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.



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  6. Chris Bennett on

    Navdeep my brother, I loved what I saw of your film and I am very interested in seeing more! If you are in Vancouver stop by the CCHQ and say High!

  7. Nav Kandola on

    I was very interested to read this well reseatrched piece, as I am a Sikh and have been filming Nihang Singhs for over ten years.
    Please see a few sample scenes from my upcoming film here:

    Nice website too, BTW.

    Navdeep Singh

  8. Anonymous on

    God is good, bhang is better, people are crazy.

  9. Chris Bennett on

    yes, the use of cannabis in Hinduism, and particularly with the cult of Shiva which may be even older, long predates the use of cannabis in the Sikh religion.

    From Cannabis and the Soma Solution:

    …In the Rudrayamal Danakand and Karmakand Shiva tells his consort: “Oh Goddess, Parvati, hear the benefits derived from bhang. The worship of bhang raises one to my position.” As the 19th century INDIAN HEMP DRUGS COMMISSION REPORT recorded of Shiva’s cultic connection to cannabis:

    It is chiefly in connection with the worship of Siva, the… 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… the drug in some form or other is… extensively used in the exercise of the religious practices connected with this form of worship… [R]eligious 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… 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… these customs are so intimately connected with their worship that they may be considered to form in some sense an integral part of it. (IHDCR, 1894)

    In Hinduism, SAMUDRA MANTHAN or THE CHURNING OF THE OCEAN OF MILK is one of the most famous episodes in the Puranas (500-300 BC) and is celebrated in the popular festivals known as the Kumbha Mela. Interestingly, this ancient myth, composed just a few centuries after the initial pogrom against cannabis, seemingly takes hemp use out of the cult of Indra, and instil it with the devotees of Shiva. The Churning of the Ocean of Milk tells the story of search of the elixir of immortality, “amrita” by both the gods and demons. After casting potent herbs into the Ocean of Milk, the Gods and Demons stirred it, using a mountain as a churning stick and a Great Magical Serpent as a rope. In the myth one of the resulting nectars was cannabis. The story has it that after Churning the Ocean the demons attempted to gain control of the Amrita (marijuana), but the gods were able to prevent this seizure, giving cannabis the name Vijaya (“victory”) to commemorate their success. According to the ancient mythology, cannabis is said to sprout from wherever the nectar spilled upon the Earth. To this day, Hindu Holy men, sadhus, and other worshippers, celebrate their most important festival, the Kumbha Mela, smoking chillums of hashish, and drinking draughts of bhang every twelve years at each of the four sacred spots that the amrita is believed to have been spilled. One of the Gods closely associated with the collecting of the amrita, is Shiva, the oldest continually worshipped God on earth, whose origins are said to go back to the Stone Age. “The votaries of Eudra-Siva are addicted to Cannabis sativa” (Chakbraberty, 1944). “According to the old Hindu poems, God Shiva brought down the hemp plant from the Himalayas and gave it to mankind” (Chopra, 1939). In SADHUS—INDIA’S MYSTIC HOLY MEN, Dolf Hartsuiker explains:

    …the smoking of charas [cannabis] is… regarded as a sacred act…Intoxication as a ‘respected’… method of self-realization is related to soma the nectar of the gods, which is recommended in the Vedas as a sure means of attaining divine wisdom.

    Mythologically, charas, is intimately connected with Shiva: he smokes it, he is perpetually intoxicated by it, he is the Lord of Charas… Babas offer the smoke to him; they want to take part in his ecstasy, his higher vision of reality. (Hartsuiker, 1993)

    ….Although Shiva is the Lord of Bhang, cannabis appears in offering to a number of other deities such as those dedicated to Shiva’s consort Kali, Goddess of Life and Death. Kali’s cannabis mantra is, “Om, Hrim Ambrosia, that springeth forth from ambrosia, Thou shalt showerest ambrosia, draw ambrosia for me again and again. Bring Kalika within my control. Give success; Svaha” (Avalon, 1913). In Tantric rites, cannabis retained its ancient Vedic epithet of ‘Vijaya’ (Victory). As Arthur Avalon (aka, Sir John Woodroffe) explained: “Vijaya, (victory) used in ceremonies to Kali: That is the narcotic Bhang (hemp)… used in all ceremonies” (Avalon, 1913).

    In medieval India and Tibet, sorcerers in search of magic powers glorified the use of a marijuana drink (bhang)… in Tantric sex ceremonies derived from the ancient soma cult. A circle of naked men and women is conducting an experiment of the central nervous system. They consecrate a bowl of bhang to Kali, goddess of terror and delight. As the bhang begins to take effect, the worshippers mentally arouse the serpent at the base of the spine, sending waves of energy up tothe cortex. (Aldrich, 1978)

    Cannabis also played an important role in the Durga Puja, the annual Hindu six day festival that celebrates worship of the Hindu goddess Durga. Up until the 19th century, at the close of the Durga Puja, it was customary to drink bowls of bhang and to offer them to others. As the INDIAN HEMP DRUGS COMMISSION REPORT recorded:

    The custom of offering an infusion of the leaves of the hemp plant to every guest and member of the family on the… 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 the 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. (IHDCR, 1894)

    Cannabis was consecrated to the Vedic God Vishnu as well, as noted in the following 300 year old account:

    In Malabar, at the time of the sacrifices in honour of Vishnu, virgins pleasant to behold and richly adorned were brought from the temple of the Brahmins. They came out in public to appease the god who rules over plenty and fine weather. To impress the spectators, these young women were previously given a preparation with a basis of hemp and datura, and when the priest saw, by certain symptoms, that the action of the drugs was about to show itself, he began his invocations. The Devadassy (servants of the gods) then danced, leapt about yelling, contorted their limbs, and, foaming at the mouth, their eyes ecstatic, committed all sorts of eccentricities. Finally the priests carried the exhausted virgins into the sanctuary, gave them a potion to destroy the effect of the previous one, and then showed them again to the people in their right mind, so that the crowd of spectators might believe that the demons had fled and the idol was appeased. (Kaemper, 1712)

    It has been suggested that the Holi festival of India, in which thousands of participants drink bhanga in a celebration of life and joy, is a remnant of the Soma cult. The Holi festival “the Saturnalia of India… terminates with feasting, drunkenness, obscenity and a bonfire…” (Boleton, et al., 2000).

    ….As the 19th century INDIAN HEMP DRUGS COMMISSION REPORT noted of this and other festivities, “at the Holi festival… 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” (IHDCR, 1894).

  10. journey to the east on

    the younger generation has shed their turbans and also enjoy alcohol and cocaine, shiny black vehicles with lots of chrome, and bodybuilding sometimes assisted with steroids. nothing spiritual about them, my neighbors.

  11. Anonymous on

    During a festival called ” SHIVARATRI” night of shiva. In Nepal every year, all hindus and pilgrims travel hundreds of miles to Pashupathinath in KATHMANDU NEPAL . This temple is home to the ghats where hindus lay down and burn their dead. On this day of shivratri thousands of SADHUS and holy men throng to the temple to partake in smoking hash and drinking bhang lassi all day.

    It is almost time to the next one FEB 12 2010 in Nepal.
    i will be doing a documentary on this in Kathmandu , look for it on youtube.

  12. Ryan on

    Kava kava might be equally effective. It’s action is most closely related to that of the benzodiazapenes, which are the standard in pharmaceutical anti-anxiety medication (Valium is a ‘natural’ compound found in potatoes btw).

    There has been research showing that Kava extracts (standardized to contain a consistent amount of kavalactones) can compromise the liver, though the whole plant contains glutathione, one of the most potent liver protectants (and immuno-enhancements)known. So when it comes to Kava (as with many plants), the traditional method of usage, with the whole plant is better than anything you’ll find at Shopper’s Drug Mart.

    Valerian root or an amino acid blend of GABA/taurine et al. (i.e. Now Foods “True Calm”) may also be effective…

  13. Travis Erbacher on

    Yes it works quite well too. Very useful plant.

  14. Chris Bennett on

    Try sceletium for panic attacks, its a succulent from South Africa that works as an SSRI and its a traditional cannabis add-mixture there.

  15. Travis Erbacher on

    Very interesting read, my friend. I look forward to checking out the book. That reminds me, I need to grab some more Blue Lotus from the Urban Shaman. It does wonders for my panic attacks.