Cannabis, Indica's Gift to the World
Dum maaro dum
Cannabis indica, the euphonious Latin name for Spanish marijuana, is a pointer to the weed's hoary history in India.
Called the 'food of the Gods' by Vedic immigrants, it is braided into people's lives. Holi and Shivratri would be mirthless without bhang pakoras and thandai. Shiva himself was partial to bhang – it was not 'rang mein bhang' for Shiva, but its flip side, bhang mein rang.
So the news that Thailand becomes the first Asian country to legalise cannabis, native to south Asia, won't cause such a frisson on the banks of the Ganges, where chillums have long been puffed with pleasure.
In the Atharva Veda cannabis is listed as one of five sacred plants along with tulsi, sandalwood, jasmine and neem. Puranic legend has it that Shiva slept under the cannabis plant, and on eating its leaves in the morning felt very energised.
Another charming story narrates the tussle between Asuras and Devas to extract the divine nectar for immortality. Shiva drank the poison Halahala that emerged after the churning of the seas. His throat turned blue, and Shiva became Neel Kanth, adding yet another name to his awesome collection of titles.
Mahadev was a 'cool dude' way before Millennials appropriated the term. No 'Superman' can top this 'Super God' with a Third Eye. And one with a 'boho' appearance and the ability to roll a 'spliff'!
Soon the happy weed spread far and wide. The Nizari Isma'ili of 11th century Persia would smoke hashish before killing the Christian invaders of the Crusades. They were called the Hashishiin from whence the word assassin. Elsewhere Sufis, African cults and Jamaican Rastafari smoked cannabis as an article of faith to create a mystic vision.
The sixties were the golden era of the Hippies, those counter-culturists who made it cool to smoke pot and delve into Oriental mysticism. US college dropouts made Haight-Ashbury, a San Francisco neighbourhood, and Greenwich Village in Manhattan their own Meccas for hanging out.
The first Woodstock Festival over four days in August 1969 in a local farmer's field in upstate New York saw half a million hippies gather to listen to Joan Baez, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and many other iconic singers perform in a haze of hashish. Our own sitar maestro Ravi Shankar too mesmerised the listeners with his magical playing.
It was the British rock band The Beatles in the sixties that attracted more proselytes to this lifestyle. Introduced to the drug by Nobel legend Bob Dylan, they visited Rishikesh in 1968 with an entourage of high-profile friends that included the actress Mia Farrow. To practise transcendental meditation under Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and soak in the peace was their express intent. George Harrison even learnt to play rudimentary sitar under Ravi Shankar for a while.
Unfortunately there was trouble in paradise, with allegations of sexual assault made against the Maharishi. The Beatles left variously much earlier than the three months decided upon. This phase was their most creative and includes the classic White Album carrying eighteen of their compositions. It openly castigates the Maharishi in a song called 'Sexy Sadie' that tarnished his image as a global guru.
Bollywood also tuned into the happy theme in the movie Hare Rama Hare Krishna, made in 1971. Zeenat Aman gyrating to the tune of 'Dum maaro dum' in a smoke filled pub still attracts likes on social media.
These days Uruguay, Canada, the Netherlands, South Africa and Spain are the leaders in making grass legal medically and also for recreation with some restrictions. Many other countries are going the same way.
Celebs like Justin Bieber are endorsing weed in business ventures with legit companies. Bieber is truly in a joint venture, with a company in California to market pre-rolled premium joints named after a song of his – 'Peaches' – while many others including the Dalai Lama are endorsing the use of medicinal weed.
You should try a puff in Goa!
Just a thought, maybe our Sadhus with their dreadlocks and ash smeared bodies and chillums could make an exotic brand endorsing the weed with the name – you guessed it – Nirvana! And the tagline 'Dum maaro dum'?