Sikhs and Cannabis

Anyone who knows me, knows that an interest in the role that cannabis has played in religious and magical ritual and belief in different cultures, is one I hold deeply. Recently, I have been looking at the role of cannabis in the Sikh religion, as I was putting the finishing touches on a chapter on cannabis in India, for my forthcoming book, Cannabis and the Soma Solution.

From Cannabis and the Soma Solution

….In a chapter on “Social and Religious Customs” the INDIAN HEMP DRUGS COMMISSION REPORT also identified a role for cannabis in the later Sikh religion of the Punjab region which began in the 16th century AD:

“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.” (IHDCR, 1894)

In the 19th century, one of the 12 confederacies of the Sikhs was identified by the name “Bhangi, called from their fondness for Bhang, extract of hemp” (Eastwick & Murray, 1883). However, for the most part, it seems the use of cannabis preparations have fallen out of favor with the devotees of the Sikh religion. “The Nihang of Punjab, who are the defenders of Sikh shrines, are an exception. They take cannabis to help in meditation” (Beck & Worden, 2002).

The Nihang also referred to as the Akalis, are a Sikh military order known for their military prowess, and historical victories in battle even when they were greatly outnumbered. Nihang are easily identifiable by their steel iron bracelets, weaponry and particularly by their “electric blue” attire and tall turbans. Up until 2001, Cannabis use was a condoned part of Nihang ritual and spiritual practice and this use was identified by them a “time-respected tradition’ bestowed upon the order by the tenth Guru of Sikhism, Gobind Singh (1666- 1708). The Nihang used the name of Suhka, meaning ‘Peace-Giver’ for the preparer of their ritual cannabis preparations which they used in the form of baked cookies and a bhang like beverage referred to as suknidhaan. Nihang use of cannabis has been particularly associated with the Sikh holiday Hola Mohalla, a sort of military celebration.

In 2001 the apex Sikh clergy instituted a prohibition of cannabis products as part of their “campaign against drug addiction” and this was vehemently rejected by the Nihang leader Baba Santa Singh, along with 20 other chiefs of the sect. As the Indian paper THE TRIBUNE recorded “Baba Santa Singh pointed out that the consumption of ‘bhang’ among the Nihangs was not a new phenomenon. He said it had been going on ever since the Nihangs came into existence and fought battles against Mughal and Afghan invaders” (THE TRIBUNE, 2001) As a result of his refusal to accept of the prohibition of cannabis products, Baba Santa Singh was excommunicated and replaced by Baba Balbir Singh who complied with the apex Sikh clergy’s ban on the use of hemp, and although many Nihang still reject this prohibition, in orthodox circles this controversial ban has been maintained until the present.

Marijuana and Nihangs

Nihangs Prepare ‘Sukhnidhan’ (bhang/cannabis)

Chris Bennett
Chris Bennett

Chris Bennett has been researching the historical role of cannabis in the spiritual life of humanity for more than a quarter of a century. He is co-author of Green Gold the Tree of Life: Marijuana in Magic and Religion (1995); Sex, Drugs, Violence and the Bible (2001); and author of Cannabis and the Soma Solution (2010); and Liber 420: Cannabis, Magickal herbs and the Occult (2018) . He has also contributed chapters on the the historical role of cannabis in spiritual practices in books such as The Pot Book (2010), Entheogens and the Development of Culture (2013), Seeking the Sacred with Psychoactive Substances (2014), One Toke Closer to God (2017), Cannabis and Spirituality (2016) and Psychedelics Reimagined (1999). Bennett’s research has received international attention from the BBC , Guardian, Sunday Times, Washington Post, Vice and other media sources. He currently resides in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.