Shiva and Cannabis/Bhang


(In case the comment gets deleted,I’m archiving it here):


On the onset, let’s clarify something. While the scriptural texts mention cannabis, it’s unclear if the plant was known for its psychotropic effects, or for its utility for hemp fibres. The handful of times the plant is mentioned, from the context within the texts it’s unknown how the ancients saw and used the plant.

That said, the texts are fairly clear that any mind altering substance is frowned upon. This includes the traditionally available cannabis, opium, betel nut, or alcohol. Mainstream Hinduism encourages engagement with civil society and the inculcation of dharma as guiding principles. Intoxication of any kind is seen as “checking out” of your societal responsibility and is seen as a slippery slope.

There have been groups who see the mind altering features of drugs as a tool to a greater purpose. The caveat is that these practices are only among certain dashnami sanyaasis, people who have left civil society behind and their only responsibility is to their own personal growth. They see the consciousness altering drugs as a means to disrupt the hold of maya on their perception. The goal is not to sit around and get high all day. It’s a means to an end.

Unlike the popular opinion online, ganja and other intoxicants aren’t used by mainstream Shaivite sects. In my reading of shaivite agamas, I’ve never seen a use of intoxicants of any kind. Some temples offer alcohol to Bhairava, but this isn’t universal, or indeed meant for widespread consumption. In my reading its use is similar to the Vaishnavite offering of the alcoholic Varuni mead to Balarama. It’s offered, but not really consumed by devotees. Dhatura is offered to the Linga, but not consumed. If anything, it is treated as nirmalyam, not prasadam.

In another thread to your question somebody posted a link to a Quora answer about the sacred nature of the cannabis plant. That answer gets a lot of things wrong, and confuses a lot of things, so I’ll take the opportunity to clarify this point here.

In the shaunakiya recension of the atharva veda, the text referring to (“asvattha, darbha”, etc) isn’t in the verse mentioned, XI.8.15. It doesn’t mention any plants by name. It talks about the constitution and body parts of a man. The source probably means VIII.7.20, which does mention some plants by name: the asvattha, darbha, soma, rice, and barley as remedial. No cannabis. The verse they’re referring to is not XI.8.15, but XI.6.15. Book 6 is invoking the various spirits for relief. Each verse invokes and seeks blessings from each class of spirits and deities, such as the Gandharvas, the winds, etc. In verse 15, the various kinds of plants are invoked, and their lord, Soma. The five plants mentioned represent the five kingdoms/classes of plants and not particular plants. The five classes of plants invoked are darbha, cannabis, barley, and an unknown saha (commentators usually refer to it as a type of herb). Is there anything unusual or holy about these specific plants in this context? Not really, when you consider the preceding verses are invoking all manner of things; trees, birds, and the verse immediately after invokes the blessings of niggards and demons. The hymn is invoking the blessings of all plants, animals, minerals, demons, snakes, and gods. These plants are not mentioned to be especially pure or divine. By contrast, the list of plants mentioned in book 8 (ie, not cannabis) are singled out as restorative and helpful. It’s also worth noting here that from the context that cannabis is mentioned, its unclear if the ancients valued it as a psychotropic, or as the source of hemp fibres.

As for bhang and Shiva, I can find no scriptural basis for the popular story that Shiva creates the cannabis plant, only a bunch of hearsay and “folk” stories. As for consuming cannabis and listening to mantras, the Shiva mahapurana specifically prohibits anybody consuming intoxicating drinks (along with onions, garlic, and asafoetida, among others) from hearing the text. I can find no mention of cannabis or its various forms in the Shiva mahapurana. The closest explanation I can think of is the hataki river, produced from the bodies of Shiva and Parvati. The heat dries this to produce a kind of gold called hataka, which the inhabitants make into gold ornaments. There is also mention of an intoxicating drink (presumably from cannabis) called hataka, used to seduce and delude men. There is no mention of hataka the drink as anything to do with shiva. I suspect the two different uses of the word hataka got confused over time, to the point that Shiva’s body produces cannabis, instead of gold.

However,by the time of early modern India(Aurangzeb etc era),cannabis had been associated with shiva by various ascetic orders. An example can be found in the Suraj Prakash Granth.

What caused this change(almost complete abscence in earlier sources) to revered as a meditational aid used by Shiva Himself?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s