Photographs: Paresh Gandhi
Adapted from their TV show Highway on my Plate, anchors Rocky and Mayur have written an Indian guide to roadside eating of the same name. With Holi around the corner, we bring you an excerpt on how to celebrate it in style.
Ever wondered why all the legends about Holi involve fire and burning -- think of the most famous story of the demoness Holika and her nephew Prahlad -- and yet it is often celebrated with water? No? Us neither. There are many interesting traditions linked to Holi, not least of which is the famous Lathmar Holi in Barsana near Mathura. Here the women beat men with sticks on Holi, as they reportedly did when Krishna and his friends teased Radha and her maidens and were driven away. This choice method of celebration is guaranteed to make you wobbly and yet there is another way to achieve this without the accompanying headache. How, you may ask, oh impatient reader...well...drink bhang!
Bhang is made by pulping the leaves of the Cannabis indica plant (and it is supposed to have originated from the Hindu Kush mountains so that is two special mentions for India here) and is usually mixed with water and rolled into small bhang golis (balls). A Wikipedia article claims bhang was first used as part of the Hindu rite in India around 1000 BC and soon became an integral part of Hindu culture. In the ancient text Atharvaveda, bhang is described as a beneficial herb that "releases anxiety". Sadhus and Sufis alike partook of this herb to boost meditation and bhang is associated with the worship of Lord Shiva. Bhang as part of the Cannabis stable is used in ayurvedic medicinal preparations to reduce pain, stop nausea, increase appetite, aid sleep, and relieve severe rheumatic pain.
Today its most popular form are of bhang ki thandai and bhang pakodas. Both are an integral part of Holi festivities in the state of Uttar Pradesh. This by no means indicates that it is not popular elsewhere -- it is!
Excerpted from Highway on My Plate (Rs 299), with the permission of publishers Random House India. This feature first appeared on March 15 on Random Reads, which can be accessed at randomhouseindia.wordpress.com
'Each year on the day before Holi we would gleefully shop for the ingredients'
We started our tradition of making bhang ki thandai as part of our Holi celebrations as college students (one of us studied organic chemistry). Each year on the day before Holi we would gleefully shop for the ingredients. Bhang was legally acquired from a government licensed shop somewhere in Nizamuddin. Babbar Uncle at the neighbourhood store was our source for the thandai mix (a blend of almond, black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon etc mixed into sugar syrup) and the almonds came from the INA market. We would sneak out at midnight to sit in Rocky's room and strain the thandai and milk through the fresh green paste into a bucket -- a moment's pause here to thank Rocky's mother for her unknowing contribution of a chunni every year to serve as the strainer.
The next day we shared the delicious milky concoction with our friends and then proceeded to celebrate in fine form, smearing each other with colour and drenching everyone with cold water. Admittedly our faces and clothes were soon a sight but we suspect that the loud and often unstoppable laughter at each other's faces might have been partly (just partly, mind you, because Holi itself is such a hoot) induced by the mildly hallucinogenic drink. The sweet delicacies like the gujiyas, malpuas and chilled rasgullas served by all homes were scoffed with great happiness and appetites were whipped into frenzy. This time too bhang was the main culprit. As the day went on the bhang often elevated whatever mood a person was in and we have a hilarious memory of a friend climbing up and down six flights of stairs for more than two hours, finally falling asleep at the bottom.
'Rocky followed a full dinner with all the thirteen desserts on the room service menu!'
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi
On camera we first encountered our friend bhang at a licensed shop in Rajasthan. To the dismay of our director we happily tucked into a few bhang cookies dipped into banana bhang lassi. Watch the Jaisalmer episode of Highway On My Plate to see what followed. Our memories of that evening are faint though we do remember laughing lot. Rocky followed a full dinner with all the thirteen (yes, that's 13) desserts on the room service menu. He felt so deprived when Mayur took a bit of his blueberry cheesecake that he ordered all thirteen again. To be fair to him, he only managed to down eight of the second lot. We chugged bhang in Varanasi and Ujjain, both cities sacred to Lord Shiva. This time round we managed to get most of the crew to drink some and it made for some interesting camera angles. There's no question that bhang adds to the festive spirt.
So come Holi go find yourself some kind soul willing to share their bhang, fill a glass with the milky green stuff, call out a salutation to Bholenath and chug your blessing down. Make sure you drink it so fast that some of it escapes and runs down your chin. It is tradition after all.
A little note of caution just so you don't think we are irresponsible. Bhang from government licensed shops is okay especially on Holi. Charas, ganja, and other hallucinogenic or narcotic substances are not legal, so buyer beware.