The Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu is generally regarded by Hindus as the most sacred of all temples devoted to Lord Shiva. Thousands of devotees visit the site every day from Nepal, India and other parts of the world. And on a special day like Shivratri, it is a sight to behold.
I was lucky to be in Kathmandu when this festival happened in 2010. And earlier commentators were not wrong when they listed it as a must-attend event. Literally a sea of devotees (over 600,000) started streaming in from the day before. Add to it hundreds of stalls selling items of worship and other shopping, food stalls, live devotional songs and performances and bright lighting and you have a perfect carnival environment.
And kudos to the local administration for their organizational skills. Proper barricading to manage people and vehicle traffic meant no stampedes. Filtered water and fist aid was provided to all at no cost. Donors had set up stalls to give free food to all those who wanted it – and again, queues for the same were well managed. Mobile and permanent toilets, all functioning, impressed too.
Adding colour to all this, as is common at all major Hindu congregations, was the presence of ‘holy men and women.’ They come from all over to offer their own brand of homage to the Gods. While some truly come for the faith they believe in, many seem to be just ‘frauds.’ Their job seems to be entertain the crowd with their antics, often dressing in revealing outfits, indulging in vulgar acts, spewing abusive language, drinking, getting high on drugs and collecting money from passers-by. Including from photographers like me. They even sell marijuana sticks for Rs. 10 each as a ‘prasad’ or offering to Lord Shiva.
It is all a part of the package and no one grudges them; in fact, most devotees still give them the respect reserved for true custodians of the faith. This year their number was down though by 20 percent from 3,700 the previous year; many were in Haridwar in India for the once-in-12-years Mahakumbh Mela. The Government had budgeted for Rs. 1.3 million to be spent on their food and shelter.
You may want to check out http://pashupati.org.np, a site launched in 2010.
The next time you plan a trip to Kathmandu, try going on Shivratri. Being a part of the crowds may be worth the experience. You may view more pictures on Facebook even if you are not a member.