Cannabis-smoking ascetics light up Nepal festival

Mon Mar 11, 2013 6:59am EDT
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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 destruction.

"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 head.

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 pilgrims.

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.   Continued...

A sadhu (Hindu holy man) smokes marijuana on the premises of Pashupatinath Temple during the Shivaratri festival in Kathmandu March 10, 2013. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar