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Rajasthan polls: Parties offer opium to soothe frayed tempers

Host asks the guest to lick a small dose of opium dissolved in water from his palm in return of his friendship & support. Mukesh Mathrani reports.

india Updated: Nov 20, 2013 15:32 IST
Mukesh Mathrani

As the election fever ascends to its peak and the candidate selection process leaving some of the nonticket getters dismayed, the prominent parties are going the extra mile to soothe frayed tempers. Extra mile here means venturing into a legally grey area, where, in the cover of tradition, opium is used to win the bonhomie back with the friend-turnedfoes.

Riyan or opium ceremony is an old tradition in western Rajasthan. In the ceremony, the host asks the guest to lick a small dose of opium dissolved in water from his palm in return of his support and friendship.

The fundamental idea behind Riyan is to wipe out indifferences and forge a bond between two people, with opium acting as means of compromise. Here, attendance means guaranteed support because not partaking of the opium is considered an insult to the host.

The opium ceremony, where the drug is taken in small doses, is an inextricable part of any social occasion - be it a birth, a wedding or a funeral - in the Thar region. While the ritual is practised by all the castes, it is most prevalent among the Bishnoi’s and the Rajput’s.

Riyan is an elaborate ceremony. A large number of people are involved in the preparation of the opium concoction. The drug is dissolved in water and then strained, ground and mixed with jaggery, sugar, saffron and milk in a wooden pot.

The ceremony is also referred to as Amal Ka Dastoor, where Amal means opium. Though possessing, serving and consuming opium is illegal, serving the drug to guests has been a long-standing custom for Rajasthanis.

Earlier, this tradition gave a chance to former Union minister Jaswant Singh’s opponents to file a complaint against him for allegedly serving opium to his guests, who were mostly BJP dissidents, at his native village Jasol in Barmer.

“Though, efforts are made to limit sales, Riyans are held almost daily in rural areas as part of the election campaign,” a senior government official said.