Shivji and Bhang

Before we start, I must inform the readers that this post does not support or praise the use of bhang or any chemical intoxicant in any way. I have never taken bhang or any chemical intoxicant in my life and if I don’t change much, I don’t see myself start taking them now or in the tomorrows to come.

The cab drivers who takes us to and from our work place, a hundred and twenty kilometere in total, every day, has a permanent and incurable habit of playing his favourite songs on a near full volume nearly every minute of our over three hours long journey. He plays bhajans and devotional songs in the morning and other songs in the evening. His pen drive has two songs on Shivji and in both of them Mahadev is shown requesting his wife Parvati to give him his lota of Bhang as the effect of the previous dose is waning.



The songs portray it as a scene of the everyday family life: badinage between a husband and his wife. Parvati is fed up of her husband’s fondness for bhang and preparing the potion every day takes a lot of labour. She’s not ready to add it to the long list of chores and threatens her husband that she’d go to her father’s house, for ever, if he does not stop pestering her for bhang all the time.

Neelkanth is a yogi, that too, the lord of the yogis and the only god in the Hindu pantheon that lives in the open air on Mount Kailash and in his beloved Kasi. He is a god of gentle folks and of not-so-gentle folks too. Brahma and Vishnu are portrayed as typical gentlemen in their depictions and in many of their stories but Shivji is different. His wedding procession had Indra alongside his intoxicated ganas. Dr. Singh had sent me a photograph of Shivji‘s wedding procession that is enacted in his Kasi every year by his worshipers dressed in imitation of the ganas and gods who were parts of the original procession.


(Photo: Dr. A. P. Singh)

One look at the ganas will make the contrast of their lord with the other gods very clear. He is like no one else, and his tastes too are like no one else’s. He drinks poison and holds it in his throat. The poison turns his throat blue, thus he gets one of his many names. He smears ash on his body: a practical thing to do in the sub-zero temperatures of the Himalayas, and many yogis follow their lord’s example even today, especially the Nagas. He drinks bhang on a regular basis. So do many of his followers, in Kasi and abroad (i.e. out of Kasi).

The first time I heard the name of bhang was when I was a child. My father was recounting how he had taken it and then eaten sweets. The sweets-after-bhang theme repeats itself in many stories of the first time users. The same had happened with my friend Rajeev. After he hadn’t felt any kind of change on taking bhang, his level of confidence increased, and he took some sweets. When he became his old self again, he had strong suspicion that something wasn’t quite right. His family members and neighbours told him in episodic installments what he had done after taking bhang.

Those who take bhang after having taken it once don’t remain first time users, those who keep taking it are called contiual users, and those who can’t live without their daily quota are called habitual users. Kasi has a large number of habitual users who are never called addicts, as in addicts of heroine, opium or country liquor. Bhang has a special status in Kasi, probably because of its association with Kashinath (the lord of Kasi). I know a gentleman who is a habitual user of bhang, he is around seventy. I have seen him taking the goli several times in his sightings at Bhadaini area. I know another gentleman whom I suspect of being another habitual user, but I have never seen him taking the ubiquitous pill.

Why do I focus on those two? Because they are regular and old family acquaintances and because I am going to prove something using them as an example. There are people, neighbours and old acquaintances, in my muhalla in Kasi, notorious as drug or alcohol addicts, I repeat, addicts and not plain users. There are times of day when people avoid them as it is commonly known that these people will be found intoxicated. The same goes for bhang users, yet others face a kind of social censure that the bhang users do not, at least in Kasi. So, they are not called addicts. In fact, with this pass port of theirs, they claim their place amongst the ganas of their lord Shivji.

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