| PICTURE SPEAK |
|DRINK AND MAKE MERRY: Devotees enjoy bhang at the Jabreshwar Mahadev temple |
As soon as the clock strikes 12.56 in the afternoon, hundreds of Shiva devotees gathered at the Jabreshwar Mahadev temple in Jodhpur break into bhajans that are parodies of songs like Jai Jai Shiv Shankar and gulp down litres of cannabis (bhang) syrup. This revelry is a part religious, part fun-filled festival, called Barah Chappan celebrated every year at the temple. The temple dedicated to Lord Shiva is situated on a hilltop in the second largest city of Rajasthan beyond half a dozen crematoriums. This bhang party is a real treat for tipplers, who can enjoy a free drink with pakoras and sweets.
According to popular beliefs, Shiva who is also called the Lord of Ghosts, begins his annual journey from his mythical abode at Mount Kailash in the Himalayas with spirits. The journey continues till the wee hours of the morning and since ghosts are busy with their master (Lord Shiva), his devotees can enjoy themselves.
Each year at least a dozen such bhang binges are held to mark this event. There are no fixed days for such gatherings. The celebration depends upon one's convenience at different temples. The frequency rises during the months of Shravan-Bhadrapad which is a time for celebration for Shiva devotees. Though there are some isolated cases of bhang parties in other parts of the state, such mass celebration is unique to Jodhpur. There is no mention of such parties in folklore but local people attribute such celebrations to their culture and customs.
At the annual Ram Deora fair near Pokhran, 21 litres of bhang is served free at a similar function. People who come here have different reasons to attend such gatherings. Some like bhang for its medicinal value while others drink just for fun. Many prefer it for its tranquilising effect, which is unlike alcohol, that cheers but also inebriates.
In Rajasthan, the consumption of opium is quite common. In recent days cannabis consumption too has seen a noticeable rise. The excise policy of the state Government allows auction of cannabis vending machines and Jodhpur alone has six wholesale and 18 retail outlets.
Sunil Vyas, popularly called the Vyas Bhangwalla, hosts such bhang parties more than once a year as a mark of gratitude to Lord Shiva.
His four outlets attract over 500 customers every day. However, the number rises four times during Mahashivaratri. The menu has bhang mixed with jaljeera, lemon, plain water, soda water, cold milk, lassi and also soft drinks.
With the traditional drink going the modern way, who would not like to say cheers with bhang.