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Cannabis : A heavenly gift with heavenly benefits
A land so diverse in its cultures, India is a melting pot for tales and traditions revolving around the world of the divine. The heroes and their morals so influential they are something everyone aspires to be. So impactful have these stories been that they’ve ingrained themselves into a part of everyday society, more than we realise. These practices and rituals regaled through these divine tales have now become integral to many customs and traditions in the modern world.
When it comes to rituals influenced by the world of ancient mythology there is one that often stands out for its exceptional journey, and that is the plant Cannabis. The green leafy shrub found in the chilly slopes of the Himalayas has its inception rooted in the tales of the great divine entity Shiva. The bond between Shiva and Cannabis runs so deep that the plant has become synonymous with the deity. Cannabis is consumed traditionally as a part of several rituals across cultures. Since time immemorial, it has been a part of several religious & spiritual activities.
A Cosmic Connection
The story of this ancient plant begins during the grand event called Samudra Manthan or churning of the oceans. According to one widely accepted legend, the gods were churning the cosmic oceans to obtain Amrit, the elixir of immortality. As a by-product of this churning, the poison Halahala was created. The poison was an extremely potent venom that was powerful, enough to wipe out all forms of creation. To prevent this destruction, Shiva stepped in and drank the liquid, ridding the world of its evil effects. Deep in agony, the poison turned his throat blue, earning him the title of Neelkanth. To soothe him a concoction of crushed Cannabis leaves was offered to Shiva. Relieved from the poison’s burning sensation with the Cannabis leaves, this tale is often remarked as the beginning of the long history between Shiva and Cannabis.
In the vein of this cosmic churning, a parallel legend exists, where the extensive mixing of the seas led to a few drops of the elixir falling on to the earth. It is said that that land where the drops fell was enriched by its magical powers, giving root to the Cannabis plant, adding on to the divine nature of this plant.
Having saved Shiva from Halahala, it is through this tale, Cannabis came to be known as a plant with healing properties. Having the ability to improve brain function and reduce inflammation, it was often used to cool and calm the body. Many festive rituals hence involve the consumption of Cannabis-based foods. One such practice is the consumption of bhaang or thandai, a sweet milk preparation of Cannabis, on festivals like Mahashivratri and Holi. Taking place during the onset of summer, they are offered as coolants for the people celebrating under the scorching heat of the sun.
The Companion in a Crisis
From the list of varying legends, another popular tale is picked out from the daily domestic life of the two gods Shiva and Parvati. Miffed after an argument between the two, Shiva left his dwelling, seeking shelter near a small land of bushy trees. Exhausted from the tirade, he promptly fell asleep in the surrounding foliage. Awoken from his nap with hunger and anxiety, the Cannabis plant was the one who came to the god’s rescue this time again. Chewing on a few leaves left him feeling rejuvenated and refreshed, improving the sour mood from his past altercations. It is often believed that this event made Cannabis one of the most precious plants in Shiva’s life.
The God of Cannabis
Through the course of these folktales, Bhaang or Cannabis has now become traditionally associated with Shiva, which is why he is often dubbed as the ‘God of Bhaang’. But with this title also comes a common misconception that worshipping Shiva is associated with the recreational consumption of Cannabis. A myth propagated by popular culture. The reality is Shiva himself sought Cannabis as a healer and helper due to its vast medicinal benefits and, hence the plant must be perceived as such too.
While its origins lie in ancient folklore, the benefits of Cannabis have been vastly documented in many Vedic scriptures. In the Atharva Veda, Cannabis is referred to as one of the five herbs which can help create Soma, an elixir for immortality and good health. A rich source of happiness, liberation, and compassion Cannabis has been used in many potions that help relieve anxiety and worry. It has been used as a treatment for a variety of medical conditions, from epilepsy to depression, fever and even as an anaesthetic. Due to its versatile properties, there are many names assigned to the plant, such as Vijaya, Ajaya, Siddha, Madini and Mohini.
Apart from being a healer, Cannabis seeds have several nourishing properties making them a very dense source of nutrients. There are many references to it being called “the food of the gods”. It has been called Indrasana, the food of Indra and Shivabooti, Shiva’s herb.
With an array of life-changing benefits and prestigious names, Cannabis has surpassed the barrier of lores and tales, and cemented itself as a vital part of traditional Indian practices and rituals. The lengthy mentions in Ayurveda further strengthen its abilities to be a truly divine plant. When combined with the marvels of modern medicine, the possibilities to reap the benefits of this ancient herb are endless. With a great power to heal and help the woes of the divine gods, there is no limit to how Cannabis can benefit mankind when completely embraced for its true potential.
Written by Shamooda Amrelia, Doorbeen Creatives