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Major Studies of Drugs and Drug Policy
Indian Hemp Drug Commission Report

Indian Hemp Drugs Commission Report



Scope of this Chapter.

431. In the instructions issued to the Commission by the Government of India, reference is made to the use of hemp drugs among fakirs and ascetics who are held in veneration by large classes of the people, and to the custom, which is believed to obtain to a large extent in Bengal, of offering an infusion of bhang to every guest and member of the family on the last day of the Durga Puja. The Commission were instructed to ascertain to what extent these and similar customs prevail in Bengal and other parts of India, and how far the use of hemp drugs forms a part of social, or possibly religious, ceremonial or observance. Questions 32 and 33 of the Commission's questions were intended to elicit information on these points.


432. In Bengal there is a considerable body of evidence dealing with these customs, and more particularly with the custom of offering an infusion of bhang on the last day of the Durga Puja. Some few witnesses, it is true, state either that no social or religious custom with which hemp drugs are connected exists, or that they are unaware of any such custom; but the great majority of the witnesses either give an account of them more or less full, or allude to them briefly as matters of common notoriety.

Durga Puja.

433. The custom of offering an infusion of the leaves of the hemp plant to every guest and member of the family on the Bijoya Dasami, or last day of the Durga Puja, is common in Bengal, and may almost be said to be universal. It is alluded to by many of the witnesses who refer to its use on this occasion as well as on other days of the Durga Puja festival. But, while there can be no doubt as to the existence of the custom, there is considerable divergence of opinion as to the true nature of it. The custom itself is a simple one. On the last day of this great festival the male members of the family go forth to consign the image to the waters and on their return the whole family with their guests exchange greetings and embrace one another. During this rejoicing a cup containing an infusion of the leaves of the hemp plant is handed round, and all are expected to partake thereof, or at least to place it to the lips in token of acceptance. Sweetmeats containing hemp are also distributed. Opinion is almost equally divided as to whether the custom is a mere social observance, or whether it is an essential part of the religious ceremonial of the festival. There is difference whether there is any injunction in theof opinion among the witnesses as to Shastras rendering obligatory the consumption of hemp; but Tantric religious works sanction the use, and the custom whatever be its origin may now be said from immemorial usage to be regarded by many people as part of their religious observances. From the evidence of the witnesses it would appear that there is no specific direction in the Shastras of the manner in which the drug should be used but from the references quoted it would appear that the use alluded to is authority that of bhang in the form of an infusion. Witnesses who can speak Mahamahon hopadhya Mahesa Chandra Nyayaratna, C.I on the subject, such as Principal of the Government Sanskrit College, Calcutta, testify to religious sanction for the use of bhang or siddhi, while many witnesses of high social position, well acquainted with the habits of the people, as, for example, Maharaja Sir Jotindra Mohain Tagore, K.C.S.I., Maharaja Durga Charan Law, Raja Piari Mohan Mukharji, C.S.I., Rai Rajkumar Sarvadhikari Bahadur, Rai Bahadur Kanai Lall . Day, C.I.E., and others, speak to the prevalence of the custom, its intimate association with the religious devotions of the people, and the innocent harmlessness of the practice.

Other occasions on which bhang is used.

434. The custom described above, and which refers solely to bhang as distinguished from other preparations of the hemp plant, is he most important occasion on which bhang is used as a part of social or religious ceremonies; but there is evidence to show that the drug in this form is used at other festivals. For example, at the Holi festival, which is observed more generally in Behar than in other parts of the Lower Provinces, bhang is commonly consumed; and, according to many witnesses, at such festivals as the Diwali, Chait Sankranti, Pous Sankranti, Sripanchami, Sivachaturdasi, Ramnavami, and indeed on occasions of weddings and many other family festivities. But, so far as the evidence shows, the use on those occasions is a matter of social custom observed more generally in some parts of the province than in others, and, although nodoubt there may be some who consider it essential to their devotions, partaking but little of the nature of general religious observance. In Orissa bhang is largely used by the attendants and worshippers at the temple of Jagannath at Puri; and there appears also to exist a custom, somewhat similar to that of the Durga Puja in Bengal, of offering siddhi or bhang in the form of sweetmeats to the god Ganesh, which are then eaten by the worshippers and their friends and relatives. This festival, called the Ganesh Chaturthi, occurs in the month of Bhadro (August-September).

Connection of ganja with the worship of Siva.

435. It is chiefly in connection with the worship of Siva, the Mahadeo or great god of the Hindu trinity, that the hemp plant, and more especially perhaps ganja, is associated. The hemp plant is popularly believed to have been a great favourite of Siva, and there is a great deal of evidence before the Commission to show that the drug in some form or other is now extensively used in the exercise of the religious practices connected with this form of worship. Reference to the almost universal use of hemp drugs by fakirs, jogis, sanyasis, and ascetics of all classes, and more particularly of those devoted to the worship of Siva, will be found in the paragraphs of this report dealing with the classes of the people who consume the drugs. These religious ascetics, who are regarded with great veneration by the people at large, believe that the hemp plant is a special attribute of the god Siva, and this belief is largely shared by the people. Hence the of many fond epithets ascribing to ganja the significance of a divine pro-party, and the common practice of invoking the deity in terms of adoration before placing the chillum or pipe of ganja to the lips. There is evidence to show that on almost all occasions of the worship of this god, the hemp drugs in some form or other are used by certain classes of the people it is established by the evidence of Mahamabopadhya Mahesa Chandra Nyayaratna and of other witnesses that siddhi is offered to the image of Siva at Benares, Baldynath, Tarakeswar, and elsewhere. At the Shivratri festival, and on almost all occasions before the on which this worship is practised, there is abundant evidence Commission which shows not only that ganja is offered to the god and consumed by these classes of the worshippers, but that these customs are so intimately connected with their worship that they may be considered to form in some sense an integral part of it.


436. The special form of worship by the followers of Siva, called the Trinath or Tinnath Mela, in which the use of ganja is considered to be essential, is mentioned by many witnesses, and deserves more than a passing notice. A full account of this religious practice given by Babu Abhilas Chandra Mukharji will be found in Vol. III Appendices of this Report. The origin of the rite, which it is said sprang up first in Eastern Bengal, appears to be of recent date, about the year 1867. It appears to be observed at all times and at all seasons by Hindus and Muhammadans alike, the latter calling it Tinlakh Pir. When an object of special desire is fulfilled, or when a person recovers from illness, or a son is born, or a marriage or other ceremony is performed, the god Trinath, representing in one the Hindu trinity, is worshipped. Originally one pice worth of ganja, one pice worth of oil, and one pice worth of betel-nut was offered to the god. But now ganja--it may be in large quantities--is proffered, and during the incantations and the performance of the ritual it is incumbent on all present to smoke. This form of worship is shown to have spread extensively throughout Eastern Bengal and the Surma Valley of Assam, and, according to one witness, it has penetrated. even to Orissa. On the other hand, there are a few witnesses who say that the practice is gradually dying out.


437. The use of hemp drugs is as a rule in no way connected with orthodox Muhammadan observances, whether social or religious. The Muhammadan religion condemns such practices.


438. In Assam, where the use of hemp drugs is but little practised by the Assamese proper, there appear to be no indigenous customs connected with the drugs. But the customs prevailing in Bengal are also found in Assam. There is evidence as to the use of bhang or siddhi at the Durga Puja, and of ganja by the worshippers of Siva. In Sylhet the Trinath form of worship appears to prevail to a considerable extent. With reference to this practice, one witness (Prasanno Kumar Das) observes that "in the Surma Valley ganja is offered in the name of Pit Muhammadan saint) for the benefit of the cattle."

North-Western Provinces.

439. In the North-Western Provinces, where the celebration of the Durga Puja is not so generally observed as in Bengal, a con-siderable number of witnesses (some fifty in all) state that there are no customs, religious or social, with which these drugs are connected. But, on the other hand, there is overwhelming evidence to establish the almost universal use by the people of bhang at the Holi festival, and some evidence as to the common use of ganja by certain classes of the followers of Siva at their festivals and seasons of worship. Of the witnesses who speak to the use of ganja in connection with religious observances, 22 state that it is essential and 92 that it is not essential. As to whether the use of bhang should be regarded as a purely social custom or as essential to religious observance,. the opinion of witnesses who speak on the point is about equally divided. It is sufficient to say that the custom is now a general one, and that where the Holi festival is observed, there the practice of consuming bhang during its observance is common. On other occasions, such as the Diwali festival, marriages, and family festivities, there is evidence to show that among certain classes the consumption of bhang is common. Allusion is also frequently made to the habit of using bhang, to which, for example, the Chaubes of Mathra and Brindaban are notoriously addicted, but how far the habit is connected with the religious observances at the temples the evidence does not justify the formation of an opinion. A custom is mentioned by, a Kumaon witness, Dharma Nand Joshi, who states that a class of people called Kouls, who worship spirits, meat, fish, etc., have the bhang plant as one of the objects of their worship.


440. In the Punjab there is evidence as to the general use of hemp by some of the followers of Siva, and especially of bhang, at the Holi, Dasehra, Diwali, and other festivals, and on the occasion oŁ marriages and other family festivities. Among the Sikhs the use of bhang as a beverage appears to be common, and to be associated with their religious practices. The witnesses who refer to this use by the Sikhs appear to regard it as an essential part of their religious rites having the authority of the Granth or Sikh scripture. Witness Sodhi Iswar Singh, Extra Assistant Commissioner, says :"As far as I know, bhang is pounded by the Sikhs on the Dasehra day, and it is ordinarily binding upon every Sikh to drink it as a sacred draught by mixing water with it. Legend--Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth guru, the founder of the Sikh religion, was on the gaddi of Baba Nanak in the time of Emperor Aurangzeb. When the guru was at Anandpur, tahsil Una, Hoshiarpur district, engaged in battle with the Hill Rajas of the Simla, Kangra, and the Hoshiarpur districts, the Rains sent an elephant, who was trained in attacking and slaying the forces of the enemy with a sword in his trunk and in breaking open the gates of forts, to attack and capture the Lohgarh fort near Anandpur. The guru gave one of his followers, Bachittar Singh, some bhang and a little of opium to eat, and directed him to face the said elephant. This brave man obeyed the word of command of his leader and attacked the elephant, who was intoxicated and had achieved victories in several battles before, with the result that the animal was overpowered and the Hill Rajas defeated. The use of bhang, therefore, on the Dasehra day is necessary as a sacred draught. It is customary among the Sikhs generally to drink bhang, so that Guru Gobind Singh has himself said the following poems in praise of bhang: "Give me, O Saki (butler), a cup of green colour (bhang), as it is required by me at the time of battle (vide 'Suraj Parkash,' the Sikh religious book). "Bhang is also used on the Chandas day, which is a festival of the god Sheoji Mahadeva. The Sikhs consider it binding to use it on the Dasehra day-The quantity then taken is too small to prove injurious." As Sikhs are absolutely prohibited by their religion from smoking, the use of ganja and charas in this form is not practised by them. of old Sikh times, is annually permitted to collect without interference a boat load of bhang, which is afterwards. distributed throughout the year to the sadhus and beggars who are supported by the dharamsala.

Central Provinces.

441. The evidence as to social or religious customs in the Central Provinces is somewhat discrepant, but on the whole points to the existence of customs akin to those existing in the North-Western Provinces. The use of bhang at the Holi and Diwali festivals and at marriages and such occasions, and of ganja or bhang in connection with. the worship of Siva, is frequently mentioned by the witnesses. A few local customs are also mentioned by some witnesses. Regarding a custom of the Chamar caste, the Rev. Mr. Jacob says: "At Chanda; the Chamars use ganja dust in the preparation of a beverage called gulabpani, which is drunk at a ceremony called dadhi (the first shaving of the beard), when no liquor is permitted." Among the Gonds, Cowasjee Nusserwanjee Hattidaru describes the following custom as existing:." In the funeral ceremony amongst the Gonds of these provinces, kalli or flat ganja is placed over the chest of the dead body of the Gond, and when the funeral party returns home, a little of the ganja is burnt in the house of the dead person, the smoke of which is supposed to reach the spirit of the dead." Another Satpura witness, Hosen Khan, mentions a custom of offering "a little ganja at the Chitarai Debis, or collections of stones with rags tied to some tree above. They offer either a cock or a cocoanut or some ganja. It is a custom among travellers. These Chitarai Debis are in the open, and the travellers have a smoke at the same time." One witness states that he has heard of the hemp plant being worshipped in the Berars, but this is not corroborated by any of the witnesses from these districts. Another has heard that the Gonds in their hill homes are worshippers of the plant


442. In the Madras Presidency, where the use of hemp drugs is less common than in most other provinces, many witnesses assert that there are no customs, social or religious, with which they are connected, and the evidence as a whole fails to establish the prevalence of any customs so general as those connected with the Durga Puja and the worship of Siva in Bengal or the Holi festival in the North-Western Provinces. But there is evidence as to the existence of customs of a less general or widespread nature. In Ganjam, the witnesses speak to the common use bhang on the Mesha Sankranti day in honour of Siva and Anjanayya, and also in the worship of Durga. Several also allude to a custom of offering a confection or draught containing bhang to the image at the temples of Hanuman. At the festival of Kama, the Indian cupid, bhang is freely made and drunk according to several witnesses. The Rajputs or Bondilis are particularly referred to in connection with this custom. On occasions of holidays or gala-days, and at the Mohurram, a number of witnesses say it is usual for Muhammadans as well as Hindus to take bhang. It is also said that various intoxicants, including ganja, are sometimes offered to the gods in worship, and then swallowed by those offering them. Witness M. Sundaram Iyer, Deputy Tahsildar (60), says: "Some of the lower orders make use of ganja as an offering, like cocoa-nut, plantains, liquor, and such other articles, for certain deities, such as Mathura--veeran, Muniappan, etc., according to the vow taken by each person. This cannot be considered as essential, but is only a practice observed in very rare cases. Such practice is not followed by many people, and it is not injurious. "Others allude to the offering of ganja to Karuppannam, Kali, Mathuraveeran, Muniappan, Karuannaswami, and Aiyaswami, more particularly in the south of the Presidency. Mr. Azizuddin, Sahib Bahadur, Deputy Collector, says: "Neither the Musalman nor the Hindu religion requires the use of these drugs on religious occasions. On the other hand, it is prohibited. Nevertheless, in the maths of bairagis, such as at Tripati, and of Muhammadan saints, such as at Nagore Conjeveram, Arcot, and other places, the manager of the shrine distributes ganja to all the fakirs who assemble during the festival. In none of these places, religiously speaking, ganja should be distributed, but, according to custom among the fakirs, its distribution is essential." The Rev. Mr. Campbell says that ganja is used in connection with the funeral ceremonies observed by certain classes, but that the use is not essential. Mr. Merriman alludes to a custom of offering and consuming bhang at the funeral of bhang consumers.


443. An interesting note, entitled "The Religion of Hemp," by Mr. J. M. Campbell, C.I.E., will be found in Vol. III Appendices. In the Bombay presidency the use of hemp in connection with the worship of Siva, Mahadev or Shankar appears to be very common. It is referred to by many witnesses. The following description of this custom as prevailing in part of Gujarat, Kaira, and probably Ahmedabad has been furnished to the Excise Commissioner by Mr. B. E. Modi, Deputy Collector: "On the Shivratri day (the last day but one of the month of Magh), sacred to the god Mahadev or Shankar, bhang water is freely poured over the lingam. Mahadev is an ascetic, and is fond of bhang, and on this day it is considered a religious duty to offer him his favourite drink. From this day to the 11th day of Ashad, on which day gods go to sleep, water is kept constantly dripping upon the lingam of Mahadev from an earthen pot kept above it. "Somewhat similar accounts varying in detail are given by many witnesses coming from different parts of the province, of whom some also refer to the habit which ganja smokers have of invoking the deity before placing the pipe. to their lips. Others also refer to hemp as required in the worship of Baldeo and to its use at the Shimga or Holi festival. The Marwaris and some other classes appear to use bhang at marriages and other festivities. Mr. Charles, Collector of Belgaum, says that among Musalmans and Marathas the ganja plant is offered to dead relatives who used it in their lifetime at the time of the anniversary ceremonies of their death. There appears to be no special custom of worshipping the hemp plant itself. R. K. Kothavale, of Satara district, says the hemp plant is worshipped, by one sect only, namely, by people from Northern India and Nepal, while Mr. Lamb, Collector of Alibag, remarks that some of the Kunbis who make Offerings to the local divinities of their fields at the harvest season include a. small quantity of ganja in the offerings.


444. In Sind the customs, both religious and' social, appear to be much the same as in Bombay. In Karachi and some other places bhang is generally offered to all comers on occasions of marriages, panchayats, and other gatherings; and the custom of freely distributing bhang as a charity to all who dare to partake is common both at temples and at other places of resort.


445. In Berar there is evidence as to the use both of ganja and bhang at the Shivratri and Holi festivals and at social gatherings. The hemp plant itself is not worshipped, but, according to one witness, when a consumer dies, the plant is kept near his corpse during the funeral ceremony.


446. At the Holi and the Shivratri and at family festivities the drugs, especially bhang, are used.


447. Major Gaisford, Deputy Commissioner, states that among the Hindu sect called Barn Bargis the consumption of bhang is regarded as essential.

Native States.

448. From Native States there is but little information regarding customs, either social or religious, with which these drugs are connected. No purely local or indigenous customs have been brought to the notice of the Commission, but there is sufficient information to show that practices similar to those existing in British provinces at the Holi and Shrivratri festivals and on occasions of family rejoicings are observed by certain classes of the people in many Native States.

Worship of the hemp plant

449. The custom of worshipping the hemp plant, although not so prevalent as that of offering hemp to Siva and other deities of the Hindus, would nevertheless appear from the statements of the witnesses to exist to some extent in some provinces of India. The reason why this fact is not generally known may perhaps be gathered from such statements as that of Pandit Dharma Nand Joshi, who says that such worship is performed in secret. There may be another cause of the denial on the part of the large majority of Hindu witnesses of any knowledge of the existence of a custom of worshipping the hemp plant in that the educated Hindu will not admit that he worships the material object of his adoration, but the deity as represented by it. The custom of worshipping the hemp plant, though not confined to the Himalayan districts or the northern portions of India alone, where the use of the products of the hemp plant is more general among the people, is less known as we go south. Still even far south, in some of the hilly districts of the Madras Presidency and among the rural population, the hemp plant is looked upon with some sort of veneration. Mr. J. H. Merriman (witness No. 28, Madras) says: "I know of no custom of worshipping the hemp plant, but believe it is held in a certain sort of veneration by some classes." Mr. J. Sturrock, the Collector of Coimbatore (witness No. 2, Madras), says: "In some few localities there is a tradition of sanctity attached to the plant, but no regular worship. "The Chairman of the Conjeveram Municipal Board, Mr. E. Subramana Iyer (witness No. 143, Madras) says: "There is no plant to be worshipped here, but it is generally used as sacrifices to some of the minor Hindu deities. "There is a passage quoted from Rudrayanmal Danakand and Karmakaud in the report on the use of hemp drugs in the Baroda State, which also shows that the worship of the bhang plant is enjoined in the Shastras. It is thus stated: "The god Shiva says to Parvati-- 'Oh, goddess Parvati, hear the benefits derived from bhang. The worship of bhang raises one to my position. In Bhabishya Puran it is stated that "on the 13th moon of Chaitra (March and April) one who wishes to see the number of his sons and grandsons increased must worship Kama (Cupid) in the hemp plant, etc.".

General conclusions

  1. In summing up their conclusions on this chapter, the Commission would first remark that charas, which is a comparatively new article of consumption, has not been shown to be in any way connected with religious observance. As regards Northern India, the Commission are of opinion that the use of bhang is more or less common everywhere in connection with the social and religious customs of the people As regards ganja they find that there are certain classes in all parts, except the Punjab, who use the drug in connection with their social and religious observances. The Commission are also of opinion in regard to bhang that its use is considered essential in some religious observances by a large section of the community, and in regard to ganja that those who consider it essential are comparatively very few. The Commission have little doubt that interference with the use of hemp in connection with the customs and observances above referred to would be regarded by the consumers as an interference with long established usage and as an encroachment upon their religious liberty. And this feeling would, especially in the case of bhang, undoubtedly be shared to some extent by the people at large. Regarding Southern India, the same remarks apply with this reservation, that. the difference between ganja and bhang as materials for smoking and drinking respectively is much less marked there, and the distinction between the two forms of the drug is much less clearly recognised, although by the term "bhang" is generally meant the drug as used for drinking, and by "ganja" the drug as used for smoking.

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