Maha Shivaratri an annual Hindu festival and the darkest night of the year that celebrates the Grace of Lord Shiva
The festivals of Sadhus and Hashish, Maha Shivaratri is one of the ultimate festivals of Nepal. Closely associated with Pashupati, Shivaratri literally means the night of Shiva. This day marks the union of Shiva and Shakti (the goddess of power). It also celebrates the night when Lord Shiva performed the “Tandav”, the cosmic dance.
One interesting thing about Shivaratri is that there are many stories associated with its origin.Lord Shiva is considered as the god of yogis, the destroyer and the god of fertility. According to legends, Shiva drank a poison that could have destroyed the Universe. During this, Parvati (Shiva’s wife) prayed and meditated on the 13th night of the new moon to ward off any evil that might befall her husband. To mark the remarkable contribution of Shiva, this night is dedicated as the night of Shiva. Another belief associated with its origin depicts Shivaratri as a night when Shiva saved the world which was facing destruction. Parvati pled her husband to save it by dedicating a night where living souls would become active again and upon worshipping Shiva would have his blessings.
The celebration of Shivaratri starts a week beforehand. Pashupatinath Temple is flooded with devotees, paupers, children and gawking tourist. There is a reason why this temple was set away from the human settlement; in the midst of forests and slightly tumbledown structures; the most devout followers of Shiva, Sadhus, had a special sanctuary. Sadhu’s from all over the country and from India visit Pashupatinath temple and spend the night lightning scared fires, singing hymns and smoking hashish. According to a tale, after Shiva’s consort died he came near to the forest with his body smeared with ashes. He wandered around smoking cannabis with a serpent and tiger skin draped around his waist. Imitating Shiva, his ascetics smoke cannabis inside the temple which has been deemed illegal starting this year.
Sadhus cover themselves with ashes and decorate their bodies with bright and vibrant colours. Nanga Baba or the Naked Sadhus can also be seen wandering around the temples during Maha Shivaratri and vendors of red tikka powder, sacred rudraksha beads do a rousing business. Most of the devotees fast and perform Vedic worship of Shiva. The sacred chant of “Om Namah Shivaya” can be heard in Shiva's Temples throughout the celebration. After fasting overnight, devotees devour the offerings in form of Prashad.
Surprisingly it gets exceptionally cold this time of the year and right after Shivaratri, the warmer winds bring in the advent of spring. If you walk around the streets of Nepal, you can see children blocking the streets with a dori (jute rope) and chanting “Shiva jee lai jado bhayo daura paisa due na” which is a song that requests passersby to give wood and money to keep lord shiva warm. All in all, Shivaratri is one of the most important festivals of Nepal that you just cannot miss. It represents the Hindu practices of this small yet diverse country.
For Maha Shivarati 2020
It is expected that this year 1.3 million devotees from across the world will come to Pahupatinath for Maha Shivaratri. The Pashupati Area Development Trust (PADT) has properly cleaned the Pashupati area and has taken measures to manage the crowd. Pashupati Area development Trust has said that this year it would much easier for devotees to carry out their puja and Darshan. To celebrate Maha Shivaratri in a convenient and safe way, Nepal government has deployed more than 6,000 police men and women in Pashupati area.
Photo Courtesy: Prajay Kansakar