Mahashivaratri is one of the most important festivals on the Hindu calendar. Thousands of pilgrims are drawn each year to the various shrines dedicated to the deity.
During the traditional adoration ritual, participants made offerings of food and incense whilst taking part in a day and night of fasting and vigil. Many smoked hashish and marijuana to honour the deity. Drug sellers did a brisk business as people, adults and teenagers lined up outside the temple to buy.
“This is the day of lord Shiva and we want to enjoy taking his favourite things,” said 16-year-old Nabin Shrestha. “This is not a drug but an offering to lord Shiva.”
Smoking the drugs is allowed inside the temple, but selling them outside is illegal. Yet, “We cannot control every illegal activity,” said Sushil Nahata, secretary of the Pashupati Area Development Trust. Hence, “We focused on better security rather than on stopping the drug trade.”
Drugs are not the festival’s only problem, pollution in the Bagmati River is another. The waterway runs near the temple and it is used by pilgrims for ritual cleansing. However, its waters are polluted according to the Health Ministry Secretary Shuda Sharma. “Those who immerse themselves in the water run the risk of catching diseases,” he said. “They could also spread them to the rest of the country.”
Despite these problems, many of Nepal’s political leaders are taking part in Shiva’s festival, including President Ram Baran Yadav, and former king Gyanendra Shaha, who was deposed in 2006 after a ten-year civil war.
“I prayed to Shiva [to help us solve] the country’s dramatic situation,” the president said as he left the temple. “May the god help all political leaders fulfil their duty to write the new constitution.”
Nepal is currently run by a coalition government, which has failed to draft a new constitution.
The current crisis began in May 2009 when then Maoist Prime Minister Prachanda resigned over the president’s failure to incorporate Maoist militias in the armed forces.
Under the terms of Nepal’s constitution enabling law, the new charter must be approved by all parties, including the Maoist party, within the next seven months, so as not to aggravate the country’s deep institutional and economic crises.