June  6th, 1999
Akhilesh Mithal

Reverse Cultural Gears and Return to Bhaang!


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Paradigm" can mean any one of many things: model, pattern, criterion, example, ideal, standard, archetype, prototype, or principle. Perhaps it would be fair to say that the use we make of it today will approximate its meaning to a frame of reference or context in which thinking ratiocination or analysis leading to understanding occurs. An example of paradigm shift or paradigm change may help in establishing common ground.

A paradigm change example can be furnished from the history of European Astronomy. The ancient astronomer, Ptolemy placed the Earth, Vasundhara, or Prithvi, or Meydinee at the very centre of the Universe. This became not only "fact" but sacred belief canonised and made immutable by the Roman Catholic Church. When science dawned to relieve the gloom of the long and dark age of ignorance in Europe Galileo challenged this belief and suffered great persecution from the Church authorities aided by the state.

Ultimately and with great difficulty, Copernicus changed the concept or notion and fixed the Sun [Surya] as the centre of the solar system in place of the Earth. He thus effected a "paradigm change" or "paradigm shift."

Thus "paradigm" can be seen as mental map which acts as an aid or reference point to help interpret the world around and to place in it any new ideas or data received.

What we have to now consider is the idea that the period of Indian enslavement, the one we call "British Rule" and which they, the British, and those Indians who unthinkingly echo and ape them, call the "Raj" brought about a paradigm change or shift in the Indian psyche. The hitherto self-confident Indians learnt self-contempt and started seeing faults in everything they had held in veneration and high regard when they were self-reliant and independent.

Perhaps and at the cost of being misunderstood and accused of making light of a serious enough subject, we can make a beginning with talking about how attitudes have changed in the matter of intoxicants. The basic attitude towards intoxicants (after the establishment of western domination of the world), is quite different to what it was in earlier times. In ancient India for example, intoxicants did not raise the moral hackles of people.

The great God, Shiva, Mahadeva, used intoxicants himself. There are numerous paintings showing the Lord and the whole Holy Family [Parvati, Ganesha and Kartikeya] busy in preparing bhaang, the commonest and cheapest intoxicant. The Lord has, additionally, a weakness for the poisonous dhatoura plant. He wears the flower in his matted locks as decoration and mixes the juice in his potion of bhaang to get an extra "kick". All the Gods, major and minor, took suraa or wine. They were called suraas while those who were denied it were called asuraas.

The most common intoxicant or agent for inducing a "high" cannabis indica/bhaang is also called pattee or leaves. The intoxicating potion is made by grinding the leaves of cannabis indica a plant that grows wild in many parts of India both in the hills as well as the plains, straining it through a fine gauze or muslin and adding to it a mixture of ingredients prepared to accord to the taste, status and wealth of the imbiber. Juice of the fruit of the season, almond or pistachio paste, rosewater, keywdaa water, and khus water are the more popular of the ingredients that can go into making the drink. The rich may add pearls and musk and saffron.

This is the most abundant, freely available and the cheapest intoxicant in the world. In olden days, it was common for travellers and wayfarers in the state of Uttar Pradesh to carry a grinding stone with them in the same way as those who drink alcoholic liquors carry hip flasks. Also some patti. The wells of the area had a sil or quern imbedded at the head. When the days travel and toil were over, the weary wayfarer could refresh himself with a bath, and being now ritually pure he could cook his food. The leaves of the cannabis would now be taken out along with the grinding stone and made into a paste of the required consistency and the desired ingredients added to make the potion which would enable our traveller to overcome his weariness and forget the cares and worries of the world in bhaang or vijaya.

It is said that the researches of some medical persons [Retd Col. Sir Ramnath Chopra I.M.S.] established that unlike alcohol cannabis does not have undesirable side effects such as rise in blood pressure. Appetites are also not adversely affected. The digestion is said to improve.

The main weakness of this indigenous intoxicant would appear to lie in the absence of standardization. All "social" drinkers know the effect of one or two pegs upon their systems. A "glass" of bhaang has its own standard of concentration.
This problem appears to have been solved in some areas of concentrated bhaang consumption like Banaras. The well established purveyors of the best concoction have made spherical cakes of their product and its contents are as standard as a peg of the most popular brands of blended and malt whisky.

The reason why there are no bhaang parties is entirely to be found in culture fracture and paradigm change or shift. It is also possible that the new international drug control treaties have made the consumption of cannabis into a criminal activity punishable by a fine or imprisonment or both. If this is true then hundreds of thousands of Indians become criminal on feast days of the Hindus like Holi and Maha Shiva Ratri.

As elections are round the corner and one of the hopefuls has been knocked out before the fight started on grounds of not being "India born" can we hope that our own bhaang and vijaya will become the flag and banner of at least the party called "Hindu Nationalist" and come into its own in the 21st Century?


Akhilesh Mithal, 1991-1999. All rights reserved.
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