Pashupatinath – centre of the ganja festival!

by Annalise on February 11, 2010

OK, so let me be clear, there is much more that goes on at Pushupatinath than just the annual celebration of ‘Shivaratri’ – aka ‘the ganja festival’. Shivaratri is the one day of the year when marajuana is legal in Nepal to celebrate the day of Lord Shiva. We’re told that this festival will attract hundreds of wandering Hindu holy men from all over Nepal and India to Pashupatinath. These are the guys with brightly painted foreheads, usually orange or bright yellow robes and often dreadlocks knotted atop their heads. The festival occurs this coming Friday so we’re most curious to observe this…. from a distance and maybe upwind.

Pashupatinath is a temple devoted to the Hindu worship of Shiva, the Hindu god of creation and destruction. The greatest impression made though on the destruction side of things. Pashupatinath is the main site for Hindu funeral cremations which are done along the banks of the holy (and sadly, very stinky) Bagmati River. We visited Pashupatinath with Gayatri, our Nepali instructor on the same day we went to Boudhanath. So we went from tranquil, quiet peaceful chanting of the Tibetan Buddhists as they circumnavigated their main stupa to the eerie and gothic feeling Pushupatinath. Not a combination I’d suggest for one afternoon but there we were.

As you enter, there are several lesser temples on this large site. Westerners are not allowed into some areas and so you can only catch a glimpse of the backside of the huge golden bull statue which is over 300 years old. As you continue on into the main grounds, you need to be prepared for the next site. On the day we visited, as occurs every day, there were funerals taking place. In each of the over 6 pyres, there was families there for the cremation of their loved one lost as a part of the funeral ceremony. I was actually trying not to look too closely although a certain morbid curiosity does cause one to glance, but mostly you see the heavy smoke coming off of the blanket covered form on top of the pyre of wood and kindling. For the family, a most graphic ending to the life form of their loved one.

Strangely, there is also a deer park and as with all the temples, hundreds of resident monkeys jockeying for scraps and toys. Certainly this is a culture that embraces all of life, including the end of it, celebrating each stage at one of the many Hindu temples in the city. What feels like a very strange combination for our western eyes is just another norm in this crowded and intense place. And in any case, Friday’s celebration of Shivaratri, with its chemical influence, should add a whole new twist to the place! I imagine a lot happier that day and perhaps hungrier… just guessing.

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