02/25/2009, 00.00
NEPAL
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Shivaratri, first Hindu festival under Maoist government

by Kalpit Parajuli
More than 400,000 devotees at the temple of Pashupati. Extremely heavy security measures. Authorities outlaw use of marijuana. The faithful are still outraged over the dismissal of the Indian monks, ordered by the government in January.

Kathmandu (AsiaNews) - More than 400,000 devotees have visited the temple of Pashupati for the Hindu festival of Maha Shivaratri, the first festival celebrated in the new secular era of the Federal Democratic Republic, inaugurated on May 28 of last year. Head of state Ram Baran Yadav took part in the ceremonies, and made the traditional votive offering of the puja in the presence of the monks and pilgrims.

Many of the devotees who came to the place of worship, dedicated to Shiva, "lord of cattle," and situated in Deopatan, three kilometers from Kathmandu, were from Nepal, but the local authorities report that more than 100,000 of the Hindus were of Indian nationality, and several thousand of the faithful were from other countries in southern Asia.

An extensive deployment of security forces (more than 3,000 men) was provided by the Pashupatinath Area Development Trust (PADT) to guarantee an orderly circulation of pilgrims and prevent disturbances. At the beginning of the new year, the temple of Pashupati was the site of rioting against the government by faithful and monks. The Maoist government had given Nepalese monks control over the place of worship, violating a centuries-old tradition that entrusted this responsibility to the bhandari, monks of Indian origin.

In order to guarantee good results for the festival, the PADT had decided to ban the use of marijuana, consumption of which was permitted for the gurus; to eliminate the preferential corridors of access to the temple for the VIP's; and to guarantee for the faithful a maximum wait of 50 minutes in line.

In spite of these measures, many pilgrims complained about the length of the wait, and about the pollution of the river that is used for making the offering to Shiva. There is still a great deal of outrage among the devotees, especially those of Indian origin, over the intrusion of government into the affairs of the monks in charge of Pashupati. Former prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala also warned the Maoist government against "attacking religious tradition and freedom."

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