Mar 4, 2007

Holi, Bhang in Mumbai

Bhang is synonymous with the festival of Holi. Associated with Lord Shiva, it is an official Holi drink. Bhang is a derivative of the leaf and flower of a female cannabis plant. It is used for making beverages and sometimes is smoked.

This very intoxicating drink, bhang escalates the spirit of holi - Culled from the leaves and buds of cannabis - a festival which does not recognise any restrictions. Bhang was first used as an intoxicant in India around 1000BC and soon became an integral part of the Hindu culture.

Typically buds and leaves of cannabis are squashed and ground into a green paste. This is then added to milk, ghee (reduced butter), and spices to create a drink. The drink is accompanied with pakoras, barfi, jalebis, lassi, and kulfi.

Bhang made from un-pollinated female cannabis plant is especially more potent.

Cultivation of cannabis is illegal in many parts of the country, but bhang is widely available, and there is only a mild social stigma attached to it compared to smoking marijuana outright. While most conservative or more puritan-minded families in North India abstain, it is an accepted tradition for many Hindus to drink bhang on special occasions, such as during the Holi festival.

This festival occurs at the onset of spring. This period, during which the weather changes, is prone to cause viral fever and cold. Thus, the playful throwing of the coloured powders has a medicinal significance as the coloured powders are made of Neem, Kumkum, Haldi, Bilva, and other medicinal herbs prescribed by Ayurveda doctors. However, current Holi colors are chemical concoctions that are in fact toxic. There is a movement in Indian metros to make Holi safe again.

Here's what exists in current commercially available Holi colors.

Black contains Lead oxide and can cause Renal Failure.

Green contains Copper Sulphate and can cause Eye Allergy, Puffiness and Temporary blindness.

Silver contains Aluminium Bromide which is Carcinogenic.

Blue contains Prussian Blue which can lead to Contract Dermatitis.

Red contains Mercury Sulphide which is highly toxic and can cause skin cancer.

Holi helps to bring the society together and strengthen the secular fabric of our country. The festival is celebrated by Hindus and non-Hindus. The tradition of the Holi is that even the enemies turn friends on Holi and forget any feeling of hardship that may be present. Besides, on this day people do not differentiate between the rich and poor and everybody celebrate the festival together with a spirit of bonhomie and brotherhood.

In the evening people visit friends and relatives and exchange gifts, sweets and greetings. This helps in revitalising relationships and strengthening emotional bonds between people.