The Rang and the Bhang

Anjali Jhangiani
Monday, 18 March 2019

For many, Bhang is an integral part of Holi celebration. Here’s what needs to be kept in mind before and after consuming it

Most festivals in India revolve around food, and all that one can really do to celebrate is gorge. Holi, hands down, is the most fun festival. There’s the activity of playing with colours that brings out the child in you, there’s the implied ‘bura na mano Holi hai’ sentiment that gives you a one-day free pass for expressing your jokes in poor taste that you’ve probably bottled up throughout the year, and of course there’s a festive spread of delightful recipes. But most importantly, it’s the time of the year when you get to indulge in this magical beverage called bhang. 

Made from freshly ground cannabis leaves, bhang is believed to be a part of Hindu tradition since 1000 BC. But the first literary evidence of this exists in Dutchman Jan Huyghen van Linschoten’s documentary of his journey to the East, where he wrote three pages on ‘Bhangue’ that he found in India in the 16th century. So we know that bhang has been around for a long, long time, and people have found interesting ways to consume it on Holi. 

“The most basic way to consume bhang is to mix it in milk. But some people even make bhajji out of it. The leaves are covered in a batter of besan and fried. It is tasty no doubt, but if you’re trying bhang for the first time, or if you know that your tolerance level is low, you should stay away from this bhajji. When you have bhang with milk or mix it in thandai, it is diluted. But if you consume bhang in the form of bhajji, the kick will be too strong,” says city-based businessman Deepak Ochani. He suggests that if you plan to munch some bhang pakoras, you should not do it on an empty stomach. Make sure you’ve eaten a solid breakfast before you start your bhang-induced adventures. 

Bhang usually takes about two hours to kick in, and newbies might consume it in large quantities waiting for the high. “A friend of mine didn’t realise that bhang takes time to kick in. After he drank too much of it, he felt sick and went to the washroom where he was stuck vomitting for about two hours. He had a bad hangover. In times like this, it’s best to drink water and keep yourself hydrated,” says Ochani. 

“The best way to enjoy bhang has to be in a well-made Thandai — it’s classic for a reason!” says Manu Mishra, chief whip at the city-based Moonshine Meadery. He believes that bhang that comes from the north, especially Rajasthan and UP, is quite potent. To balance things out and give you a smooth taste, mixing this bhang in rich Thandai with dry fruits works. “Since the flavour is quite prominent, Thandai is a great complimentary drink for it with the spices and additions,” he says, pointing out that it is possible for someone to experience a pre-hangover from the bhang too. 

A pre-hangover is when you begin to feel uncomfortable, nauseated and out of control when the bhang is beginning to kick in. “If the pre-hangover is too much for you to handle, the best thing to do is to simply take it easy and sleep it off. And finally, be it a pre-hangover or a hangover the next day, a good hot meal will always help you feel better,” he says, adding that a relaxing bath or a few minutes under the shower should also help get over a ‘downer’.

Bhang tends to give you a subtle kick which intensifies with time and the quantity you consume. “Some people feel the effect of bhang a little later than they expected. So in order to feel tipsy, they drink alcohol over bhang. This should strictly be avoided as the combination is a deadly one,” says Ambarish Gupta, director of 18 Degrees Rooftop Lounge, Pimple Saudagar. Both bhang and alcohol cause the body to dehydrate, and mixing the two is clearly a bad idea. If you plan to drink, you should stay away from bhang and vice-versa. 

“To bring the down the effect of bhang, you must have buttermilk or curd but without sugar. It will definitely help. Sweets of any kind should be avoided as it increases the high. Get a good night’s sleep at the end of the celebrations, and you should be fine the next morning,” says Gupta.

- Drink water and stay hydrated
- Eat your meals properly
- Drink bhang when you’re in the company of your friends and family, don’t try it alone
- Don’t drive or operate machinery (even the blender in your kitchen) after drinking bhang
- Do not take any painkillers to cope with a hangover, it will only make it worse

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