Maha Shivaratri, a Hindu festival of Nepal and India, is celebrated annually in reverence of the god Shiva. It is believed to be the day Shiva was born to save the universe by drinking "Halahala" and "Gaaja", the poison and drug that emerged from the churning of the ocean. Shiva also married the goddess Parvati on the same day, bringing together two of the greatest forces in the universe, paving the way for beneficial change. After Earth's creation was complete, Parvati asked Lord Shiva which devotees and rituals pleased him the most. The Lord replied that the 14th night of the new moon, in the dark fortnight during the month of Phalgun, is his favourite day. Parvati repeated these words to Her friends, from whom the word spread to all creation.

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A Hindu holy man, or Sadhu,  smokes marijuana using a chillum, a traditional clay pipe, as a holy offering for Lord Shiva, the Hindu god of creation and destruction, near the Pashupatinath Temple during the Maha Shivaratri festival in KathmanduPrakash Mathema/ AFP

Maha Shivaratri, also known as Shiva, Shivaratri and Mahashivratri, is celebrated on the 13th night and the 14th days of the Hindu calendar month of Phalguna or Maagh. In 2016 it was celebrated on 7 March – the only Hindu festival to be celebrated at night.

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A Sadhu smokes a chillum, a traditional clay pipe, as a holy offering to Lord Shiva, the Hindu god of creation and destruction near the Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu on the eve of the Hindu festival Maha ShivaratriPrakash Mathema/ AFP
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A Sadu looks into the mirror (unseen) as he applies tika on his forehead at the premises of Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu, NepalNavesh Chitrakar/ Reuters
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An Indian Hindu devotee offer prayers to a Shiva Lingam, a stone sculpture representing the phallus of Hindu god Lord Shiva, to mark the Maha Shivaratri festival at the Lord Shiva Temple in HyderabadNoah Seelam/ AFP
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A man dressed as Hindu god Lord Shiva takes part in a religious procession ahead of Maha Shivratri festival in Chandigarh, IndiaAjay Verma/ Reuters
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A boy dressed as Hindu Lord Shiva poses before performing in a religious procession at the Mahashivratri festival in Allahabad, IndiaJitendra Prakash/ Reuters
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A Hindu devotee dressed as the deity Shiva takes part in a procession during the Maha Shivaratri festival in Amritsar, IndiaNarinder Nanu/ AFP
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A Nepalese Sadhu smokes marijuana using a chillum, a traditional clay pipe, as a holy offering for Lord Shiva, the Hindu god of creation and destruction, near the Pashupatinath Temple during the Maha Shivaratri festival in KathmanduPrakash Mathema/ AFP
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A Hindu devotee pours milk over a Shivling (a symbol of Lord Shiva) while carrying his child at a temple during the Mahashivratri festival in Ahmedabad, IndiaAmit Dave/ Reuters
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A Sadu smeared with ashes smokes marijuana in a chillum during the Shivaratri festival on the premises of Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu, NepalNavesh Chitrakar/ Reuters

Hindu devotees have celebrated Maha Shivaratri for thousands of years, with celebrations being seen all over the world. Nepal, India and Bangladesh in particular, along with other Hindu communities, have celebrated the holy day of Shiva, with the beliefs that those who worship him on the auspicious day will be cleansed of all their sins, making it one of the most important festivals for the Hindu religion.

Many people celebrate the holy day by praying, covering their bodies with ashes and partaking of the God's sacred cannabis-infused drink 'Bhang' or smoking chillums of hashish. Cannabis use has always been an integral part of the worship of Shiva.

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A Sadhu smokes a chillum, a traditional clay pipe, as a holy offering to Lord Shiva, the Hindu god of creation and destruction near the Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu, on the eve of the Hindu festival Maha ShivaratriPrakash Mathema/ AFP
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Sadhu smokes a chillum, a traditional clay pipe, as a holy offering to Lord Shiva, the Hindu god of creation and destruction near the Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu, on the eve of the Hindu festival Maha ShivaratriPrakash Mathema/ AFP
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A Sadhu, prepares marijuana before smoking it during the Shivaratri festival on the premises of Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu, NepalNavesh Chitrakar/ Reuters
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A plate filled with marijuana is kept for sale during the Shivaratri festival at the premises of Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu, NepalNavesh Chitrakar/ Reuters
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A Sadhu smoke a chillum, a traditional clay pipe, as a holy offering to Lord Shiva, the Hindu god of creation and destruction near the Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu, on the eve of the Hindu festival Maha ShivaratriPrakash Mathema/ AFP
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A Sadhu smokes a chillum, a traditional clay pipe, as a holy offering to Lord Shiva, the Hindu god of creation and destruction on the eve of the Hindu festival Maha Shivaratri near the Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu, NepalPrakash Mathema/ AFP
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A Sadhu, smeared with ashes holds a chillum as he smokes it during the Shivaratri festival on the premises of Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu, NepalNavesh Chitrakar/ Reuters
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A Sadhu, ties his hair as he stands outside his ashram during the Shivaratri festival at the premises of Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu, NepalNavesh Chitrakar/ Reuters
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Smoke rises as a devotee sit next to a fire during the Shivaratri festival at the premises of Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu, NepalNavesh Chitrakar/ Reuters
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A Sadhu, with tika on his forehead sits at the premises of Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu, NepalNavesh Chitrakar/ Reuters
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A Sadhu, poses for a picture along with devotees during the Shivaratri festival at the premises of Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu, NepalNavesh Chitrakar/ Reuters
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Hindu devotees offer prayers next to the Sangam, the confluence of the rivers Ganges, Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati, ahead of Maha Shivratri festival in the northern Indian city of AllahabadJitendra Prakash/ Reuters
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Policemen patrol past Hindu devotees as they wait in a queue to pray at a temple during the Mahashivratri festival in Agartala, IndiaJayanta Dey/ Reuters
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A Sadhu, holds a snake as he sits at the premises of Pashupatinath Temple during the Shivaratri festival in Kathmandu, NepalNavesh Chitrakar/ Reuters
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A Sadhu, smears ashes on his face during the Shivaratri festival at the premises of Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu, NepalNavesh Chitrakar/ Reuters
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Hindu holy men sit beside the fire as they chant religious song during the Shivaratri festival at the premises of Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu, NepalNavesh Chitrakar/ Reuters
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A Hindu holy man, or sadhu, sits beside the fire at the premises of Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu, NepalNavesh Chitrakar/ Reuters