Maha Shivaratri literally translates to ‘The night of Shiva’ and Shivaratri is seen as one of the most important festivals for Hindus all over the world. Shiva is the supreme lord and the god of destruction, destruction of darkness and ignorance, as per the doctrines of Hinduism. It is celebrated on the 14th day of the dark fortnight of the month Magha, based on the Hindu Lunar Calander, just before the arrival of spring.
The festival of Maha Shivaratri can be seen being concentrated majorly on the perimeters of the Holy Pashupatinath Temple at Kathmandu with glimpses of celebration spread all over the country. With hundreds of thousands of pilgrims visiting the temple from all over Nepal and from countries like India, Malaysia, and Singapore, the ambiance becomes extra exuberant with colors, music, chants, and naked Sadhus- yoga practitioners. This year Nepal is expecting a crowd of 1.3 million people. On this day, devotee offer milk, a special intoxicating flower called Dhaturo, green leaves named Belapatra to Shiva and chant ॐ नम: शिवाय (Om: Namaha Shivaya). The devotees pray to Shiva all night fore light over darkness.
History of Shivaratri
According to Hindu mythology, a poison came out of the ocean during Samundra Manthan. To protect the people, Lord Shiva drank the poison which didn’t kill him but burnt and changed his skin around the throat into the color blue. That is why he is also referred to as NilaKantha: which literally translates to “Blue-Throated”. Yet another legend has it, Brahma and Bishnu, both supreme lords had a heated argument over each other's ascendence which angered Shiva. And in order to punish the lords, he turned into a form of a massive fire that expanded over the length of the universe. The race was on between Brahma and Bishnu to exhibit their powers and went on to find the end of the fire but couldn't. Brahma, not willing to accept the defeat resorted to a lie, which angered Shiva that made him curse Brahma, that no one would pray him for eternity. On this day, all government institutions, offices and businesses are closed to honor Shiva.
Celebrations and rituals
The celebration is mostly centered around the Pashupatinath Temple where thousand of pilgrims of multiple nationalities gather to honor Lord Shiva. The temple of Pashupatinath is also considered to be a guardian of the Kathmandu Valley. Maha Shivaratri is a celebration unlike any other, where you can witness people of all ages, gender, color, and nationality come and honor the divine. Although the gates of the temple are only opened to Hindus, one can easily roam the vicinity of the temple which is equally lively. As the name suggests, the celebration is done at the night time but events can be witnessed throughout the day. At night, crowds gather for Aarati with music and chants which will definitely awestruck anyone witnessing the event.
With the expectation of a large crowd this year, proper management and tactics are in place for the successful celebration of the festival. The streets are closed for vehicles maintaining a “Walk-only” zone to easily control the flow of people coming for Pujas and Darshans. Also, the perimeters of the temple are cleaned thoroughly with sanitation in mind. For curious visitors other than pilgrims, one can freely roam the vicinity exploring many shrines and temples and interact with Naked Yogies covered in ash and smoking marijuana, who will definitely pose for a photograph, and experience the authentic Hindu culture and tradition.
The official ceremony starts at midnight with priests offering flowers, milk, and other items to Lord Shiva. People bathe in the sacred river of Bagmati and head into the temple for prayers. The events are spread throughout the night with live hymns and recitals of sacred texts and scriptures.
The hub of marijuana smokers
Although marijuana is considered to be illegal in Nepal, the festival of Maha Shivaratri is an exception because it holds significance in Hindu doctrines. Yogies and ShaduBabas can be witnessed smoking marijuana but it is often considered to be off-limits for the general public with loosened law. Therefore, tourists and Nepalese can be seen smoking marijuana with the Babas and Sadhus on the premises of Pashupatinath Temple.
But be careful before taking sweets or Lassi- a type of milkshake on this day. Although it may taste amazing, it may be mixed with local hallucinogenic plants called ‘Bhang’ and can have severe effects on the inexperienced body. Also, make sure not to carry valuables like passports, credit cards and other items of expensive jewelry.