of the five sacred plants and the guardian angel resides in its leaves.

In certain Vedic rituals, Cannabis stems were thrown into the ritual fire (yagna) to overcome enemies and evil forces. The Vedas also refer to it as a source of happiness, joy giver and liberator. One version says that, when the devas (gods) and demons churned the ocean, nectar (amrit) as well as poison (vish) emerged. No one wanted the poison, so Shiva drank it all up, which earned him the title 'Neelkanth, the Blue Throated One'. As per one version, the poison remained in his throat as Parvati held his neck tight, not allowing the posion to go any further into his body. When a drop of Amrit fell on the ground, the Cannabis plant sprouted from it. This plant is believed to bestow supernatural powers to its user.

In Tibet, this plant has been traditionally considered sacred. According to one Mahayana Buddhist tradition, the Buddha, in his last six years of ascetism before enlightenment, subsisted on one Cannabis seed a day.

In Tantric Buddhism this plant is consumed to heighten ones awareness during certain rituals. A gift from the gods, according to Indian mythology, the magical Cannabis "lowered fevers, fostered sleep, relieved dysentery, and cured other illnesses. It also stimulated appetite, prolonged life, quickened the mind, and improved judgement."

British psychiatrist G. Morris Carstairs spent 1951 in a large village in northern India and reported on the two highest castes, Rajput and Brahmin, and their traditional intoxicants of choice - alcohol and cannabis, respectively. The Rajputs were the warriors and governors; they consumed a potent distilled alcohol called 'daru'. The Brahmins were the religious leaders; they were vegetarian and drank bhang. Rajput lore, glorified sexual and military conquests. The priestly Brahmins, on the other hand, "were quite unanimous in reviling daru and all those who indulged in it. Bhang, a Brahmin told Carstairs, "gives good bhakti." He defined bhakti as "emptying the mind of all worldly distractions and thinking only of God." Whereas the Rajput in his drinking bout knows that he is taking a holiday from his sober concerns, the Brahmin thinks of his intoxication with bhang as a flight not from but toward a more profound contact with reality."

Cannabis has been used as an aphrodisiac for thousands of years, yet ironically it has also been used to decrease sexual desire. Yogis have mastery over their senses, hence they can make the creative life force (shakti) travel upwards towards the Crown Chakra, through the Ajna, instead of being released outward in a sexual act. This knowledge behind the sacramental use of Cannabis is gradually spreading among thousands and millions of Cannabis users worldwide who have begun to see beyond the recreational use of Cannabis and recognizing its true worth as medicine and as an Entheogen, awakening our inner divinity, enabling us to realize how deeply we are intertwined with all existence.

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