In yesterday’s post, I wrote about my visa experience at the Kathmandu Airport Customs and Immigration checkpoint; and, my visit to Boudhanath Buddhist Temple. Today, I’ll tell you about my visit to the Pashupatinath Temple. So many fascinating things occurred while I was there, including the visible washing of dead bodies by relatives and then their subsequent cremation. For some uninformed westerners not used to seeing such religious rituals, this might be a bit too much to process or even shocking. However, all of this has meaning in the Hindu religion.
For me personally, I learned so much yesterday from my guide, Mr. Richard Dvaz. Quite frankly, Richard, who was educated in Great Britain, should be giving lectures at universities and colleges about this place. He was so articulate and knowledgeable about the history of this site, as well as being an expert on the Hindu religion, that my visit here was enhanced immeasurably by having him as a guide. Thank you very much Richard and please feel free to comment and/or correct me on anything I convey here.
On Sunday (today in Nepal), the Maha Shivaratri Festival will happen. It lasts all day through tomorrow morning. Approximately 1.5 million people will make a pilgrimage to this site from not only Nepal, but from all over the world. Yesterday when I visited, thousands of people had already arrived, yet it was relatively easy to walk around the entire site. Again, without Richard leading the way, I would have been lost.
First it should be noted that Pashupatinath is a UNESCO designated World Heritage Site. Locally, it is known as an “open living Museum of Nepal.” The Pashupatinath Temple is one of the holiest temples of the world revered and worshiped by both Hindus and Buddhists. Pashupatinath is Lord Shiva, the God of Gods. Ancient Scriptures (the Vedas, Upanishads and Puranas) have described “Him as Lord of the entire living beings and the source of eternal bliss and peace.”
According to Richard, “In the sanctum of the temple stands what is called a Jyothirlinga (believed to have self appeared) the like of which is not found existent anywhere else in the world. It is a phallic symbol, the symbol of Pashupatinath which has four images carved on its four sides. In front of the west gate of the temple is kept a colossal image of a gold guilt bull seated with composure on its four legs and with its eyes fixed on Lord Pashupatinath inside It is mentioned in the Hindu scriptures that the bull is the carrier of Lord Shiva.”
Maha Shivaratri, the night of the worship of Lord Shiva, is celebrated on the 13th/14th night of the new moon, during the dark half of the month of Falgun as per the Hindu calendar each year. It is believed during this day Lord Shiva transformed and appeared as Shivalinga. Maha Shivaratri is celebrated with fasting and being awake all night. Hindus perform puja of Shiva all through the night in the temple. Sadhus (yogis) will smoke marijuana in celebration and honor of Shiva during Maha Shivaratri. Consequently, smoking marijuana is taken as “prasad,” i.e., holy food blessed by the Gods. Anyone else attempting to do this – for example, other worshipers – would be arrested by the local Kathmandu police.
Besides the Maha Shivaaratri festival, there are other festival days which are celebrated at Pashupatinath. One is Teej in the month of August. This is celebrated by women only. Women go on a fast and observe an overnight “visile” around the temple, singing and dancing. The other day that is celebrated, occurs in the month of November. It is called Balachaturdashi. It is the day on which men and women trek along a fixed path, scattering uncooked food grains over it for the departed souls for their eternal peace of their family members who have passed away early that year. The scattering of grains is basically a socio-religious ritual from what I have read.