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Hindu God Banishes Cannabis Tourism from Indian Village

Photo by PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP/Getty Images

A local Hindu deity has issued an edict ordering that guest-houses that cater to cannabis-imbibing tourists in a remote Indian village be shut down.

That’s the gist of the startling headline from the Hindustan Times on Tuesday.

Malana, a village high in the mountains of Himachal Pradesh, is famous for its premium-quality hashish, but has traditionally been isolated from the outside world. Now, village elders fear the community’s unique culture is threatened by the swarms of tourists drawn by Malana’s storied bhang.

Hashish has traditionally been used to honor the community’s protective deity, Jamlu Devta. Perhaps put off by the less-than-reverential attitude of some visitors, Jamlu Devta has “spoken” to village elders, telling them to end the tourist trade—not, notably, the hashish production.

“The deity did not want any of the villagers to rent out their property for running guest-houses and restaurants. He has forbidden everyone from doing this, and those violating his orders will have to bear the brunt of his curse,” Malana panchayat pradhan (village elder) Bhagi Ram told the Hindustan Times by phone.

The god’s edict was ratified in a vote of the village parliament. A similar move was taken a few months back, when the village banned photography because residents felt that visitors were portraying Malana as a hub of what the Hindustan Times unappetizingly called “narco-tourism.”

The Culture Trip and Mysterious Himachal websites provide more background on the threatened culture and history of Malana. The village prides itself on being the “world’s oldest democracy,” with a local parliament dating back centuries. Villagers hold themselves to be descendants of the army of Alexander the Great, when he passed through India in the 4th century BCE. 

The protective deity is said to have started out as a mortal man, who came to the site of the village seeking enlightenment in the ancient past. The seeker, Jamlu Rishi (rishi = sage), was so sucessful in his quest that he was granted immortality and become Jamlu Devta (devta = deity).

As in many places across India, traditional ritual use of bhang in the village is tolerated by the national government. However, the government had virtually no presence in Malana until very recently, when a road was built to accommodate construction of a hydro-electric project. This is also what brought the wave of tourists, and local fears of cultural erosion.

While this affair affords the media the opportunity to gloat about “narco-tourism,” it’s important to keep things in perspective.

Cannabis tourism indeed does pose a threat to authentic cultures—especially in places like Malana that have only recently been opened to mass society. But it has this in common with all other forms of tourism—and, indeed, it poses less of a threat than some other kinds (luxury resorts, golf courses, sex tourism).

There is nothing about cannabis tourism per se that makes it any more of a threat.

It’s incumbent upon cannabis tourists—like all other tourists—to be respectful of local cultures, and to be good ambassadors both for their own countries and for the weed.

But the dilemma facing Malana is ultimately one of globalization—not of any inherent evil of cannabis. Which the villagers themselves seemingly recognized in just banning the tourism—not the ganja. 

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