Drugs on the Road

What is a Chillum?

A chillum is a conical pipe traditionally made from fired clay. It’s designed for smoking a mixture of charas and tobacco and tends to have quite a kick. The chillum is always accompanied by a conical stone which prevents pieces of burning charas falling into the smoker’s mouth. There is also a wetted piece of cloth known as the safi which is a second safety guard. Sadhus in India who follow Shiva may own little more than a blanket, a begging bowl and a chillum.

It’s a very social form of smoking as a chillum is generally far too strong to be smoked alone. The whole operation of preparing the mix and smoking the charas is something of a ritual. The etiquette in a sadhu circle is almost impossible to get right but the main thing is to never pass the chillum to the left – this direction is generally taboo as the left hand is used to clean the anus after going to the bathroom.

Amongst his many attibrutes, the Hindu god, Shiva, is considered to be the Lord of Charas and he’s always invoked with the ceremony of smoking the chillum. Smokers cry out “Bom Bolendad“ or “Bom Shankar“ as the chillum is lit and the more stoned you become, the closer you enter into Shiva’s presence. Which is a nice way for the average stoned hippy to feel that he’s on a spiritual path…

In the old days you could buy chillums on the street ready prepared with a charas and tobacco mix. You bought, smoked and then threw the clay chillum onto the ground. It broke and returned to its place of origin. India has been into recycling for thousands of years.

However, once Nancy Reagan got going on her ‘just say no’ campaign in the 1980’s War on Drugs, draconian legislation was introduced in India against the possession of charas. Chillums are still for sale in shops (without the charas) and can be incredibly ornate, set with snakes or Indian gods. Prices range from $1-20.

The Italians chillum fascists went one step further and came up with designer chillums. Just as they brought their national excellance to the cultivation of charas up in the Himalayas they were also compelled to bring some class to the world of chillums. Those made by names like Franco may sell for up to $500. They’re made of glass, crystal and ceramic and the former chillums light up as you smoke. You’ll only ever see them on the Goa Trance scene though – the purists in the mountains only use clay.