Kathmandu, Nepal expedition Feb 21, 2001 Dana and Rand Jack


February 21, 2001
Dear Family and Friends,

Today was Shivaratri, Lord Shiva's birthday. Naturally, we went to join the celebration at Pashupati, the holiest Shiva shrine in Nepal and one of the three most sacred in the world. The many stories about Shiva and Pashupati all revolve, so to speak, around "Shiva's sexual organ of heavenly grandeur." (The Festivals of Nepal, p.244) A cynical anthropologist might call Shivaratri one giant penis worship. At the center of it all is a four foot black stone lingam, or phallus, in a temple forbidden to non Hindus. Fortunately, there were plenty of lingams for us to adore scattered about the grounds outside the temple.

As best I can tell, this all started countless years ago when Brahma and Vishnu, two of the big three in the deity pantheon, went to pay Shiva a visit at his home on Mt. Kailas. They found Shiva in the midst of love making with his consort, but he was so intent on matters at hand that he didn't even notice his visitors. When Shiva recovered his senses and learned what had happened, he and his consort were so mortified that they died in the very position in which they had been discovered. Dying wasn't really a very big deal to Shiva since he was immortal. Intent that the very act that had brought him shame would now bring him fame, Shiva made some pretty bold pronouncements about his lingam: "Yes, the lingam is I, myself, and I ordain that men shall offer to it henceforth their sacrifices and worship. Those who honor me under the symbol of the lingam shall obtain without fail the object of their desires and a place in Kailas. I am the Supreme Being, and so is my lingam.... It existed before the world, and it is the origin and beginning of all things. It disperses our terrors and our fears and grants us the object of all our desires." With promises like these, there are lingams all over Nepal and hundreds, if not thousands, all over the expansive grounds at Pashupati. A block from our house a phallic stone about three feet high has been left sticking out of a main road in the middle of one lane of traffic.

So this explains how penis effigies came to abound in Nepal. However, it leaves for another story how the lingam within the inner sanctum of the temple at Pashupati came to be revered as a lingam among lingams and why people come from all over the Hindu world to celebrate Shivaratri at Pashupati. So the story goes, Shiva was kind of taking a holiday disguised as a deer in the forest across the Bagmati River from Pashupati. With Shiva out of the picture, Brahma and Vishnu began to argue about who was the top dog. An irritated Shiva decided to show them once and for all that he was the boss. He appeared as a giant, fiery lingam radiating intense heat. In the ultimate "mine is bigger than yours" claim, he challenged them to find the end of the lingam if either wanted to establish his ascendancy. Determined to reach the source of this glorious fiery lingam, Vishnu became a giant boar and traveled down through the earth for a thousand years; but no end could be found. Brahma transformed into a swan and flew upwards through seven worlds. He, likewise, was unable to find the terminus of this lingam without end. Amazed and weary, they bowed to the great lord Shiva. For reasons not entirely clear, Vishnu and Brahma later replaced the infinite lingam with the four footer now worshiped at Pashupati. Sadly, we are unable to verify this story since we are not permitted within the Pashupati temple itself.

We were not alone in going to Pashupati to honor Shiva and his penis on Shivaratri. About 250,000 other people also came hoping to "obtain without fail the object of their desires" by paying homage to the Supreme Being lingam on this special day. Here are some pictures of fellow pilgrims.

Click photos to enlarge


Foot behind head

Real snakes

Sadhu in red

Super dreds

Ancient sadhu

Cleansing in filthy river

Sadhu in orange

Yogi sadhu

Sadhu group

Monkey sadhu

Sadhu in doorway

Sadhu in white

Three sadhus

Yogi sadhu