Devotees lit oil lamps and observed rituals for departed family members at Gauri Ghat on the eve of Bala Chaturdashi in Pashupatinath on Saturday. Families who have lost loved ones throng to Pashupatinath—and of late other temples of Lord Shiva— and stay awake through the night to observe penance, sing, and dance on their behalf.
The festival gets its name from the myth of trader Bala Nanda, who turned to the cannibal demon Baalasur after accidentally consuming the flesh of a corpse when it landed on his food as he was eating at the bank of the Bagmati River near a burning pyre.
When the demon began terrorising people, Bala’s friend Brisha was recruited to kill the demon, who led Bala to his death through trickery. Riddled with guilt at having played a part in his friend’s demise, Brisha went to lord Pashupatinath and was advised by him to light a lamp and scatter seven different sacred grains on the grounds of the Shlesmantak jungle in Bala’s memory.
On the day of the Chaturdashi, worshippers take a dip in the Bagmati River at dawn-break. Also called, saatbij chharne din, worshippers spread seven types of sacred grains in the forest surrounding Pashupatinath and inside its premises to honour deceased family members.
This festival dedicated to the dead is more poignant this year due as Covid-19 pandemic continues to impact lives and livelihoods. So far, 1,689 people in Nepal have succumbed to the virus. The country recorded 899 positive coronavirus cases on Sunday, taking the total to 247,593.
Pashupati has performed five times more funerals this year- it is unknown how many of them were Covid casualties. But the government has issued guidelines dictating the coronavirus fatalities in the Valley to be cremated at the country’s only electric crematorium.