There are three forms of supreme divinity in Hinduism – Brahma, who creates the universe, Vishnu, who preserves it, and Shiva, who is the destroyer. These three are the source of every form of energy in the universe and do not need any input from outside to be able to function or act. They are all pervasive and, theoretically, there is nothing which is not Them.
Shiva, also called the Transformer, is however, the most followed one!
And while it can be attributed to His nature of being easily pleased, it can also be because of the connection humans find with Him.
He is known to lose His temper at the drop of a hat, make mistakes and learn from them, dance with a free mind and lead a life with basic amenities – much like we all do, or are at least expected to.
However, another thing about Shiva that humans find a connection with is His association with cannabis.
Cannabis, commonly known as bhaang in India, is often referred to as an offering to Lord Shiva and is commonly consumed by His followers on Maha Shivratri.
But why does Shiva have an affinity for Cannabis?
Atharva Veda, the fourth book of the Vedas, has mentioned bhaang, the edible preparation of cannabis, as one of the ‘five kingdoms of herbs’. It is referred to be the one that relieves anxiety and is traditionally used in drinks and food during some Hindu festivals like Holi, Janmashtami and Shivratri.
Legend suggests that Shiva preferred consuming bhaang before meditation, saying that the plant boosted meditation and helped Him achieve transcendental states.
There’s also a story that it was Shiva who brought the plant from the Himalayas.
So how did Shiva find cannabis?
Well, there are a number of legends behind this. According to one, Shiva once had an argument with His family, leading Him to storm out and wander in fields. He slept in a field full of cannabis plants and discovered the sleep to be a refreshing one upon waking up. This prompted Him to try the plant. The consumption was a rejuvenating and calmed His anxiety down.
And it was from then only when Shiva decided to adopt cannabis as His favourite indulgence.
However, there’s another version of the story as well.
This one appears in Bhagvat Gita and narrates the origin of Samundra Manthan first. It suggests that when Gods and demons had come together to churn the ocean to obtain Amrita, the drink of immortality, a lethal poison was also released as a byproduct. Called Halahala, the poison terrified the Gods and demons as it was powerful enough to destroy all creation.
Scared, everyone decided to approach Lord Shiva for help, who consumed the poison in an act to protect the universe. Parvati, grabbed Shiva’s throat in an effort to prevent him from swallowing the poison, which turned His throat blue.
The agony of the poison was indeed too much to handle.
It was only then when His consort, goddess Parvati, churned some bhaang, which cooled His throat down.
Apparently, much of the medicinal knowledge around bhaang comes from such stories, also where Lord Shiva uses the plant to cure an ailment.