Shiva’s Trance Boom: How The Deity Became The Face Of Hipster Music
Why the Hindu God has found such reverence in the EDM scene
A cursory browse through Indian EDM on Youtube is inevitably met with a series of song titles and album art with strong references to Lord Shiva. The Hindu god has found unparalleled fanfare within the Indian and even worldwide trance movement. How has one of Hinduism’s foremost deities come to be associated with this world of psychedelia? The roots of the fascination stretch thousands of years, through India’s relationship with narcotics and transcendent thought.
One legend goes so far as to trace the existence of cannabis on Earth to Lord Shiva, as he and other gods churned the great ocean of matter to make Amrita, the potion for eternal life. Some of the elixir dripped onto the Earth, sprouting cannabis plants wherever it graced. The veracity of this story is doubtful, but it has not stopped Shiva’s devotees from consuming the plant in his honour. Shiva’s association with marijuana mainly stems from his depiction in a higher, blissful state of consciousness. The naturally growing cannabis in India and Nepal was inevitably consumed by the locals, and, upon discovering its psychoactive effects, the plant has found enthusiasts among those attempting to expand their minds toward a higher level of being.
Light recreational marijuana use came to carve its own culture in India over the years. British colonial accounts almost incredulously describe marijuana use in India to be widespread, but still free of abuse and overuse, with negligible detriment observed in the population. Lord Shiva, as a higher being, was free of the negative effects of the intoxication, and was able to reap only benefit toward his meditative thought from his use. Devotees have paid tribute by using the plant toward good, from the relief of anxiety to the supplementation of yogic meditation.
Indian spiritual, narcotic, and yogic philosophy first found its way into popular music through the global hippie movements of the Sixties. Many embarked on the famous hippie trail, carving a path from Morocco through the Middle East and finally ending in India. The alternative cultures of places like Goa and Manali came to be from hippies passing through and even settling there. Marijuana was new and exciting for many in the west, and came to be an inseparable part of the hippie culture. Open-minded travelers who came to India found a culture that had reveled in the purported benefits of marijuana for thousands of years, using it to promote an oneness with the universe which resonated with western beatnik belief. Sixties musical acts came to develop a deep obsession with Indian culture, as the sitar made an appearance on rock classics such as Paint it Black and, most famously, The Beatles came to Rishikesh in 1968 to study meditation.
As the global hippie movement died down, the party kept going in Goa. The state became a psychedelic haven, famous for its beach parties featuring high-energy, eclectic beats which evolved to form the genre Goa trance. Local DJs looked to draw inspiration from Indian themes to distinguish themselves from foreign artists, and found a perfect muse in transcendent yogic culture, of which Shiva, with his cannabis use and higher state of consciousness, was the inevitable figurehead. The hypnotic vibe of trance, with its repeated melodic phrases, peaks and drops, evokes imagery of chanting yogics searching for connection with higher powers. Shiva’s use of marijuana toward only positive influence furthers the ethos of electronic dance culture, which involves heavy drug use but only toward the spread of happiness and a good time for all. The adaptation of an inexhaustible supply of colorful imagery of the deity has led to widespread use of his likeness toward psychedelic album art and festival flyers, promoting Shiva’s status as an EDM icon.
The Indian electronic scene has come a long way from its roots on Goa’s beaches, with thousands attending festivals and concerts around the country. Many cite Shiva’s relationship with cannabis as moral justification of their own narcotic journeys as they get into the scene, but the spirit of the movement will be lost if we lose sight of the roots of the association in the first place; bending the mind toward a greater understanding of harmony and existence.