The Holi celebration may vary based on the regions and communities in India, but serving bhang is a part of the festivity in several Indian homes. This intoxicant takes several forms from golis or simple pills made by mixing water to the leaves to sweet bhang lass is prepared by grinding cannabis and adding heavy milk to it with sugar, almonds and other flavors.
People also stuff it into Indian sweets made with condensed milk and nuts and decorated with gold and silver edible foil. Bhang gives a high or mild buzz when consumed in diluted form, but consuming larger amounts is like smoking weed. A bhang shop owner in Hyderabad, India, Bando singh Hazaari claims that the stuff can put one to sleep for almost three consecutive days.
Bhang is supposed to be associated with the popular deity Lord Shiva in Hinduism. Few passages in ancient scriptures of Hinduism explain a plant with religious properties that Shiva found and fetched down from the heavens so that humans could consume it. Shiva is usually portrayed with a smoking pipe or chillum.
A Hinduism expert from the University of Florida, Travis Smith says that cannabis is a substance of the faith’s sadhu or yogi (ascetic) custom and a part of the toolbox of the yogi. In holy places of Hindus like Varanasi, which is situated on the banks of Ganges River, several ascetics smoke cannabis from chillums.
The psychoactive properties of this drug make individuals sensitive to their body energies and help in meditation, he explained. Further, he told that bhang is not specifically addictive or dangerous and that consuming it during Holi is like the custom of sipping eggnog during Christmas.
He stated, “It is still considered a vice, but because of this sacred association with Shiva, it is respectable.” However, all Hindus don’t share a similar view. There are many people who don’t approve this custom and consider it as a kind of drug usage.
Hazaari, the bhang seller, says that the intoxicant has to be enjoyed carefully and shared generously. During Holi every year, he distributes many plates of free desserts laced with bhang at a temple nearby. He said, “Each color on Holi has a meaning: red means happiness, white means peace. And this bhang is God’s prasad—a holy blessing.”