The Strange Worshippers of Ganja God

Cannabis as a domesticated plant has a cultural history spanning thousands of years, many continents, and has many uses. Tapati talks about a strange God and strange worshippers, telling us the many uses of Hemp, in the weekly column, exclusively in Different Truths.

The morning newspaper is always rich in bringing in some exciting news. But today, it was an extremely unusual one. I was literally shocked to read a news item that a village in Orissa has a Ganja god. Quite awestruck, I continued reading out of curiosity. A section of people in a village in Orissa are known to worship Cannabis plant to appease the god. They offer a variety of colourful flowers to the plant producing Ganja, which is a banned substance in India.

A good number of people from Nayagarh, Kandhamahal, Koraput, Gajapati and a few more backward districts grow cannabis to earn good money, though everything is done in a clandestine manner.

Cannabis as a domesticated plant has a cultural history spanning thousands of years, many continents, and has many uses – recreational, medicinal, and even for ceremonial purposes in some of the festivals such as Shivratri and Holi.

For the uninitiated, marijuana, also known as weed, pot grass and Ganja, is a greenish-grey mixture of dried, shredded leaves and flowers of cannabis sativa, the hemp plant. The plant also contains many other chemicals and some compounds called cannabinoids.

Multiple studies have suggested that use of marijuana over the years has only negative effects on the user. No one gets smart or super brainy by smoking it. On the contrary, research shows that people get to tend slow and dumb with regular and prolonged use.

 In India, this grass has been and cultivated since long historical periods for wide uses. Hemp domestication dates back to 5,000 BC when the plant’s stem was used for fibre, its achene or fruit for food and oil, and its resin for medicine.

Medicinal use of cannabis was first recorded in India in the medical work ‘Sushruta’ compiled in around 1,000 BC as well as in the texts Tajnighuntu and Rajbulubha, where it is described as being used to clear phlegm, treat flatulence, sharpening memory, increasing eloquence and stimulating appetite.

There is also an interesting discovery of the use of cannabis in construction in India.

Ellora caves in the city of Aurangabad of Maharashtra is quite a familiar name for Indians, as a historical site with rock-cut caves with wonderful sculpture. Built between the fifth and the tenth centuries, Ellora has a series of 34 Hindu, Buddhist and Jain caves, which represent the epitome of Indian rock-cut architecture. These include temples, monasteries as well as residential viharas and mathas, which have been carved out of solid rock from the region’s Charanandri Hills. Many of the caves have rich paintings which are still protected.

For years, these Ellora caves have evoked curiosity as to just how in the world they have been immune to decay. For 1,500 years! Scientists seem to have an answer, and it’s a most unlikely one. They say it is cannabis. Or Ganja.

Indian archaeologists have discovered that hemp played a key role in preserving the ancient caves at Ellora. New findings have revealed that a mixture of hemp, clay and lime plaster prevented the UNESCO World Heritage site from decaying.

Hemp, locally known as Ganja or bhang, played a key role in keeping the paintings at the sixth-century archaeological site intact, according to a study by archaeologist Rajdeo Singh and botanist MM Desai.

They collected a sample of plaster from Cave 12 of the complex and isolated cannabis sativa, or Ganja, before examining it under a scanning electron microscope, according to the study, published in a journal Current Science. Other techniques also confirmed the presence of cannabis sativa in the building material.

Dr. Singh elaborated, as quoted in a national newspaper that:

“In the sample collected from the Ellora cave, they found 10 percent share of cannabis sativa in the mix of mud or clay plaster. This is the reason why no insect activity is found at Ellora.

Ellora has proved that only 10% of cannabis mixed with clay or lime in the plaster could last for over 1,500 years, he added.

The remains of Cannabis from the sample of clay plaster of Ellora suggest that it was used with clay/lime binder as an insulating agent as well as to provide a degree of strength to the plaster, the researchers wrote. The study also hints at how Indians knew many valuable properties of Hemp even in the 6th century.

Studies also show that Hemp was not used in the neighbouring Ajanta caves, which are about 30 rock-cut Buddhist structures dating back to the 2nd century BC. Rampant insect activity has damaged at least 25% of the paintings at Ajanta.

Studies in Europe have estimated 600 to 800 years of lifespan to the Hemp-added wall system, but Hemp in the clay plaster of Ellora has survived more than 1,500 years.

It has some medicinal usage even today. Scientific reports say that in the management of cancer, it helps cancer patients to have good sleep, elevate their mood and give relief from pain. But one cannot deny that the present situation has changed a lot of drug abuse which has spread like a disease at various levels of the society as well as in various age groups. In 1971, a group of teenagers from San Rafael, San Francisco, started meeting after school at 4.20 pm to smoke pot. The habit spread and 420 became core word for potheads across the world to meet for some ‘high’ time.

Addiction is a very slow, baffling and powerful disease to destroy lives across socio-economic backgrounds. People commit suicide as a result of drug abuse, not only in India but all over the world. Getting into this habit also increases the chances of an individual trying out with many other drugs. In places where it is easily available, many are getting easily hooked onto it. In order to stop this social evil, the consumption of marijuana and its cultivation both are banned under Indian law.

But I remain perplexed how the same evil grass still continues to be a matter of worship by some people, who I hope doesn’t do it under the intoxicating influence of the plant.

©Tapati Sinha

Photos from the Internet

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