Shodas of the yore

"It is recorded that during Amarnath pilgrimage, Yatris/Sadhus were supplied charas & ration quota in cash & kind by the Gulab Singh’s administration." [Representational Image]
"It is recorded that during Amarnath pilgrimage, Yatris/Sadhus were supplied charas & ration quota in cash & kind by the Gulab Singh’s administration." [Representational Image] Chetan Karkhanis/Flickr/Creative Commons

In Kashmiri dictionaries, “Shodah” means (1) a person who is addicted to cannabis indica, hemp/bhang, a Bhangi or a Charasi, a sot; (2) a person who by nature is always in a furious rage often using bad language & throwing very filthy abuse at others; (3) a person without understanding, a stupid fellow, continuously acting like a drunken fellow in a habitual manner; (4) one addicted or slave to a bad habit like a confirmed smoker, or intoxicating drugs (previously in Kashmiri people used to take snuff (Naas) only & now there are all kinds of varieties, substance & non substance addictions available in present times that make people slave to their use); & (5) lazy smoking fellow.

“Shodegi” is adjective of noun Shodeh or Shode-bai (female Shoda). It describes the condition or conduct of an addict, not only Charsi/Bhangi but any person who is conducting, behaving, speaking & thinking in a strange stupid & disordered manner. These are varying connotations of the term “Shoda”.

In Kashmir, cannabis indica plant was cultivated for extracting resin, charas, from it, rubbing its leaves & flowering buds on palm. Charas narcotic preparation from cannabis indica was used for intoxicating purposes, while the plant-fibre was used in making of “strong & durable ropes” & paper; for paper-making in very small quantity though. Charas is a form of hashish.

Shode Takias:

It may be mentioned that during Afghan Rule, there was absolute prohibition on any kind of intoxicating materials like wine, or Charas in the valley. So, no “formal” Shoda or Charsi is to be noticed in Kashmir chronicles during that time in Kashmir.

But, the Sikh Rulers lifted the Afghan ban on the use of wine etc. Bhang-plant grew “plentifully in Kashmir” [Stein], “along banks of Jhelum it grew spontaneously” [Gazetteer] but Kakapur of Pulwama district was famed with the production of best hemp/Bhang during Sikh rule. [Vigne].

Wine was procured from apple juice. People were free to take any kind of intoxicating stuff including Charas. Then during Dogra Rulers, taking of wine & charas were further encouraged.

“Hemp was only used in the manufacture of an intoxicating drink called charas, and for smoking”. [Gazetteer] I am not dealing with revenue part of it to the government. That is not my object here. Few decades before, these Shodas/Charsis, overwhelmingly Muslims, had set up their Takias/ resting-rooms throughout the city, where they would take charas & listen to “sufiyana music” whole day, their entire life revolving round these things.

The prominent ones were near Siraj Bazar Zaina Kadal & Syed Mansoor Bridge. Shodas were often plied by the people with food, sherbet & tea. It may be noted that Islam strictly prohibits use of intoxicants in any form whatsoever.

It is recorded that during Amarnath pilgrimage, Yatris/Sadhus were supplied charas & ration quota in cash & kind by the Gulab Singh’s administration.

Vigne has recorded that before a Brahman widow performed ritual of Sati, she was given potion of Bhang for sedative effect. The evil custom has since been abolished in India.

But Bhangh played an important role in Shaivate rituals of Brahmans dedicated to Shiva. Under Brahman traditions, Bhangh is used “to focus inward” & in the Atharva Veda, cannabis is named one of the five most sacred plants on Earth & “as a ‘source of happiness’ and a ‘liberator’”.

Now, coming to the term Takia, it is an Urdu word which in the context strictly means the resting place of the Shodas. Who introduced tradition of Shoda Takias in Kashmir is not certainly known but its origin seems to have been contemporaneous with the supply of Charas to Yatris during early Dogra Rule.

Such practices had tacit support of then & later administration. Unfortunately, due to legendary ignorance of history & religion, some ‘writers” have attempted to glorify Shoda Takia practice of yesteryears Kashmir as a dignified part of Sufi-religious milieu of Kashmir.

Some “writers” of Kashmir have compared Shodas & Shoda Takias with Muslim saints & shrines. Maqbool Shah Kralwari [1820-1877], a renowned Sufi poet of 19th century, whose Sufi poetic tradition was followed by other famous Sufi poets like Soch Kral [1774-1854], Rahman Dar [d 1872-1875], Shams Faqir [1843-1901] & others has in his famous Masnavi “Peer Nama” written about Shodas which shows Bhangi or a Charasi existed in his time; albeit Shoda Takia as such does not find mention in his metrical satire.

He says: Charas Te Banghe Chat Yus Nange Pheri, Karan Tass Pach, Dapan Yi Gayi Faqeeri, …..Khososan Yud Tamis Marith Gazih Taal, Dapan Pizkin Yohi Gov Sahibi Kamal, [The wandering Charsi & Bhangi are considered & trusted as Faqeers/Dervishs, and ……Sahib e Kamal].

Some people have connected Shoda-Shoda-Takia-practice also with so-called unique cultural phenomenon of “Kashmiriyat” that was but floated on political landscape of Kashmir during late 1930s to early 1950s & vibrantly & potently used as a propaganda tool for political objectives.

But, as the days passed, people became educated & religiously conscious, and then worldwide campaign against narcotic drugs & psychotropic substances followed by the Narcotic Drugs & Psychotropic Substances Act in 1985, the Shoda Takias & Shodas came to an end & they are no longer eulogised as glorified saints. Rather, Shoda is stigmatized in the conscious Kashmirian society now which is fighting against the new menace of drug-addiction.

The Narcotic Drugs & Psychotropic Substances Act in 1985:

India passed the Narcotic Drugs & Psychotropic Substances Act in 1985 that completely banned cultivation, possession, sale & consumption of all kinds of narcotic drugs & psychotic substances including Charas.

However, taking advantage of loophole left in the said enactment, P & High Court in Arjun Singh v. State of Haryana (2005, Cr LJ 253) held that “it has been held by different High Courts…..that bhang (hemp) does not fall under the definition of cannabis (hemp) as defined under Section 2(iii) of the Act.

Thus, its possession does not constitute an offence punishable under the Act.” JK High Court in M Lateef Sheikh v. State of J&K has taken same opinion. Thus, the Act though lists cannabis as narcotic like its bud & resin [charas], it leaves its leaves from which the Bhang is prepared untouched.

Kashmiri Shodah- Proverb:

Now I will share an interesting Shoda related proverb with its background here to make discussion spicy & exciting. It is : “Shode Sainz Kalhir” or “Yotat Taam Ne Shodeh Kalhir Daz, Totat Taam Ker Ne Shodev Panawain Kath”.

Literally it can be translated as: Unless head of a shodah (here represented by head of sheep) was burnt, they/Shodas did not talk to each other”. There is another proverb associated with Shodas of the yore. It is Shode Walde Charas that is Shoda is wholly & solely concerned with Charas.


In olden days it is said, once five stupid friends met & wanted to cook & taste head of a sheep (Kalihir in Kashmiri). They contributed money & went to the bazar & bought Kalhir. They decided to burn, roast, cook & eat it in the room of one of them.

When they reached that room, they put the Kalhir on the fire of earthen-stove (daan), and in the meantime they said to each other that they had forgotten to buy oil, butter, & other spices for roasting & cooking Kalhir.

The bazaar was at a distance & the question was who will go back to the bazaar for buying these items. They decided that they will all maintain strict silence (Chup) & the one who breaks his silence will have to go to buy the necessary items.

They kept totally silent, squatting around the Kalhir that was burning on the earthen-fire-stove & none uttered a word. Someone sneezed, another coughed, yet another groaned, another fellow yawned, and it went like that.

Not a single word coming from the mouth of anyone among them. In the meantime, a constable passed by. He was surprised to see these five idiots quite mum starring at the Kalhir burning on fire in a squatting position around it.

He thought that they must be mad or idiots or thieves who have stolen Kalhir as the behaviour was quite wild & weird. He entered the room & asked why were they silent, tongue-tied, & looking like monkeys at each other, just silently watching the burning Kalhir.

Still no reply. He got infuriated on repeated asking. He took them to his Thana. But, they did not reply to the queries of the Thanedar even. Now Thanedar lost patience. He ordered one among them be taken clothes off.

The clothes were removed from the body of the shodah & the Thanedar started flogging him. But still not a word from his mouth or other Shodas.

Other Shodas kept watching the flogging of their co-Shoda without a word from mouth of any one among them. When whipping went deeper in the skin of the victim-shoda, he cried: O, no more beating, Haya Bayiv Kalhir Ha Deiz, Tohi Chiva Tamashe Vechaan”( Brothers Kalhir is burnt now, still you wait for what?).

The shodas replied in one voice: Yes , yes, that is what we were waiting for, you have broken silence, breached the promise, now go & buy oil......... So, the idiom, unless Shodas are beaten to pulp, they don’t talk to each other. [Knowles] Funny fellows, indeed! These anecdotes are teemed with wisdom & knowledge.


Kashmiri proverbs are full of wisdom. They constitute rich cultural heritage of Kashmiri society, preserved & transmitted by oral telling from generation to generation.

With passing times, more proverbs and sayings go on adding to this beauty of cultural traditions.

Remember, never be nor behave or act like Shodas of the yore lest it lands you in deep trouble in new drug-free-world which is an utopian goal pursued by all conscious societies.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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