12 February saw half a million devotees throng Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu on the occasion of Maha Shivaratri when Lord Shiva is worshipped all over and especially at the holiest Shiva shrine in the world - Pashupatinath. All four windows of the inner sanctum were opened. Long ques wound their way through the occasional family of pilfering monkeys. Holy men from all over, in saffron and ashes, could be seen, high on prayers and "ganja", the hallucinatory weed considered a "prasad" of Lord Shiva. The President of our "secular Republic" came and payed his homage. He was followed by former King Gyanendra who was met with cries of "Raja aau, desh bachau" (Come back, King, and save the country) and practically mobbed between his car and the temple gate. For the first time, people could pay Rs.1,000 (approx. US$14) and not have to stand in the long lines of non-payers. Some folks stayed in line for about 4 hours, others less than an hour, but everyone of them came back feeling blessed. The army of volunteers kept most things moving smoothly. A light drizzle through most of the day was another auspicious sign, as prayers for Shiva always commence with bathing the shrine with water.
A few comments on the above scenario. If Nepal is officially a secular state, how can the President's visit to the shrine be termed as "a continuation of the tradition of the head of state" offering "puja" to Pashupatinath on this holiest of holy Hindu occasion? Secular Republicans, you cannot have it both ways. The President, as a Hindu, can go pray in his personal capacity but not claim any continuation of a tradition which his Party, among others, squashed under their heathen boots. The true tradition lies with the Hindu King, who may not be King just now. But his statement to the media, while being mobbed by well-wishers as he returned from the temple, says it all. He felicitated all Hindus on this auspicious day and wished them peace and prosperity. And this he did as a common citizen of Nepal, mind you.
Now this Rs.1,000 fast-line to worship. In my opinion, the rich do NOT have the right to easier access to God. Period. Many temples in India use this means to raise funds for the temples. Pashupatinath has enough funds from the Pashupatinath Trust. Here we are, speaking of the fabled "New Nepal" where equality is supposed to be a cornerstone. And with Rs.1,000, a measly amount for the rich and totally unaffordable for the poor, we are allowed quick service at the holy altar of God. Shameful!
The "ganja" smoking may be considered a "prasad" of Lord Shiva. But the 500 or so young youth buying ganja and tobacco mixed cigarettes and getting high were not using it with that in mind. Drug addiction is a major problem among Nepali youth. Allowing the sale of "ganja" openly, under the averted eyes of the police, is not "cool" by any means. As one policeman put it, "The 'sadhus' may smoke it, but no one else". Difficult to enforce that subtle distinction. Best not to have had drugs on sale. Lord Shiva could handle it; our youth cannot.
So another Shivaratri has come and gone in what was once the Hindu Kingdom of Nepal...