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Hindu Nepalis celebrate the ‘great night of Shiva’ smoking hashish and marijuana

qq005KATHMANDU: Narcotic Drugs (Control) Act forbids buying and selling of drugs in the country. The law can slap fines and an imprisonment of up to 20 years if convicted in drug related crimes. But a site at the Pashupatinath Temple area today made a mockery of the law. It was but smoke and mirrors. The holy site of Hindus smoked round-the-clock. The breeze smelled the cannabis as far away as Mitrapark and Gaushala.
Some 50,000 Hindu pilgrims from Nepal and India gathered last Saturday (02/13/2010) in Kathmandu’s Pashaupatinath Temple to celebrate Mahashivaratri, the ‘great night of Shiva’. Worshippers, including teenagers,  freely bought hashish and marijuana and immersed themselves in the polluted (and potentially infectious) waters of the Bagmati River.

 

Mahashivaratri is one of the most important festivals on the Hindu calendar. Thousands of pilgrims are drawn each year to the various shrines dedicated to the deity. During the traditional adoration ritual, participants made offerings of food and incense whilst taking part in a day and night of fasting and vigil. Many smoked hashish and marijuana to honour the deity. Drug sellers did a brisk business as people, adults and teenagers lined up outside the temple to buy. “This is the day of lord Shiva and we want to enjoy taking his favourite things,” said 16-year-old Nabin Shrestha. “This is not a drug but an offering to lord Shiva.”



Smoking the drugs is allowed inside the temple, but selling them outside is illegal. Yet, “We cannot control every illegal activity,” said Sushil Nahata, secretary of the Pashupati Area Development Trust. Hence, “We focused on better security rather than on stopping the drug trade.”

Drugs are not the festival’s only problem, pollution in the Bagmati River is another. The waterway runs near the temple and it is used by pilgrims for ritual cleansing. However, its waters are polluted according to the Health Ministry Secretary Shuda Sharma. “Those who immerse themselves in the water run the risk of catching diseases,” he said. “They could also spread them to the rest of the country.”

Despite these problems, many of Nepal’s political leaders are taking part in Shiva’s festival, including President Ram Baran Yadav, and former king Gyanendra Shaha, who was deposed in 2006 after a ten-year civil war.

“I prayed to Shiva [to help us solve] the country’s dramatic situation,” the president said as he left the temple. “May the god help all political leaders fulfil their duty to write the new constitution.”

Nepal is currently run by a coalition government, which has failed to draft a new constitution. The current crisis began in May 2009 when then Maoist Prime Minister Prachanda resigned over the president’s failure to incorporate Maoist militias in the armed forces. Under the terms of Nepal’s constitution enabling law, the new charter must be approved by all parties, including the Maoist party, within the next seven months, so as not to aggravate the country’s deep institutional and economic crises. For thousands of years the people of Nepal and India have celebrated the holy day of Shiva, Shivaratri, by partaking of the God's sacred cannabis infused drink 'Bhang' or smoking chillums of hashish.



Shiva is the oldest continually worshipped God on Earth, and his celebrations are attended by millions of devotees. Cannabis use has always been an integral part of the worship of Shiva.  The following news stories detail the continuation of these ancient sacramental rites into modern times, despite considerable opposition due to Western influences. In Nepal, bhang, hashish and other cannabis products were openly sold at the legendary Eden Hashish Centre in Katmandu, which was open for business from 1962 to 1973. In late 1973 due to threats of the loss of foreign aid from the American administration of Richard Nixon Nepal was forced to outlaw hashish and marijuana.

Despite this, the popularity of cannabis products has never faded with the local population or tourists that flock to the area.

 

The Eden Hashish House in Nepal

Kathmandu Nepal, located in a beautiful valley in the Himalaya Mountains, was a hippie magnet in the late 60's and early 70's. Friendly and intelligent people, great food and cheap lodging were some of the attractions, but an important reason was the local attitude towards marijuana - it was legal. Indeed Ganga, as it is called there, grows wild all over the hills, and its' more interesting properties have long been explored and respected by Sadhus - the wandering holy men of Nepal and India. The hippies fit right in.

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Eden Hashish Centre The Eden Hashish Centre was the largest of several legal storefronts in Kathmandu that provided quality hash and grass to the tourists. Mr. Sharma, the owner, opened two shops. The original location was at 5/1 Basantpur in the famous "Freak Street" hippy district, a location that ironically now is occupied by a bank. The second shop was located at 5/259 Ombahal, said to be in the Thamel area.

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In late 1973, soon after the second Edenhash shop opened, threats of the loss of foreign aid from the American administration of Richard Nixon forced Nepal to outlaw hashish and marijuana. The two Eden Hashish Centres, the Central Hashish Centre and the others closed their doors and the pot and hashish business moved underground. These days much of the hash in Nepal ("charris" in Nepali) is mixed with a type of glue, making a harsh and unappealing smoke.
The memory (and perhaps a trace of the aroma) of the Eden Hashish Center lives on in the advertising posters Mr Sharma distributed. Extraordinary prints of Hindu gods and other subjects were embossed with the Eden name and addresses to make a unique picture that was often taken home and prized by their Hippie customers.

These rare genuine posters (many had calendars attached at the bottom) are valuable collector's items today. Yet there is a universial appeal in the art of the Eden Hashish Centre that should not be reserved for those few collectors who can afford them.

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'Bhang' drinking session organised at Bikaner's National Bhang Congregation

Devotees of Lord Shiva indulged themselves in a 'Bhang' drinking session at National Bhang Congregation (NBC) in Bikaner here on the occasion of Maha Shivaratri. The Mahakaleswar Bhootnath Temple of the city organises the NBC every year and serves drinks made of milk, dry fruits, and 'bhang' (a traditional drink made from cannabis leaves.

Hari Ram Pandit, the priest of Bhootnath Temple said, "It is 32nd congregation in Mahakaleswar Bhootnath Temple. It is a unique festival in this part of the country. It is the country's best Bhang Congregation."



People from Banaras, Nagpur, Jodhpur, Kolkata, Madras etc. wait for the Bhang Congregation at Bhootnath Temple," added Pandit.

The 'Bhang' has become an integral part of Indian tradition that has become a symbolic for many things. Vimal Pandey, a local said, "The drink is made by mixing milk, holy water from the river Ganga, sugar and crushed dry fruits with the buds and leaves of cannabis paste made in a mortar with pestle."

"People from the rest of the country enjoy the congregation and send message of 'live and let others live'," added Pandey.



The devotees consume 'Bhang' with the belief that it would help to concentrate in the worship of Lord Shiva. Bhang has become synonymous with the festival of Maha Shivaratri. It is a festival celebrated every year on the 13th night/14th day in the Krishna Paksha (waning moon) of the month of Maagha or Phalguna in the Hindu calendar.


The festival is principally celebrated by offerings of Bael (Bilva) leaves to Lord Shiva , all day fasting and an all night long vigil.

 

 

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