The 2,000 year-old temple Pashupatinath, situated on the bank of the sacred Bagmati River, is one of the most significant Hindu temples of the god Shiva, the third deity in the Hindu trinity and considered the lord of creation, preservation and destruction. Ardent followers consider it extremely auspicious to worship Lord Shiva on Shivaratri as it is believed that sincere devotion to Shiva and the performance of prescribed penances on that day help the devotee achieve positive karma and spiritual liberation all the more swiftly. While there’s a four-day build-up to the main event, the peak experience is on the full moon of the month of Phalgun.
There’s a celebratory flavor to the whole experience with musicians playing sitars and table drums, dancers in vibrant colors lyrically surrounding the temple, and street vendors hawking religious wares, The offerings to the stone sculptures are so numerous that their milky mixture seeps through the cracks of the temple and into the Bagmati River below. A thin white ribbon winds its way through the slow current where you may see devotees praying for days at a time with their bodies convulsing. People fast for days before the festival and smoke charas (hashish) and drink bhang (milk spiced with marijuana leaves) so it’s not surprising that you’ll see devotees in all kinds of states.