KATHMANDU: As Mahashivaratri, the night of Lord Shiva, inches closer, sadhus with their body smeared in ashes are gathering in and around the Pashupatinath shrine in large numbers.
The Naga Babas (naked sages), one of the attractions of the Shivaratri, are however, yet to arrive for the festival which falls on February 12.
"This year is going to be a great fun and mystical too as one of the great sadhus—Chandra Swami—is also arriving," said Sushil Nahata, member-secretary of the Pashupati Area Development Trust (PADT).
Elaborate preparations are being made for the night of Lord Shiva. Sadhus will be provided with a large out-door fire to ward off the biting cold. They will also be offered with marijuana — prasad of Lord Shiva. On the occasion, they will also derive ecstatic joy from hemp and marijuana, and make wild merriment replicating the Dynossiac culture of the medieval Greece.
The drug addicts also join the sadhus to get intoxicated on the very occasion.
Nahata said the sages have started arriving ahead of the Shivaratri this year.
"This year will be different from past years in every respect. Mystical great sadhus like Chandra Swami will also be here this time," he added.
Sadhus are treated as guests and housed and fed for free during the Shivaratri. Elaborate preparations are being made to cater to thousands of devotees visiting the Pashupatinath Temple to mark the occasion, Nahata said.
"Accommodations for the yogis and the beggars will be separately arranged," said Bhola Prasad Sitaula, director of PADT.
"Sadhus are a welcome lots. But there will be beggars too," he added.
PADT is worried this year since hundreds of beggars have unusually been gathering around ahead of the great festival.
"They are arriving in large numbers— some of them in unimaginably wretched condition," Sitaula said.
Nahata is worried that the beggars are outnumbering the sadhus. "But we'll treat them as pilgrims and do whatever we can to help them," he added.
As the plans go, the sadhus and the beggars will be settled separately, possibly due to fear of skirmishes between the two.
The PADT is expecting half a million pilgrims this year, an increase by more than 25 per cent when compared to last year's figure.
It is estimated that the number of sages alone will exceed 5,000 this year coinciding with Kumbha Mela in Kavre, Haridwar and Kuruchhetra, said Raj Babu Pandey, chief of the Pashupati Guthi. More than 150 sages and yogis have already arrived from India.
The accommodation facilities will be provided free to all the sages and beggars on the occasion. When they leave, they are given rudrakshya, clothes, sweet and cash ranging from Rs 350 to Rs 1,100.
"We are facing difficulty in finding logs for the bonfire. While we need some 60,000 logs, we have only 15,000 pieces," Pandey said.
Twelve different sub-committees have been formed to make the festival a grand success, he added.