Shivaratri: Drugs, Ash, and Naked Men

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

I arrived back at Hopeful Home just in time for Shivaratri, an amusing Hindu festival that I quite enjoyed seeing. Though the festival is celebrated differently in the different Hindu countries of Asia, here is how it was outside my doorstep.

In the morning it started out with children blocking the cars until they gave money. Half a dozen to a dozen children would crowd around a rope that extended across the road, and until their payment (just a ruppee or two) was fulfilled, the vehicle couldn’t get through. Most pedistrians didn’t pay, though a few complied, but the trucks were well prepared with a handful of small coins on their dashboard. In front of my house alone there were three such blockades.

At night we all sat around a fire which is suppose to represent the transition of winter into spring. That night, with the cooks permission, a few boys stole a handful of potatoes from a nearby field. Apparently in the villages all the children steal crops from their neighbors on this day. Besides that, Hopeful Home didn’t do anything to celebrate, though much of the town (Kathmandu) did. Thousands of people visited a certain temple, and from watching the news, I could see that the lines were kilometers long just to get in. Another aspect of Shivaratri which I found a bit peculiar is that it is the day of getting stoned. The night before one of the older children had come out with a dictionary asking me if I knew what narcotics were. I cautiously answered yes, before demanding why. He explained that in Shivaratri people take sweets with narcotics in them (“eatables” as they are known in the USA), and basically just spend the whole day high. It turns out he is right, many of the men do in fact take drugs on this day, the one day in the year it is legal. This is because they believe Shiva also took drugs, an aspect of the Hindu religion I learned after seeing Babajis (holy Hindu men) smoking pipes and joints constantly.

An aspect I didn’t see myself but heard lots about is the fact that many men go naked on this day, some of whom cover themselves in ash. I have absolutely no idea why this is, but apparently at certain temples there are always ashy naked men dancing around.

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