Vol. 4 Num 338 Thu. May 13, 2004  
Front Page

Pot extrava-ganza

It doesn't get any better for the marijuana lovers! Thousands of marijuana or ganja lovers seeking spiritual ecstasy from across the country as well as from India, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar and Pakistan have started pouring in the 2,375 year-old Mahastangarh to celebrate a three-day ganja festival beginning today.

The annual extravaganza, a crowd-puller, is held every last Thursday of the Bangla month of Boishakh and draws both male and female pot connoisseurs with plaited hair.

Not all the visitors smoke ganja at the festival, though, locals say. Most of them go there to watch the ganja-lovers. The main festival is held for one day, but it invariably stretches to three days.

In a tradition introduced more than 100 years ago by Hindu Sadhus (saints), as many as three lakh ganja-lovers are likely to converge on the area today. However, for the last three years they are having a hard time with the festival in the wake of increased police resistance and leaving the 'organisers' to guesswork about the exact number of the ganja-lovers likely to turn up at the site this year.

Local police said they will be in the hunt for them like the previous years. "If we find anyone smoking ganja, we will arrest them. We have been doing that for the last few years," said a police officer of Mahastangarh, asking for anonymity.

Religious or racial differences hold no bar for these ganja-lovers who will dance holding each other's hands after stuffing their lungs with marijuana smoke.

Many come here with specially designed kalki or pot, which is part of the tradition and the smokers will chain themselves to draw others' attention.

Those sit in shades with tridents will draw religious devotees who call them 'Baba'. Devotees will seek blessings of the Baba and in return, give them chickens and other homage.

"We have heard about this annual festival from our forefathers," said Abdul Majid, a senior resident of Mahastangarh.

Local people have thrown up at least 5,000 makeshift shops to cash in on this festival and other religious activities. Many have erected temporary living quarters for the visitors on the archaeological site. Some of them will be dismantled, but some will stay as part of a systematic process of encroachment.

Mahastangarh draws huge visitors annually especially because of its religious values. In its history of more than 2,000 years, different saints of the Hindus, Buddha and Muslims have stayed in this city -- making it a shrine of all religions of the region.

Hindus who come here for holy bath in the river Karatoa believe that Sheela Devi, sister of a Hindu king in the 1300 AD, jumped in the Karatoa river during a Muslim invasion and she swam under water for five miles in one breath.

Muslim devotees come to this place to pay homage to Shah Sufi, a holy man who stayed here nearly a thousand years ago.

The Buddhist devotees believe that great king Ashoka came here and built a meditation ground, which remains to be unearthed, in homage of Goutam Buddha.

During April-May and December, hundreds of thousands of people of different religions gather here as part of their religious activities.

CALL OF CANNABIS: Connoisseurs have started streaming into the Mahastangarh archaeological site to celebrate a three-day traditional ganja festival beginning today. PHOTO: STAR