Shiva © Indianhilbilly
One of the key Hindu festivals, Maha Shivaratri is dedicated to Lord Shiva and in Nepal is celebrated at the Pashupati Temple just outside Kathmandu. It is Nepal's biggest annual religious event, attracting an estimated one million pilgrims. For four or five days before the festival, devotees from all over the world gather at Pashupatinath where they chant, meditate, fast and tend holy fires.
The passion of the devotees ensures a moving and spectacular experience, as people cover their bodies in ashes and pray until they fall into a trancelike state. A big fire is lit outside the temple on the eve of the festival and it is believed that those who warm themselves at the flames will be blessed with health and prosperity by Lord Shiva and have their sins forgiven. Although marijuana is illegal in Nepal it is commonly used by ascetics at this festival when holy men are allowed to use it within the temple complex. Tourists should note that it is still illegal to use the drug if you are not a Hindu devotee, and that even the holy men are not permitted to share it with ordinary worshippers. Pilgrims pay tribute by pouring milk on holy statues and making offerings of fruit and incense. Prayers and ceremonies will take place deep into the night.
Venue: Pashupati temple complex, 2.5 miles (4km) east of Kathmandu
Date: 25 February 2017