Working Across Faith Traditions to Build Peace: Volunteers Protect Cultural Practices in Nepal

Emiko Perea
May 28, 2020

The following project was conducted prior to the outbreak of COVID-19.

Global Peace Foundation (GPF) acknowledges the importance of cooperation across all cultural and faith traditions in building and maintaining peace around the world. Shrijana Sitikhu, a member of GPF) Nepal, fondly remembers her own faith traditions including the Hindu holiday Shivaratri from her childhood, which marked the end of winter and the beginning of spring. Explaining the tradition, Shrijana said, “Community people worship lord Shiva, collect firewood to burn at night by singing songs and eating samye baji (Newari food). Similarly, males and females fast and stay in a long queue to worship lord Shiva at Pashupatinath Temple (also known as the holiest temple for Hindu).”

Temple goers line up during the Shivaratri festival

Temple goers line up during the Shivaratri festival

Large groups of Hindu people from India come abroad to Nepal to receive blessings from Shiva at the Pashupatinath Temple to overcome their personal struggles, hoping to receive guidance at the Shivaratri festival each year. In past years, the festival fell out of its cultural roots and was overrun by uncontrollable crowds, pickpocketing, fights, and gambling. It was a chaotic environment that created accidents and cases of sexual harassment. It was especially not a place that older people with health problems could move safely in.

However, since 2010, Global Peace Foundation helped mobilize volunteers to manage the crowds and uphold the festival’s cultural integrity. This year, around 1.5 million people from the nation and abroad came to worship Shiva at the Shivaratri festival on February 21.  Smriti Adhikari, one of the forty volunteers with GPF attending the Hindu festival, said, “It’s a great opportunity to volunteer and I feel so grateful and happy. Whenever I got tired, I think that today’s experience can be blissful for further days. Seeing other people happiness can bring a smile and a better feeling. This volunteer engagement assisted me to interact with a diversity of people.”

GPF volunteers help keep crowds orderly and safe

GPF volunteers help keep crowds orderly and safe

According to another volunteer, Preeti Jha, “Social service is a fortune that gives peace to our soul. I would like to thank GPF Nepal for providing us such a great opportunity to serve people through volunteering at Pashupatinath on the occasion of Maha Shivratri. The people were so cooperative and helped us in doing our work effectively. I am glad that we got positive responses from devotees and we wish to serve people and community in upcoming days.”

Learn more about peacebuilding efforts in Nepal.

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