Cannabis-smoking ascetics light up Nepal festival - Yahoo! News
- Cannabis-smoking ascetics light up Nepal festival
By Gopal Sharma
KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Ringed by an endless stream of pilgrims at an
ancient temple in Kathmandu, Hindu holy man Mahant Ramnaresh Giri sat
naked and puffed on a pipe filled with cannabis, his body smeared with
ash as he took part in Nepal's biggest annual religious event.
Giri was one of more than a hundred such naked ascetics at the ancient
Shivaratri festival, which brings an estimated one million devout Hindus
flocking to Kathmandu's Pashupatinath temple each year for rituals to
cleanse them of sin and earn a place in heaven.
Holy men such as Giri, 35, bless them and smoke cone-shaped pipes of
cannabis as part of the annual festival dedicated to Shiva, the god of
"After I smoke I get a feeling that I have overcome worldly pleasure and
dissolved myself in the universe," said Giri, smoke billowing around his
After Shiva's consort died, legend has it, he came to the forests near
the temple, his body smeared with ash. Smoking cannabis, which grows
wild in the forests of Nepal, he wore a serpent and draped his waist
with a tiger skin as he wandered.
Cannabis is illegal in Nepal, but permitted as a religious ritual for
ascetics during the festival, which took place at the weekend. The only
explanation for this is that the ascetics are imitating Shiva.
The ban is ignored during the festival for the ascetics, who are allowed
to smoke inside the temple complex but not sell or distribute it to
Authorities supplied the drug to holy men in the past but the practice
was discontinued in the 1990s after critics said it amounted to
promoting its consumption.
For pilgrims, the rituals are more mundane and involve pouring milk on a
stone phallus and making offerings of fruit, sandalwood paste and
incense sticks. Holy men such as Giri press ash-covered thumbs onto
their foreheads and bless them.
"I became an ascetic for the protection of our religion, the welfare of
the world and myself," said Giri, his dreadlocked hair and beard not
combed or cut for 17 years.
This year's festival included modern touches such as 65 CCTV cameras to
help guard crowds estimated to have topped one million devotees. Some of
the holy men also played music on their mobile phones.
But for most, the festival remains deeply spiritual.
Krishna Nanda, a Romanian holy man wrapped in white cloth who came to
India to study Sanskrit, said his desire to know more about life was
behind his renunciation of physical and worldly pleasure two years ago.
"I love everything in society and god ... I am always happy," said the
(Reporting by Gopal Sharma, editing by Elaine Lies)