Did you know that Maha Shivaratri (“The Night of Shiva”) is one of the holiest festivals in Hinduism? Held just before the start of the lunar new year, the festival commemorates the day Shiva saved the universe from darkness and married the goddess Parvati, thus marking new spiritual beginnings. According to sacred texts of Hinduism, cannabis is regarded as one of the five most sacred plants and festival attendees smoke it to pay homage to Lord Shiva. In this article, we’ll explore how cannabis came to play an important role in Hinduism.
Cannabis in Hindusim
In one version of ancient Hindu tales, the elixir called ‘Amrita’ from Shiva’s churning of the great ocean (Samudra Manthan) dripped onto the earth which allowed cannabis plants sprouted. However, along with Amrita, the deadliest poison in the cosmos was also produced. In order to protect everyone from the poison, Lord Shiva decided to drink it and consumed cannabis (“bhang”) to to soothe the burning in his throat. The plant became to be known as a sacred grass.
In another tale, Lord Shiva left home after he had an argument with Parvati and wandered off into the garden. Exhausted, he fell asleep under a cannabis plant. Upon waking, he felt hungry so he ate some of the leaves of that plant and immediately felt a sense of renewed energy. Perhaps this is the reason why drinks like “bhang lassi” became so popular among tourists.
Bhang also plays an important role in Hindu celebrations, particularly Maha Shivrati or “the Night of Shiva.” The festival commemorates the night when Shiva performs the “heavenly dance of creation, preservation and destruction.” It’s also believed that this is the night when Shiva and Parvati, the goddess of power, energy and harmony, got married.
At the festival, held once a year at the end of winter (February-March), thousands of swamis and pilgrims can be seen gathering together to smoke cannabis as an offering to the god Shiva they worship.
In India, marijuana is legally available in some states and allowed to be used and consumed in religious ceremonies. In addition to cannabis smoking, the festival is also known for its fire dance, acrobatics and traditional music performances.
In Thailand, the festival was held in Chiang Mai and Khon Kaen in March 2022 under the name of “Maha Shivaratri: 65 Dharma of Life” focusing on marijuana as a sacred grass and the art of living. Though not as big as the one in India, the event brought together people of different religions to find a way to peacefully coexist. And while there were no cannabis smoking swamis, attendees enjoyed academic discussions on the benefits of cannabis.
There’s no denying that religions influence our lives in myriad ways. Some Buddhists offer alms to monks in the morning or pray before going to bed. Hindus worship Lord Shiva because they believe that the cannabis plant was his favourite food.
At an Indian wedding ceremony or “Varmala,” the fathers of the bride and groom are required to bring a cannabis leaf to the ceremony and hang it over their heads to protect the newlyweds from evil spirits. Both bride and groom must also exchange garlands made from cannabis leaves to show mutual acceptance.
Cannabis extracts are also used to detoxify the body and treat a variety of illnesses including flatulence, smallpox, and gonorrhea. Some use the plant as health supplements while others choose to smoke it to stimulate appetite, improve memory, and to relax. Indian soldiers are known to use it since the late 19th century.
Marijuana is also used as part of the meditation method called Bhakti Yoga. Typically practised by Hindus to improve their focus and demonstrate their devotion to Lord Shiva, it’s also becoming popular in countries where marijuana is legal such as the United States and Canada.