Chai, Chapati, Chillum! (are all my brain and body need)
Originally I wrote this piece on the chillum back in early March but then had the bright idea of seeing if I could sell it (Well lets face it no one has ever clicked the donate button). Well blow my cotton socks off but I actually got interest and was under the impression I had sold it for 300 Euro to Soft Secrets. Just goes to show what I’m giving away for free here is actually worth something (well to a free weed magazine?). However our life is never that simple, as we blogged in the post Not so Soft or Secret Communications. Although this was a joint effort, the chillum has strong religious significance to the sadhu so this piece is attributed to our spiritual expert Tariqas.
If you have never smoked a chillum then it’s likely you have never been to India either, where the chillum has been the principle method for smoking cannabis for over 5000 years. It’s very likely too that the first person to ever get stoned did so using a chillum for the chillum is an ancient instrument fused with mystical, religious and philosophical history. In essence the chillum is a simple conical clay pipe that is held between and smoked through cupped hands. It is a tool designed for sharing and whilst it may be old it is by no means a simple instrument; for a well constructed chillum is not only an example of great art but great science for this is :
What came first; the Chillum or the Sadhu?
It’s impossible to tell the story of the chillum without talking about Sadhu’s, India’s ash smeared wandering mystics. To the Sadhu the chillum is his connection with God; it is the holy grail of Asia and when a group of Sadhu’s sit down to share a chillum they are talking part in a ritual that is equivalent to and at least 3000 years older than the Eucharist (Christian Mass). Such events usually take place around a Dunhi, a sacred fire pit, and when the participants are senior members of an Akhara, the house or family that the Sadhu’s belong too the event is referred to as a meeting of ‘The High Court’. Akhara similarly best translates as the ‘Gathering in the Cave’ and its arguable that much of Asia’s oldest philosophical teachings and writings owe their origins to the use of chillum.
The Kumbh Mela: The Worlds Biggest Chillum Session
Whilst ‘booming tubes’ in smoky caves is a great way to connect with God and achieve enlightenment, the best way to connect with Sardu’s and chillum smoking is to attend the Worlds Largest Chillum event: the Kumbh Mela. Every 12 years tens of thousands of Sadhu’s descend on the Sangum, the confluence of the rivers Ganges and Yanama at Allahabad in India to take a Holy Dip and to smoke a chillum or two with old and new friends! So we went to join them and to find out what all that chillum smoking is about!
Charas: Chillum Fuel
Whilst Sadhu’s will smoke ganja (outdoor old style grass) in their chillum most prefer to smoke Charas or ‘cream’. Unlike hashish which is shaken from the dried plant, charas is rubbed onto the hands directly from the living plant in the field.; the finest of which is often referred to as ‘cream’.
Altitude is critical here with most charas growing above 1500m and the best cream coming from plants growing as high as 3500m. So above the tree-line and at the limit for Cannabis growth. At these altitudes the strong ultra-violet sun light and thin atmosphere result in a resin of almost liquid quality and a high that no indoor plant could ever match.
Smoked in a chillum one is immediately transported to a higher plane and if one is lucky an audience with Shiva (God) may be granted! For the chillum symbolizes to the Sadhu the four elements of Fire, Air, Earth and Water and the fifth element of the ethereal, the force that pervades everything and is provided and enhanced by the charas smoke. When all five are in perfect harmony, as they can be with the chillum, then the user can expect an encounter with God and a bit more enlightenment afterwards.
With such a potentially important meeting on the cards its similarly important that one is properly prepared before smoking a chillum and for the Sadhu this means a shit and a shower!
Rising at 4am a Sadhu first has a shit and then a snan (a bath or shower) before ‘ashing up’. For some this meant a daily trip to the edge of the Ganga river to do both, but more oft it meant use of a toilet before squatting under a cold tap and then smearing their entire body in ash. After this they are ready to present themselves before God and so sit by the Dunhi to dry and smoke their first chillum.
So before we could join them we too had to take a shit and snan! We fortunately avoided the need to smear ourselves in ash and were also able to use a towel; but it was after all the Sadhu’s number one rule: No Snan, No Chillum! So after a cold shower at 4am on a foggy January morning on the Sangum, We needed a chillum!
Making a chillum
1) Cigarette Choice and Preparation
Making a chillum correctly is most important and the first step is cigarette choice. For most Sadhu’s unfiltered ‘Cavenders’ is the prefered choice for others it’s Navy Cut, commonly referred to as ‘Wills’ (the makers) and for others it’s Gold Flake (another brand made by Wills.)
It can get a bit confusing so we found it always best to have a packet of each to hand. However we also found this local brand on sale for those with a less well developed sense of taste but a great sense of humour!
Once you have decided which brand to use you need to toast it. This can be done by running a lighter or match along the length of the cigarette whilst turning it.
The purpose of toasting is to dry the tobacco and to remove or reduce the nicotine and any chemical additives from the cigarette, thus making it less harmful. Once toasted the cigarette is opened and the dried tobacco removed.
2) Adding the Charas (Spirit)
Sadhus are renunciates, they have renounced everything so apart from their loin cloth, beads and mobile phone they carry very little else. That little that they do carry is precious to them and none more so than any charas! For Sadhu’s keep their charas tucked away in their babba bag (colouful shoulder/handbag) and only ever break enough off for a chillum. They have good reason too as pulling out a big lump will result in a dozen hands wishing to examine it and after they have the lump will not be quite so large! So a Sadhu only ever takes out what is needed for a chillum, a pea/bean sized ball! This is now warmed using a match. If the Charas is soft enough (cream) then it is squashed flat and mounted onto the dead end of a match before being warmed with the flame of another match. If the Charas is hard it is held between two matches used like chopsticks and then warmed with the flame of another match. Once warmed the charas is dropped into and quickly crumbled/mixed in with the dry tobbacco.
3) Filling the Chillum (Earth)
Ideally the tobacco mix should be in the cup of one hand and before filling the chillum one should check that the stone is in place; less the mix ends up on the floor. If all is correct then the chillum is first rotated once about the mix in an anti-clockwise direction and then filled. The rotation is performed for spiritual/religious purposes; for one is about to move towards God.
4) The Saffi: (Water)
Now filled the chillum is almost ready to smoke; what remains to be done is to wrap a small piece of moistened cheap thin cloth about the bottom. For this purpose a roll of bandage is ideal and well worth having handy since Saffi is often in short supply and a bit of a personal thing. For hygiene is important to the Sadhu’s who have long recognized the mouth as a mechanism for passing on ailments (i.e. TB). Thus in Sadhu society, as in India in general, the mouth is considered dirty to everyone except it’s owner. Once something has touched your mouth it cannot then be touched by another’s mouth: thus your Saffi is for your use only.
However necessity is the mother of invention and rules are only rules when you have the luxury to obey them. Such was the frequency that Saffi run out at the Kumbh Mela that a group of strangers would be faced with having to share one or go without a smoke of cream!
5) Lighting the Chillum (Fire)
Having mixed and built the chillum it is the norm for you to offer it to the most senior Sadhu present or the owner of the Dunhi if you are unsure of who that is. Your chillum will then be taken and either started or handed to someone else to start. Hopefully you will actually get to see it again but that is not always the case. A second person now lights the chillum using two matches. Alternatively a burning ember or coal from the fire may be placed on top and then discarded once the chillum is lit.
6) Smoking the Chillum (Air)
The chillum is now or should be passed in an anti-clockwise direction which should similarly mirror the seniority of the people present but invariable it does not and so the chillum may well zig-zag it’s way around. In such cases it is easy for it to pass you by but should it not, then on recipient first wrap your own Saffi cloth about the bottom, cup the hands about the chillum, empty the lungs and raise the cupped hands to the mouth. The first draw should be to check the chillum is burning; it’s largely a ‘cigar pull’; so just into the mouth. If this is good then empty the lungs again and take a full deep inhale. If you did everything correctly then you should have united the five elements and be on your way to a higher state of being!
Sadhu Science and Jet Engines (aka chillum mechanics)
In addition to the esoteric logic theres some good sound engineering behind a well made chillum but finding one is not an easy task. Most traditional Indian chillums, like the one on sale at the Kumbh Mela and available all over India are cheap and poorly made. Whilst adequate they lack some of finesse of a modern chillum. In particular these type of chillums don’t come with a purposely made stone and it is the norm for the buyer to fashion his own stone crudely out of a piece of Indian brick, which is soft and easily ground into shape. It is possible to make a good stone from an Indian brick but because of it’s softness it will quickly shrink and fall deeper into the chillum necessitating frequent replacements.
Modern chillums by comparison are longer and come with a purposely made stone that is hard. Ideally the chillum and stone should be perfectly matched. The stone should fit snugly into the chillum (it should not rattle) and go only so deep as to provide enough room at the top of the chillum for a one cigarette mix. Thus the stone is the most important component of the chillum with a well married stone acting like the turbine of a jet engine, compressing the smoke and leading to a smoother experience (well that’s the theory)
A Smoother Smoke (the path to paradise?)
You might wonder why compressing the smoke improves the experience but in doing so the temperature of the smoke is raised (Boyles Law) and this heat is transferred to both the stone and the chillum. When the smoke exits the stone at the bottom into the open chamber below it expands rapidly and cools.
During the compression process the smoke transfers more heat to the stone and the chillum than it would have were it not compressed and thus the smoke is subsequently cooler, smother and easier to inhale (so a bit of good and free advice to Bill Clinton there; must email him with it). However it is perhaps this wonderful public domain animation by NASA that demonstrates the principle perfectly of the theory behind the chillum: the original rocket engine.
With a chillum the compression of the smoke is achieved by the stone. As the smoke is pulled down the conical clay tube it is ‘squeezed’ by the flutes on the side of the stone increasing the pressure and temperature.
The better fitting the stone the better this compression making the stone the most important component of the chillum.
Other methods such as grooved stones increase the surface area exposed to the smoke and spiraled rather than straight flutes extend the length of the path; but it’s the original, hexagon stone that in our opinion works best and is the easiest to clean!
Chillum Cleaning and Maintenance.
Just as the Sadhu likes to keep himself clean so he likes to keep his chillum clean and after every use it and the stone are cleaned with a cloth. The usual method is to wipe the stone clean and then to thread a long strip of cloth through the chillum. One end of the cloth is then held taught between the toes and the other is pulled taught by a hand. With the chillum threaded onto this cloth it is then, with the free hand, rubbed and twisted vigorously up and down the taught cloth in an action reminiscent of masturbating. However not only are Sadhu’s celibates who don’t masturbate but the trained eye can spot the difference. (Plus Indian men are just not that well endowed. ref: BBC)
The Next Kumbh Mela (and Chillum event)
Although it will be another 12 years before the Kumbh Mela returns to the Sangum the festival is held every three years at four different sites. So another Kumbh and a chance to join in with one of the Worlds oldest religious gatherings and chillum smoking festivals will occur at Ujain in Jan 2016.
Well hopefully we will also put together some other posts and share the mountain of photo’s we have of these interesting and ancient mystics of the East. If you like what we write then become a registered user, hit the subscribe button or grab an RSS feed and get notifications of new posts delivered to your inbox for breakfast (GMT) .
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