KATHMANDU, April 25: It is intriguing to see young men clad in dhoti, being watched by hundreds of devotees, graciously handling huge dazzling arati lamps (Jhar Arati) lit with countless little cotton balls soaked in oil.
Each evening at 7 p.m. on the banks of the River Bagmati at the eastern side of the Pashupatinath Temple, countless youngsters, senior citizens and foreigners gather to witness these young priests and sadhus paying homage to Lord Pashupatinath and to the holy river Bagmati, which eventually meets the mighty river Ganga in the Indian plains.
The ambiance is absolutely serene and far away from the materialistic world during the arati rituals. Many devotees and sadhus dance at the riverbanks to the tunes of live bhajans (spirituals hymns) being performed by a group of musicians with flutes and tablas.
The rest of the crowd just gets carried away by the tunes and by their own rhythmic clapping.
This arati allows participation of and contributions from all religions. People often contribute cash to the performing team with the faith of having this auspicious arati performed in the name of their ancestors, on birthdays and anniversaries, and to bring peace and happiness in the family.
Currently, there are five priests, aged 25 to 29, who are trained to perform the rituals during the evening arati. To perform this ritual, one has to belong strictly to the Brahmin caste, having got Sanskrit education, and trained to perform the chants along with the worshipping instruments such as ghanti (bell) and sankha (conch shell).
Priests Upendra Adhikari, Mukunda Pokhrel, Bhim Prasad Bhattarai, Guna Raj Pokhrel, and Narayan Ghimire collectively say that they have a completely normal life outside of this arena. One can find them dressed casually, chatting and smiling with people before and after the arati.
“I’m pursuing my education, some of our friends are working, and some have already married. I learnt to perform the arati in Varanasi and have been performing it since I was 16 years old,” said Upendra Adhikari.
His fellow priest, Guna Raj Adhikari, adds, “We’re involved in this because of our desire to express our faith in the Almighty. Being a part of the evening arati has become a daily routine for us.”
Upendra, Mukunda, Bhim and Narayan have been involved in religious chores since childhood while studying in Sanskrit schools. In case of Guna, he recently turned into a priest due to his religious faith.
Upendra informed, “At first our parents sent us to Sanskrit schools but gradually we became interested in the subject and religion.
In today’s context, one can find many youngsters opting for atheism and entangled in their own kinds of faith and belief systems. On the other side, many of the participants at the evening arati are youths.
The young priests spend their leisure time in religious activities unlike other youths. Apart from performing the duties of priests, Upendra is currently doing his bachelors in Sanskrit at Balmiki Campus.
Similarly, Narayan has been doing bachelors in English and Guna works at Kennel Club. Mukunda and Bhim on the other hand are occupied with their family business.
As Upendra says, “We have young people coming just after their SLC exams with their parents.” Following this, Guna is quick to point out, “But many of them come for entertainment and very few for spiritual reasons.”
The event is most crowded during Mondays, in the month of Shrawan, on Teej and Shiva Ratri.
If one wishes to escape the busy city life, to see these young priests is indeed mesmerizing, and the ambience will definitely provide you with bliss for a long while.