Kathmandu (AsiaNews) - Nepal's economic crisis has hit Pashupatinath Temple, which has been unable to bear the cost of Mahashivaratri, the feast day of Lord Shiva. To save money, the authorities filled ablution fountains with polluted water drawn from a river where people throw the ashes of the deceased and into which sewage from the religious compound flows. This has caused several cases of scabies as well as an uproar among believers and traditional Indian gurus who protested by deserting the event en masse.
Each year, 8,000,000 people from Nepal and India take part in Mahashivaratri. According to the Hindu calendar, the celebration is held at night the day before the new moon between February and March. It is a spiritual night for Lord Shiva, the first yoga guru in Hindu tradition.
Worshippers fast for a full day and hold a vigil at the night with fervent mediations, dances, religious songs, ablutions and food offerings to the god.
Pashupatinath Temple is considered one of the most important places dedicated to Lord Shiva and is protected by UNESCO.
For a number of years, government and foreign funds have proven insufficient for the upkeep of the compound, which receives visitors from all over Asia, said Temple treasurer Narottam Baidhya. "We do our best to keep the place and ablution water clean but the number of pilgrims and animals make our job hard."
The cutbacks that have affected the quality of lodgings, food and temple maintenance have pushed Indian gurus who for centuries have been the guests of honour to desert celebrations this year.
According to temple authorities, less than half of the usual number of holy men has taken part in the event this year.
Indian guru Nangababa said he had been "telling his fellow wise men and faithful not to visit Pashupati". The secular "government does not respect us. By putting filthy water in the fountains, he does not respect Lord Shiva."
Since the times of the Hindu monarchy, Indian holy men led the faithful in mediations, and the Nepali state had always paid for their travel expense as well as food and board.
However, since the founding of a secular state in 2006 and the rise to power of Maoists, government authorities have cut back funds for the holy men, who are seen as too expensive at a time of economic crisis. In just a few years, their status has gone from demigods to folkloric characters for tourists.
Although they are still very much respected among Hindu leaders, new generations tend to turn to the holy men for hashish and marijuana.
According to various political leaders, their presence is bad for young people who run the risk of becoming drug addicts.