Bhang (ਭੰਗ, بھنگ, /pə̀ŋg/, ভাং, /bɦaŋ/) is the leaf and flower of a female Cannabis sativa plant, as consumed in the Indian subcontinent. It is more commonly consumed as a beverage, but is sometimes smoked.
Associated with Lord Shiva, bhang has now become synonymous with Holi, to the extent that consuming the bhang drink at that time is a norm.
Culled from the leaves and buds of cannabis—the very intoxicating bhang helps to escalate the spirit of Holi—a festival which does not recognise any restrictions. Thandai, pakoras and vadas, all having bhang as a very essential ingredient, are savoured by all on the day.
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 and then taking bhang is a tradition during the festival.
The tradition of consuming bhang during Holi is particularly common in North India where Holi itself is celebrated with a gusto unseen elsewhere. 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 number 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 tasty green halva, and into peppery, chewy little balls called 'golees'.
In imitation of Shiva, many sadhus use Bhang to boost meditation and achieve transcendental states. Bhang or cannabis is also believed to be popular amongst Sufis as an aid to spiritual ecstasy.
It is associated with Lord Shiva, as the hemp plant is regarded as holy by the Hindus of North India. There is even a belief that to meet someone carrying bhang is an omen of success. And, if longing for hemp plant foretells happiness, to see it in dreams ensures prosperity for a person in future. Also, walking on a holy bhang leaf is believed to spell doom.
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. Native informants also claim that it produces a tingling sensation in the nape.