I became a sadhu to attain nirvana,” says Loha Nanangdi Naga Baba. He is one of the four-five sadhus who resides at Pashupati temple permanently. Loha Baba, who became a sadhu almost 40 years ago, has been living here for the last 20 years. Every Mahashivaratri he can be seen smeared in ash, his face and body decorated in red and yellow abir.

“We smear the ash from this fire as a sign of devotion to god. We do it as following this ritual gives us a sense of peace,” he says, adding, “On Shivaratri it is important for one to sit beside a fire. We do it in Shiva dhuni (fireplace), while normal people do it in Grihat dhuni in their homes.”

And with Mahashivaratri approaching, the Pashupatinath temple premises was abuzz with the resident sadhus getting ready for it, with many from all over the country and India expected to arrive.

Shivaratri falls on the fourteenth day of the waning moon (February 16 this year). Various legends are associated with Mahashivaratri. One is the Churning of the Ocean of Milk, in which gods inadvertently unearthed a poison that threatened to destroy the world. Shiva saved the day by drinking the poison. It is said Shiva was strong enough to handle the poison, but he had to stay awake all night as part of his healing. The other gods helped get him through the night by entertaining him with dances and other distractions. This is commemorated on Mahashivaratri, when Shiva’s followers keep him company through the night.

And sadhus, believed to be Shiva’s true bhaktas (devotees), are an important part of Mahashivaratri.

Hanuman ‘Mobile’ Baba, busy talking on his cellphone, says, “We have followers and well wishers not only in Nepal and India, but in countries like Germany, US, Italy and Turkey. Even this mobile was gifted by a follower.”

What do babas and followers usually talk about? “Ours is like a father-son relationship, and we normally chat just like other people.”

Hanuman Baba chose to become a sadhu around 35 years ago, however, he is unlike other sadhus who are ash-smeared. “I am a Hanuman bhakta,” says this baba who is clad in a red gown and sports a tulsi garland.

Asked whether he has found everything he set out to 35 years ago, he answers, “As there are no limitations to knowledge, there is no limit to devotion as well. So, we continue doing it.”

“I was studying in Class IX when I visited temples. I was impressed by the devotional stories and prayers and decided to devote myself to god completely. So I became a sadhu,” says Ganga Das Baba, who has been a sadhu for 28 years now.

One’s eyes immediately go to his knee-length dreadlocks. “We believe that Ganga resides in these tresses,” he says.

Has he never cut his hair? “It would have been much longer but when my Guru Maharaj-ji expired, I had to cut it. We have to follow death rituals for our gurus like other people do for their family members,” he says.

One could not leave the babas without asking the ‘G’-question: as Shivaratri is synonymous with ganja (marijuana), where do they get it?

“People from the villages usually come and sell it during this time, and our followers also bring it for us,” says Loha Baba.