Nepalese police said Sunday they have arrested more than 60 pilgrims for smoking cannabis and disturbing the peace at a major religious festival.

Cannabis is illegal in Nepal, but under an ancient legal loophole authorities allow holy men -- known as sadhus -- to smoke it during an annual, often wild, celebration in honour of Hindu god Shiva.

Thousands of pilgrims travel to the sprawling Pashupatinath temple complex in Kathmandu every year from all over Nepal and India to mark the occasion, which is known as Shivaratri.

Holy men mark the Shivaratri festival in Nepal and India by praying, smoking marijuana or smearing their bodies with ashes but it is illegal for others to consume the drug.

"We have arrested 67 persons from the Pashupatinath temple. Most of them were found intoxicated with cannabis and disturbing the peace," Kathmandu police spokesman Uttam Subedi told AFP, adding that those arrested were pilgrims.

"Those who were harassing girls and were involved in suspicious activities have also been arrested. It's a huge event with thousands of people visiting the temple. So we have tightened the security," he added.

Thousands of police officers have been deployed at the temple premises and more than 150,000 pilgrims are expected to celebrate Shivaratri, which is a public holiday in Nepal.

In recent years, police have cracked down on sadhus selling cannabis during the event, but this was the biggest arrest of pilgrims for drug use to date.

Camps are set up in the area to accommodate the visiting sadhus, the main attraction of the festival, many of whom arrive weeks ahead of the celebration.