India celebrates Holi uninhibited. The festival encourages people to let go of the everyday humdrum, baggage and worries, challenging the popular perception of bhang (cannabis) as a drug. It is consumed as prasad instead.
Courtesy the cultural revolution that started decades ago, modern India celebrates Holi in an all-encompassing beatific way that brings together the old and the new. As people dress down for the occasion and take the opportunity to break away from social niceties, bhang not only sets the mood but also takes centre stage in the whole experience.
Songs are sung in its praise as cannabis leaves are ground to a fine paste. Mixed with sweets and drinks or rolled into peppery balls called goli, they are passed on to the virtually unrecognisable faces of men and women.
A glass of bhang Thandai goes hand in hand with the colour-smearing and the upbeat music playing in the background–all of it making the festival a rather jubilant affair.
Religious use of cannabis
Believed to have been brought down from the ‘heavens’ by lord Shiva himself ‘to rid the human race of their tunnel visions’, bhang (made from cannabis leaves) is the chosen mood enhancer and integral to Holi. The Vedas–Atharva Veda in particular–extol bhang in great detail, calling it the ‘joy-giver’, ‘liberator’ and one of the five sacred plants. The religious use of cannabis as bhang has its roots in the legend of Samudra Manthan. It is said that bhang was one of the things to have come out of the water as the gods churned the ocean in search of nectar. Another version says that lord Shiva brought it down from the heavens for the pleasure of mankind.
Holi may have traditionally belonged to the northern parts of India but, over time, it has spread across the country.