Shivaratri: Great night of Lord Shiva
Every festival in Nepal traditionally
begins with something religious and proceeds with spontaneous sprit.
Our festivals are rooted in history, mythology
and religion. They honour and propitiate the multitude of gods and
control malicious spirits.
A festival is a social occasion. It is an affirmation
of the ancient and strong bonds of religion and culture. Festivals
in Nepal are reckoned not only as occasions to indulge in eating,
drinking and making merry but also as occasions when one is to devote
some of one’s time to the worship of and meditation upon gods
and goddesses in different forms.
Among numerous festivals of Nepal, Maha Shivaratrai
is worthy to note in the cultural aspect of Nepal, which is to be
celebrated on Feb./March.
There are many festivals held in honor of the
Hindu God Shiva every year, but the most important is Maha Shivaratri,
the Great Night of Lord Shiva.
Hindu devotees on this night throng Shiva shrines
everywhere, but the grandest of all activities revolve around Pashupatinath
temple located on the banks of the sacred Bagmati River about three
kilometres east of downtown Kathmandu.
This all-night vigil and the exciting crowded
festival days before and after attract thousands of people from
India and Nepal.
Pashupatinath temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva
in the form of Pashupati, Lord of the Animals, who protect and care
for all men. It is said that Lord Shiva once roamed as a deer in
the forest behind Pashupatinath.
The large pagoda temple, open only to Hindus,
stands above broad stone platforms at the river’s edge –
the ghats, where the dead are burned. All around are small shrines,
temples and pavilions where yogis and priests talk, relax, chant
prayers and meditate.
The days before and after Shiva’s night
are like a mela, or religious fair, at its best. People fill the
roads around Pashupati Temple – holy men, beggars, Indian
pilgrims, children and gawking tourists. Vendors of red tika powder,
sacred rudraksha beads do a rousing business.
On the occasion, pilgrims and sadhus from all
around the country and from India visit the Pashupatinath temple
and spend the night lightning sacred fires, singing praises of the
deity, and keeping a constant vigil to greet his descent to earth
on the grassy hills around the temple to enjoy the warmth of good
companionship and chatting around.
At midnight Shivaratri officially begins with
priests making offerings inside the temple. Throughout the night,
devotees take a holy dip in the sacred Bagmati River and bring holy
water in their cupped palms to offer it to the stone stele, the
phallic symbol of Lord Shiva, enshrined in the splendid temple and
In the morning priests start the recitation of sacred texts, continuing
until about noon, when the chanting of sacred songs begins. This
is a favourite time, for some of the finest tabla and sitar musicians,
of course, from India and Nepal come to make musical offerings to
For visitors, Shivaratri offers a fascinating look at the Hindu
sacred men – yogis or sadhus. Smeared with ash, with minds
focused far from the everyday concerns of the world, they can be
seen sitting quietly in small groups. These ascetics, naked with
no sense of shame, have mastered cold and heat, hunger and sensual
desire. These wanders, thin but powerful, with fierce intelligent
eyes, live a life detached, seeking union with Lord Shiva.
Temple priests in ochre coloured robes perform
elaborate ceremonies and offerings to Lord Shiva. They devote their
lives to chanting the Holy Scriptures, performing wedding ceremonies,
presiding over cremations, looking after temples, and caring for
the spiritual needs of all Hindus.
Although the priests’ vows forbid taking intoxicants, the
yogis’ “Sixteen Elements of Shiva Worship” include
marijuana and its derivatives. The Brahmins will often be seen performing
their ceremonies alongside a host of sadhus riding away on clouds
of smoke into uncharted realms of consciousness.
Ascetics, worshipping gods of a different name,
have lived in sacred forests like the one above Pashupati for even
longer. However, Maha Shivaratri is one of the few times and places
where one can look millennia into the past.
The Himalayan Kingdom Nepal is rich in scenic
nature to diverse culture. Thus, the foreigners would like to say
“Every other building is a temple; every other day is a festival
Thus, every country’s cultural heritage needs to be made known
to the world which would help in sharing of the cultural borrowings
By Arun Ranjit (Article published in The Rising Nepal
on March 06, 2005 )
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