Bhang (Persian "bhanga") is a preparation from the leaves and flowers (buds) of the female cannabis plant, smoked or consumed as a beverage in the Indian subcontinent.

The traditional harvest and preparation of bhang occurs during the celebrations of Holi in March and Vaisakhi in April, hence associated with Lord Shiva. It has now become synonymous with Holi, to the point where consuming bhang at that time is a standard practice. The tradition of consuming bhang during Holi is particularly common in North India where Holi itself is celebrated with a fervor unseen elsewhere.

Bhang Ki Thandai (Hindi) is a drink popular in many parts of India which is made by mixing bhang with thandai, a cold beverage prepared with almonds, spices, milk and sugar. Consumption of Bhang and psychotropic substances has been forbidden by certain Hindu religious sects such as the Shikshapatri, and is also forbidden in Islam, though not in all sects.

Bhang was first used as part of the Hindu rite in India around 1000 BC and soon became an integral part of Hindu culture. In the ancient text Atharvaveda, bhang is described as a beneficial herb that "releases anxiety".

Many sadhus use Bhang to boost meditation and to achieve transcendental states. Bhang or cannabis is also known to be popular among Sufis as an aid to spiritual ecstasy.

Bhang is heavily consumed in Mathura, an ancient town of religious importance to the Hindus. Here, it is believed to have been introduced by the followers of Lord Krishna and has stayed here ever since. The Choubey community or the Chaturvedi's of Mathura have a long history of consuming Bhang on a daily basis. They begin the preparation by Sanskrit chants and recitation of prayers to the Hindu god, Shiva. Some people from Mathura have Bhang to work their appetite while others do it to relieve themselves of stress. But the hub of bhang is Varanasi or Banaras, the Land of Shiva, where bhang is prepared on its famous ghats.

Anywhere on the ghats, one can find large numbers of men engaged in the process of preparing bhang. Using mortar and a pestle, the buds and leaves of cannabis are ground into a green paste. To this mixture milk, ghee, and spices are added. The bhang base is now ready to be made into a heady drink, Thandai, an alternative to alcohol. Bhang is also mixed with ghee and sugar to make a green halva, and into peppery, chewy little balls called 'golees' (which in this context means candy or pill in Hindi).

Being so ancient, bhang has become so much an integral part of Indian tradition that it has become symbolic for many things. It is associated with Lord Shiva, as the hemp plant is regarded as holy by Hindus.

In some sections of rural India, people believe in the medicinal properties of the hemp plant. If taken in proper quantity, bhang is believed to cure fever, dysentery and sunstroke, to clear phlegm, quicken digestion, appetite, cure speech imperfections and lisping, give alertness to the body. Natives also claim that it produces a tingling sensation in the nape.

Some erotic drawings from the Mughal era of India depict a couple having sexual intercourse while smoking bhang to enhance intimacy. In Nepal, on the day of Hindu festival Maha Shivaratri, bhang is taken in different forms such as smoke, mixed with sweets and drink. Offering bhang to lord Shiva is a common practice during the festival.

Although drugs and alcohol are prohibited in Sikhism, the Nihang sect are traditionally very fond of bhang, which they call Sukkha Prasad i.e. "Peace-Giver". In Sanskrit the word "Sukhi" means happy and, "Prasad" is an offering to God which God tasted and decided to share with the mass. It was used as a pain killer before and after battle as many of the Nihangs returning would have major injuries.

Bhang Recipes

Flavoured Bhang drink

2 Cups of Water
1 Ounce Marijuana (fresh leaves and flowers of a female plant preferred)
4 Cups Warm Milk
2 Tablespoons blanched and chopped Almonds
1/8 Teaspoon Garam Masala (a mixture of cloves, cinnamon, and cardamon)
1/4 Teaspoon powdered Ginger
1/2 to 1 Teaspoon Rosewater
1 cup Sugar

Bring the water to a rapid boil and pour into a clean teapot. Remove any seeds or twigs from the marijuana, add it to the teapot and cover. Let this brew for about 7 minutes.
Now strain the water and marijuana through a piece of muslin cloth, collect the water and save.

Take the leaves and flowers and squeeze between your hands to extract any liquid that remains. Add this to the water.

Place the leaves and flowers in a mortar and add 2 teaspoons warm milk. Slowly but firmly grind the milk and leaves together. Gather up the marijuana and squeeze out as much milk as you can. Repeat this process until you have used about 1/2 cup of milk (about 4 to 5 times). Collect all the milk that has been extracted and place in a bowl. By this time the marijuana will have turned into a pulpy mass.

Add the chopped almonds and some more warm milk. Grind this in the mortar until a fine paste is formed. Squeeze this paste and collect the extract as before. Repeat a few more times until all that is left are some fibers and nut meal. Discard the residue.

Combine all the liquids that have been collected, including the water the marijuana was brewed in. Add to this the garam masala, dried ginger and rosewater. Add the sugar and remaining milk.

Serve chilled

Hot Buttered Bhang

Half a Cube (1/8 pound) of Butter or Ghee
1/3 - 1/2 oz. of Marijuana Leaves
8 ounces of Vodka
1-2 pinches Cardamom seed

In a pan, melt the butter or ghee. Break up the marijuana leaves into the pan. Once the butter and leaves are hot and sizzling, add in 8 ounces of vodka. Be careful that the hot butter doesn't make the mixture splatter. Pour the Vodka in swiftly to avoid problems. Continue boiling the mixture for roughly 30 more seconds, stirring simultaneously. Add a pinch or two or powdered cardamom seed while boiling.

Once mixture has been boiled to desired amount, strain the fluids and mash the contents through a strainer. You should use two spoons to try and squeeze all the juices out. Throw away the mush, or reboil to try and get more juices out. Pour the liquid into two 4 ounce wine glasses.

This Recipe serves two people. Add honey to taste and enjoy as a hot chocolate-esque Drink!

Note: Marijuana is illegal in many countries. Check the laws in your country before preparing any of these recipes.

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