High & Dry

Food Issue 160 Mar, 2015

With Shivaratri and Holi around the bend, we take a look at an integral part of the festivities, that no one wants you to know about.

The winds are getting nippier, the winter dusk is getting longer; spring is almost here and that means the onset of another set of chaads that we have all grown up with. The day of Shivaratri will boast many of our relatives (sometimes us unfortunately) queuing up at Pashupati since an, pardon the pun, ungodly hour waiting for our turn to offer ritualistic delights to the temples. Shivaratri has its set of norms, like the bon fire at night, the singing around it and a certain drink that spills itself over to another upcoming festival called Holi.

The whole story of Holi is told differently by the two genders. It is a festival of color and fun, it is a celebration of friends and family that rejoice in frolic like no other. And the recurring aspect that it carries with it from Shivaratri, is called Bhaang. Now for those unaware of this heady drink, it has been around for millennia (if historical, mythological books) are to be believed. Its documented consumption dates back to European travelers coming to India from at least 5 centuries back. It is everywhere. At the ghats, one can find large number of men engaged in the process of preparing bhang. Using mortar and pestle, the buds and leaves of cannabis are ground into a paste and then milk, ghee and other delicious condiments are added. Bhaang is also referred as ‘thandaai’ or Bhaang Lassi depending who you get it from and is mostly enjoyed chilled and fresh. Bhaang is also mixed with ghee and sugar to make a green haluwa, and into peppery, chewy little balls called ‘gotaa’ (which in this context means candy or pill)

 Now in a land where we celebrate our drinks and make it part and parcel of our celebrations, the drinking of Bhaang is no sin. Of course, with every usage comes the element of control and knowing one’s limit, crossing of which is harmful and is as fruitless as taking in too much sugar. The lineage of Bhaang can be traced from the banks of Ganges to the highlands of the mountains, and it has been a part of folklore for as long as we can remember. The time of Holi is when everyone partakes in this drink once a year, and that in itself is moderation to be honest.

So this Holi, brings with it another opportunity for us drink this invigorating concoction and have a merry good time. From the lore of yonder years when sadhus  deep in their trance would offer these to mere mortals, to sitting in your back yard under the sun and drinking from your ‘ chalice’, it is truly a time of celebration. 
Just remember, it’s a working day the next morning.