For the first time since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic two years ago, hundreds of thousands gathered in Nepal to celebrate one of the nation’s most important religious festivals devoted to Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction and re-creation.
With coronavirus cases on the decline and life returning to normal, devotees thronged the temple of Pashupatinath March 1 to celebrate the annual festival of Maha Shivratri. Named after one of the many incarnations of Shiva, Pashupatinath is thought to be the oldest temple in Nepal’s capital city of Kathmandu.
The Press Trust of India news agency estimated that more than half a million, including around 100,000 from neighboring India, gathered at the Pashupatinath temple complex located on the banks of River Bagmati.
Devotees fast all day and bathe in Bagmati, paying homage to Shiva and his consort Parvati. According to Hindu scripture, the couple was married on Maha Shivratri, a Hindi word that means “the great night of Shiva.” It is also the night on which Shiva performed his “tandav,” or cosmic dance of “creation, preservation and destruction.”
While Hindus honor Shiva with the celebration of Shivratri on the day before the new moon throughout the year, Maha Shivratri is considered especially auspicious. It symbolizes the converging of masculine and feminine energies that balance the world. It also symbolizes the “overcoming of darkness and ignorance in life.”
According to Hindu beliefs, Maha Shivratri is the night when sins can be expiated and by adopting the path of righteousness, one may ultimately achieve “moksha,” or liberation from the cycle of birth and rebirth.
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