Bhang (the other “bong” in cannabis culture) dates back centuries to ancient India. The edible cannabis concoction, similar to a smoothie, is often included in traditional Hindu festivals for holidays like Holi, Shivaratri, and Janmashtami.
In the Hindu tradition, cannabis — also called “ganja,” which is related to the Sanskrit word “ganjika” — is sacralized in connection to the deity Shiva. Lord Shiva is the god of destruction, transformation, yoga, and mind altering substances. He carries a strong association with cannabis in the form of the ganja flowers, charas, which is a type of hashish, and bhang. In fact bhang is considered to be “sisters” with the goddess and holy water source the Mother Ganges, a river in Northern India.
In Hindu mythology, Shiva often wandered away from his home for days, leaving his wife, the goddess Parvati, alone. To lure him back to the house and family, she would make a very powerful bhang concoction.
Among Shiva devotees especially, cannabis is thought to help consumers enter a Shiva state of consciousness, a yogic awareness to transcend ego and body. Cannabis is hence used as a sacrament, always preceded by a chant or prayer like “Jai Shiva Shankara Hare Hare Ganja” (“Shiva the joy giver, grand us infinity from the ganja”).
Bhang and other forms of cannabis are also a part of ayurveda, an ancient Hindu medicinal tradition that aims to balance the body through diet, yoga, and herbs. According to ayurveda, cannabis is “sharp, heating, and light,” that can be medicinal when used correctly, but detrimental when abused. Traditionally, it’s been given to patients to treat conditions like malaria and rheumatism. Ancient Indian warriors often drank bhang to ease their nerves, while newlyweds used it as an aphrodisiac to increase their libidos.
Today in India, vendors can sell bhang so long as they have a license issued from the government. Cannabis is otherwise highly illegal in the country and possession of it (despite tales of hazy, drug fun in Goa) can land you in serious legal trouble. However, in northern India especially, bhang is sold in a solid form, in lassis (a kind of smoothie), and in other kinds of beverages during religious festivals.
To make your own bhang, you’ll need two cups of water; a half ounce of cannabis leaves and flowers; three cups of warm milk; a quarter teaspoon each of garam masala, ground ginger, and fennel; a half teaspoon each of ground anise, ground cardamom, rosewater, and honey or sugar; and rose petals, almonds, pistachios, and mint leaves as garnish.
First boil the water, before adding the cannabis and letting it steep for between five and ten minutes. Then strain it out with a muslin cloth, keeping the cannabis and the water separate. Next, add warm milk to the cannabis and grind it together in a mortar and pestle, before then squeezing out the milk. Then save the milk. Next add the nuts, mint leaves, rose petals, other flavorful ingredients, and more milk to the mortar. Grind it to together until it’s pasty, and then combine all the liquids together and add the spices (ginger, fennel, rosewater, etc.) and whatever milk is left. Mix it all together, then chill it, and drink when it’s cold.