indian cuisine
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Indian Cuisines

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Bhang

Bhang is a derivative of the leaf and flower of a female Cannabis sativa plant, consumed in northern India and Bangladesh. It is used for making beverages and sometimes is smoked.

Bhang Ki Thandai (Hindi) is a drink popular in many parts of North India which is made by mixing bhang with thandai, a cold drink prepared with a mixture of almonds, spices, milk and sugar.

In traditional Indian culture

The traditional harvest of cannabis and preparation of bhang coincides with celebrations of Holi in March and Baisakhi in April.

Certain erotic drawings from the Mughal period of India depict a couple having sexual intercourse while smoking bhang to enhance their intimacy.

There is a folk etymology that the traditional dance bhangra derives its name from bhang, but this is not supported.

Associated with Lord Shiva, bhang has now become synonymous with Holi, to the extent that bhang drinks have now become an official Holi drink. Culled from the leaves and buds of cannabis - the very intoxicating bhang helps to escalate the spirit of holi - a festival which does not recognise any restrictions. Thandai, pakoras and vadas, all having bhang as a very essential ingredient, are savoured by all on the day.

Preparations in Banaras

The tradition of consuming bhang on holi is particularly rampant in North India where holi itself is celebrated with a gusto unseen anywhere else. But, the hub of bhang is Varanasi or Banaras, the land of Shiva worship, where bhang is prepared on its famous ghats.

Anywhere on the ghats one can find large number of men engaged in the process of preparing bhang. Using mortar and a pestle, the buds and leaves of Cannabis are ground into a green paste. To this mixture milk, ghee, and spices are added. The bhang base is now ready to be made into a nutritious, refreshing drink - Thandai, a healthy alternative to alcohol. Bhang is also mixed with ghee and sugar to make a tasty green halva, and into peppery, chewy little balls called 'golees'.

Bond with the Bhang

Ancient as it is, bhang has become an integral part of Indian tradition. So much so that it has become symbolic for many things.

Associated with Lord Shiva, the hemp plant is regarded as holy by the Hindus. There is even a belief that to meet someone carrying bhang is an omen of success. And, if longing for hemp plant foretells happiness, to see it in dreams ensures prosperity for a person in future. Also, walking on a holy bhang leaf spells doom for a person.

People also strongly believe in the medicinal properties of the hemp plant. If taken in proper quantity bhang is believed to cure fever, dysentery and sunstroke. It is also believed to help to clear phlegm, quicken digestion, sharpen appetite, cure speech imperfections and lisping, freshen the intellect and give alertness to the body and gaiety to the mind.

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