Naked holy men add fervor to Nepal Hindu fest
By Gopal Sharma
KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Hindu holy man Tarkeshwor Giri sat naked at Nepal's biggest annual religious gathering Monday as throngs of pilgrims sought his blessings at a centuries-old temple in Kathmandu.
Devotees bow before Giri, who has travelled from Rudra Prayag in the northern Indian state of Uttaranchal, and offer him coins, rice and sweets. He places his palm on their heads and paints a streak of ash on their foreheads.
"I do this for the prosperity and welfare of the world," 50-year-old Giri, with ash-smeared body and dreadlocked hair that has not been combed or cut for 20 years, said as he smoked marijuana sitting cross-legged by the side of burning logs.
"We are the Naga army and work for the protection of our Vedic religion," Giri said of the Naga Sadhu sect, who are said to have overcome earthly life and declare themselves "dead."
Hundreds of naked Sadhus like Giri have travelled from neighboring India, alongside others dressed in saffron clothes and those holding tridents, to add religious fervor to the Maha Shivaratri or the great night of Lord Shiva, one of the trinity of Hindu gods.
Some also celebrate the festival as Shiva's wedding night, marking the deity's union with consort Parvati.h
"Lord Shiva is truth and that is beautiful," said devotee Ganga Bista waiting in line to get into the shrine.
One folklore has it that the lord, who fled his Himalayan abodes of Mount Kailash in Tibet, was later found in the form of a golden-horned deer grazing in the Mrigasthali forests close to the sprawling Pashupatinath temple on the outskirts of Kathmandu where the festival is held. Continued...