On the occasion of Maha Shivratri, which marks the day Lord Shiva saved the universe from darkness and married Goddess Parvati, cannabis takes the mandate spotlight as devotees flock at Pashupati, one of Nepal's holiest Hindu temples, in the capital city of Kathmandu.
Grabbing onto clay pipes or chillum and smoking pot, dreadlocked sadhus make way to station their belongings and share this ‘prasad’. Some call it as a means to acquire euphoria, others use it to stave off worldly desires.
However, its association with Mahadev is quite the simple tale of literal medicinal use. According to Atharva Veda, Cannabis is one of the five most sacred plants. It was during the Samudra Manthan when Lord Shiva first discovered it.
Legend says that during the Samudra Manthan, devas (gods) and rakshasas (monsters) shook the ocean to obtain Amrut (a drink to immortality). However, due to the constant churning, Halahala, a lethal poison was released that threatened all creation.
To protect everyone, Lord Shiva drank this poison, which even got him the name of Neelkanth (blue throat). In order to soothe the pain, he was offered bhang (seeds and leaves of cannabis). Much of the medicinal lore around weed comes from such stories where Lord Shiva uses the plant to cure an ailment.
Bhang has been traditionally associated with Shiva worship which is why he is often called the ‘Lord of Bhang’. However, Lord Shiva is first and foremost the God of all creation and destruction in Hindu mythology, with a particular liking for all that is rejected – corpses, intoxicants and the likes.
This preference for taking what is rejected by society extends to his love for cannabis. The destruction aspect of his personality also extends to the metaphysical world – he is the destroyer of ignorance and illusion, and this particular trait is enhanced by his use of cannabis.
In almost utter contrast to using the drug as escape, the Vedic texts tell of how Lord Shiva used it to turn inwards and gain the ultimate mastery of his senses, but they also repeatedly warned that he is the only one who is capable of using it - therefore, mere mortals should refrain from even attempting.
But every year, on Maha Shivratri devotees celebrate the festival by consuming bhang, smoking weed and chillums. Even though weed isn't directly associated with Lord Shiva apart from its spiritual and medicinal value - people believe that it brings them closer to Lord Shiva.