Bhang is an edible mixture made from the buds, leaves, and flowers of the female cannabis, or marijuana, plant.
In India, it’s been added to food and drinks for thousands of years and is a feature of Hindu religious practices, rituals, and festivals — including the popular spring festival of Holi.
Bhang is also promoted as a remedy to various medical issues such as nausea, vomiting, and physical pain.
One common way to consume bhang is blended with curd and whey — the solid and liquid parts of milk that separate when milk is coagulated — to make a beverage called bhang lassi.
Another popular option is bhang goli, a drink consisting of freshly ground cannabis mixed with water.
Bhang can also be combined with sugar and ghee — a clarified butter commonly used in India — and used to make sweets.
The earliest allusion to bhang's mind-altering influence is contained in the fourth book of the Vedas, the Atharvaveda ("Science of Charms").
Written some time between 2000 and 1400 B.c., the Atharvaveda calls bhang one of the "five kingdoms of herbs which release us from anxiety."
But it is not until much later in India's history that bhang became a part of everyday life.
By the tenth century A.D., for example, it was just beginning to be extolled as indracanna, the "food of the gods."
A fifteenth-century document refers to it as "light-hearted," "joyful," and "rejoices," and claims that among its virtues are "astringency," "heat," "speechgiving," "inspiration of mental powers," and "excitability".
Yet it was not as a medicinal aid or as a social lubricant that bhang was present amongst the people of India.
Rather, it was and still is because of its association with the religious life of the country that bhang is so extolled and glorified. The stupefaction produced by the plant's resin is greatly valued by the holy men of India, because they believe that communication with their deities is greatly facilitated during intoxication with bhang.
(According to one legend, the Buddha subsisted on a daily ration of one cannabis seed, and nothing else, during his six years of asceticism. Taken in early morning, the drug is believed to cleanse the body of sin. Like the communion of Christianity, the devotee who partakes of bhang partakes of the god Shiva.
Legend of Bhang
"A story is told of a guru named Gobind Singh, the founder of the Sikh religion, which alludes to bhang's usage in battle.
During a critical skirmish in which he was leading his troops, Gobind Singh's soldiers were suddenly thrown into a panic at the sight of an elephant bearing down on them with a sword in its trunk. As the beast slashed its way through Gobind Singh's lines, his men appeared on the verge of break-ing rank. Something had to be done to prevent a disastrous rout. A volunteer was needed, a man willing to risk certain death to accomplish the impossible task of slaying the elephant. There was no shortage of men to step forward. Gobind Singh did not take time to pick and choose. To the man closest to him he gave some bhang and a little opium, and then watched as the man went out to kill the elephant.
Fortified by the drug, the loyal soldier rushed headlong into the thick of battle and charged the swordwielding elephant. Deftly evading the slashing blows that could easily have severed his body in two, he managed to slip under the elephant and with all his strength he plunged his own weapon into the unprotected belly of the beast. When Gobind Singh's men saw the elephant lying dead in the field, they rallied and soon overpowered the enemy. From that time forth, the Sikhs commemorated the anniversary of that great battle by drinking bhang."