Kathmandu (AsiaNews) - Hundreds of naked holy men (sadhus) are in the Nepali capital today for the festival of Shivaratri, to celebrate the Hindu god Shiva. Also known as baba (father), the holy men have received mobile phones as gifts to spread messages of secularism and religious tolerance during their wanderings.
Across India and in other countries with large Hindu communities, the celebrations in honour of the god Shiva are set to start today. In Nepal, the largest festivities will take place at Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu, with one million people expected.
"These Naga Baba represent the most important connection between Hindu, non-Hindus and other religious groups in Nepal and India," said Dayananda Saraswati, the head of the naked holy men of Doleshor temple (in Kathmandu Valley) because they travel in both countries and meet thousands of people along their journey.
Many Hindus are unaware that Nepal is a secular state and mobile phones "can help spread a message of secularism and teach people the religious solidarity the country needs," Saraswati added. At the same time, he is convinced that travelling naked holy men can make Nepali temples more famous among the devotees.
Nagbir Baba, one of the Naga Baba present at the Pashupatinah temple, comes from Himanchal in India. He is happy at the reception in Nepal but admits to "not having a bag for the mobile phone."
"We are Naga Baba and do not wear clothes. So we do not have pockets or handbags for the phone," he said whilst showing a mobile phone placed inside the alms pot.
"Last year, we were asked to protest against secularism and demand the restoration of Hinduism," he explained, "but this year we know that religious solidarity and respect for minorities is the best choice and secularism is good for Nepal."
Speaking about religious solidarity, Gyanpur Naga Baba, another holy man from Haridwar in India, said that everyone wants respect, freedom and a decent life.
"All minority groups in Nepal should enjoy equal rights and must be free to practice their beliefs," he said. "We must promote solidarity and religious harmony in the world."
Festival organisers expect at least a million pilgrims. They include more than 5,000 Naga Baba who came from India in recent days. All of them will receive free food and shelter, and will have their travel costs reimbursed.
Nepali President Ram Baran Yadav, Prime Minister Shushil Koirala and deposed king Gyanendra Shaha are also expected to attend the event this afternoon.