The sadhus recently came to Pashupatinath to prepare for the Maha Shivratri festival. Maha Shivratri celebrates the marriage of Shiva and Parvati, and it is one of the most important festivals in the Hindu calendar. According to Wikipedia, “unlike most Hindu festivals which include expression of cultural revelry, the Maha Shivaratri is a solemn event notable for its introspective focus, fasting, meditation on Shiva, self study, social harmony and an all night vigil at Shiva temples.”
In the days leading up to the festival, the sadhus and their entourages pose for photographs in exchange for tips. And, this being a Shaivite festival, many sadhus also spend their time smoking very strong hash.
There in a festival in Bhaktapur called Madhav Narayan which celebrates one of the avatars of the Hindu god Vishnu. It is famous for the sight of male devotees rolling from the center of town down to the Hanuman River to show their devotion to Vishnu. The festival was nearing its close, so I went to Bhaktapur the day before to be at the riverside early in the morning.
It turned out that the city also is in the middle of its Navadurga festival. Navadurga is a mask dance ritual/street carnival. To celebrate Navadurga, dancers representing nine demonic avatars (durgas) of the goddess Parvati run around the city. I wasn’t aware of this until I wandered across a performance in one of the smaller squares of the city. The one in the red mask is one of the durgas; I assume the other is Shiva, since this appeared to be some kind of courtship dance.
After the show, I walked around the city for a few hours, and then returned to the same neighborhood on my way to dinner. As I passed, there was a loud commotion as young men rushed Shiva back into the square. They ran up and down, and then scampered off.
I continued up the road to a large square which I hadn’t visited before—Bhaktapur is much larger than I’d realized. At the main temple, there was a group of old men were singing and playing devotional songs, so I checked them out before finding some dinner.
After my meal, I was returning to my hotel when I heard another commotion. The street parade of durgas, drums and cymbals was heading toward me.
Naturally, I followed them. The revelers wound through some alleys and eventually ended at a temple where the musicians started pounding even louder. The dancers took off their masks and went inside, where they received offerings and more tips.
we went back the next day for the main procession, of lord shiva and the 63 saints. the streets were not as crazily packed as they were the day before, but the area in front of the temple, which had been enclosed for the occasion, was fully jammed with worshippers. oddly, the event wasn’t as grand as the celebration of the day before, but i think it had more religious significance.
i saw a group of kids in the chariot from yesterday, so of course i had to climb up as well and take a look. i don’t know if there is a three-story shed somewhere or if they dismantle the chariot after the festival. right: two priests handing out ashes for marking the foreheads with the sign of shiva.
a temple band (horns and drum) play and the sun shines appropriately through the roof as the chariot with the statue of lord shiva wheels into place. (i’m sorry for having used such a shallow depth of field in the first photo.) right: devotees carry the first palanquin of saints’ statues out to the street. how often do you see the word “palanquin” these days?
you can see that the saints are riding backward in their palanquins, so they can gaze on lord shiva who comes afterward. right: the procession went out onto the street, where i again found the rolling beggar from the day before.
today, my friend and fellow tirupati traveler james and i went to kapaleeswarar temple to see the arubathimoovar festival. arubathimoovar celebrates 63 saints who were canonized for their devotion to lord shiva, and the highlight of the festival is the parade of temple chariots, each of which carries a statue of a saint through the streets.
one of the first things we encountered was a group of beggars who roll themselves through the streets, chanting, blocking traffic, and begging for alms. as the middle shot shows (and i’m only including it as evidence, not because it’s a particularly good shot), they aren’t in such bad shape for rolling themselves four or five blocks in the procession with the chariots; i have to believe this isn’t their first rodeo, so to speak. the chariots themselves are pulled along by devotees while priests distribute holy ashes and other blessings …
… that is, until the chariot carrying shiva pulls into view. this was a much more serious affair, about two stories tall, with more than a hundred guys pushing and pulling it and thousands thronged around it.
the ropes used to pull the chariot, and the crowds pushing, pulling, or following it, were massive.