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Bhang (Hindi: भांग) is an edible preparation of cannabis originating from the Indian subcontinent. It has been used in food and drink as early as 1000 BCE in ancient India. Bhang is traditionally distributed during the spring festival of Holi. Bhang is mainly used in Bhang shops, which sell the cannabis-infused Indian drinks bhang lassi and bhang thandai.
In 1596, Dutchman Jan Huyghen van Linschoten wrote three pages on “Bangue” in a work documenting his journeys in the East, also mentioning the Egyptian Hashish, Turkish Boza, Turkish Bernavi, and Arabic Bursj forms of consumption. The historian Richard Davenport-Hines lists Thomas Bowrey as the first Westerner to document the use of bhang.
Using mortar and pestle, the buds and leaves of cannabis are ground into a paste which can be added to foods. For a beverage it is mixed with milk and filtered, then often flavored with kusha grass, sugar, fruit, and various spices. During festivals it is most used by krishna devotees in mathura it can be found in bhang thandai and bhang lassi. Bhang is also mixed with ghee and sugar to make a purple halva, and into peppery, chewy little balls called goli (which means “tablet” as well as “pill” in Hindi). Another form is bhanga chutney, a Pahari cuisine from Uttarakhand.
Bhang is part of the ancient Hindu tradition and custom in the Indian subcontinent. In some parts of rural India, people attribute various medicinal properties to the cannabis plant. If taken in proper quantity, bhang is believed to cure fever, dysentery, sunstroke, to clear phlegm, aid in digestion, appetite, cure speech imperfections and lisping, and give alertness to the body.
Bhang lassi is a preparation of powdered green inflorescence with curd and whey put in a village blender (a hand blending operation is carried out till the butter rises). It is regarded as tasty and refreshing. It is legal in many parts of India and mainly sold during Holi, when pakoras containing bhang are also sometimes eaten. Uttar Pradesh has licensed bhang shops, and in many places in India one can buy bhang products and drink bhang lassis.
The tradition of consuming bhang lassi during Holi is particularly common in North India where Holi itself is celebrated with a fervor unseen elsewhere. Bhang is heavily consumed in Mathura, an ancient town of religious importance to the Hindus. Here the practice is believed to have been introduced by the followers of Krishna and has stayed ever since. They begin the preparation by Sanskrit chants and recitation of prayers. In Mathura, some people take bhang to work up their appetite while others do it to de-stress. But the hub of bhang use is Varanasi where the bhang is prepared on its famous ghats.
Bhang is also available as bhang goli which is just freshly ground cannabis with water. Apart from this, sweetened bhang golis are also widely available; these are not considered a drug, but a traditional sleeping aid and appetizer. Bhang goli has metabolizing effects after approximately two hours, sending a user into a dreamlike meditational state. Bhang is also part of many Ayurvedic medicinal preparations. Bhang powder is available legally at ayurvedic dispensaries.
The 1961 “single convention on narcotic drugs” was the first ever international treaty to have included cannabis (or marijuana) with other hard drugs and imposed a blanket ban on their production and supply except for medicinal and research purposes. 
As Bhang has served such an important role in India’s culture and spiritual practices it would be impossible to criminalise cannabis completely in the country. Important festivals such as Holi have traditionally seen people consume Bhang during various local festivities. Cultivation of cannabis is government regulated.
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- Holi Festival Tradition of Bhang
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