The Aghori By Chris Picard


The Aghori ascetics are members of the Shaivism sect of Hinduism and can be found in Northern India, on the banks of the Ganges River near Varanasi. An ascetic is one who practices severe self discipline and abstention from all forms of indulgence, in other words an ascetic avoids the pleasures of life and materialistic things. In Hinduism there is a triumvirate over the entire religion consisting of three gods, Brahma the creator of the universe, Vishnu the preserver of the universe, and lastly Shiva the destroyer and re-creator of the universe. The Aghori worship Lord Shiva as their primary god and for this reason they practice many taboo rituals in order to seek enlightenment and break the reincarnation cycle. The northern Indian Kapalika sects are said to be the founding fathers of the Aghora religion however, most Aghori people see the true beginning of their religion as the life and death of Kina Ram. Kina Ram was an ascetic who lived to be about 150 years old during the second half of the eighteenth century and he is believed to be an incarnation of Lord Shiva. Kina Ram's final resting place or samadhi is located in Varanasi India and is the central location of the religion.

Varanasi is in Northeast India
Varanasi is located directly next to the Ganges River


In Hinduism all worshippers want to achieve moksha or liberation from the reincarnation cycle and all the sects have unique ways of trying to achieve this. The Aghori people worship Shiva as mentioned earlier. Shiva is depicted as having three eyes, the third representing wisdom as well as a cobra necklace which shows destruction and recreation due to the fact a snake sheds its skin and creates a new layer. Shiva also has a trident to represent the Hindu triumvirate and lastly the Vibhuti which are 3 white ash lines across his forehead that represents his all pervading nature.

Shiva, the destroyer and re-creator of the universe

This all pervading nature concept is the main focus of the religion. The Aghori deviate from other Hindu's because they believe in a non-dualist universe where there is no good or bad, no pure or impure, everything is a part of the same greater thing. For this reason the Aghori practice many taboo's to reach a sense of enlightenment and eventually to become a part of Shiva himself. The fastest way for the Aghori to achieve enlightenment is through the darkness first. This darkness is everything that normal humans see as filthy, evil, and disgustingly dirty. Due to this fact the Aghori are often seen eating rotten food, feces, humans (cannibalism), covering themselves with cremation ash, and much more which will be spoken about later. These worshippers believe all other people in the world are stuck in a world of illusion filled with materialistic things and earthly delusions. Not wearing clothing, not cutting hair, and not having any materialistic items is a way for the Aghori to be as close to Shiva as possible in this life and far away from the world of illusions.

Taboo Practices and Rituals

The Aghori as mentioned earlier practice many rituals that seem filthy and disgusting to outsiders in order to achieve enlightenment and break the reincarnation cycle to eventually become a part of Lord Shiva himself. The first taboo practice that the Aghori perform is cannibalism or necrophagy. Necrophagy is the eating of a dead corpse and the Aghori consume dead humans in order to face the duality of life and death and experience transcendence from their previous lower self into a self with heighten universal awareness. In Indian culture not all bodies are cremated, in fact children, pregnant women, holy men, unmarried women, and those who have died from leprosy, snake bites and suicide have their bodies disposed into the Ganges River upon death. These worshippers acquire these dead bodies by fishing them out of the Ganges River. The Aghori also consume rotten food, human feces, and urine in order to experience this transcendence. In addition to cannibalism these people cover themselves in cremation ashes and paint their faces just as Lord Shiva does. By doing this they are getting closer to Lord Shiva and are recognizing their place in the Absolute. The Absolute is the form of self that is completely pure, conscious and all-pervading which is the ultimate goal for all Hindu's. To achieve enlightenment (moksha) the Aghori people use alcohol and marijuana to give them a disconnected state of heightened awareness and consciousness. Furthermore, these worshippers drink alcohol from kapalas which are human skulls. These two taboo practices are depicted in the pictures to the right and below.

An Aghori man drinking alcohol from a Kapala

Part of the Aghori's religion is the idea that one shouldn't be materialistic. For this reason the Aghori have very few belongings and most don't wear any clothing or just a small rag to cover their groin. This is part of the process of becoming pure and escaping earthly delusions. Next, these worshippers meditate on top of corpses. The reason that they undertake this taboo ritual is so that they can gain control over the spirit and become one with it. This is yet another reason as to why the Aghori are found in cremation and burial sites along the Ganges River. The second to last ritual that the Aghori undertake is the Tantric ritual. The Tantric Ritual is when an Aghori worshipper has sex with a woman of a lower caste (or place in society) who is menstruating. In this ritual the man becomes Shiva and his partner's female energy becomes shakti. Shakti is the divine force that every Hindu god has that keeps them in power and in balance. Lord Shiva's shakti is Parvati who is a goddess that gives him power but also brings him into balance. Parvati allows Lord Shiva to be an ascetic yet also be a hedonist at the same time, there relationship is one of equality. A hedonist is a person who believes the pursuit of pleasure is the most important thing in life, the opposite of an ascetic and Parvati enables Shiva to be both. The last ritual that the Aghori are rumored to practice is mysterious healing rituals. These rituals involve the Aghori transferring illness and disease from their patient to themselves and then they expel it from their bodies. This ritual is suppose to please Shiva. These are the primary rituals that the Aghori practice and each one is completed in hopes to achieve liberation and enlightenment.

Impact on society

The Aghori are feared, shunned, exiled, and seen as evil monks in India. The philosophy of how to recognize themselves in the Absolute deviates from normal Hindu beliefs. Furthermore, the rituals they practice to achieve enlightenment and liberation are seen as taboo to most cultures around the world. These two reasons are why the Aghori people are feared throughout India. Over time the fear of these worshippers has led to false claims being created. Such as the Aghori people being able to predict the future and create evil prophecies. On occasion the Aghori healers are revered for there special talents, but that is a rarity. Overall the Aghori are shunned throughout India and much of the world as well.

Works Cited (Information)

Adiswarananda, Swami. "Hinduism: The Ultimate Reality." Hinduism: The Ultimate Reality. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Feb. 2017.

"Aghoris." Aghoris. The University of Cumbria, n.d. Web. 15 Feb. 2017.

"BBC - Religions - Hinduism: Shiva." BBC News. BBC, n.d. Web. 15 Feb. 2017.

Gordon, Sarah. "The Cannibal Monks of Varanasi: Indian Tribe Feasts on Human Flesh, Drink from Skulls and Live among the Dead." Daily Mail Online. Associated Newspapers, 03 Mar. 2015. Web. 15 Feb. 2017.

Marchand, Peter. "Shakti." Sanatan Society. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Feb. 2017.

Suri, Rochelle, and Daniel B. Pitchford. "The Gift of Life: Death as Teacher in the Aghori Sect." California Institute of Integral Studies. Floraglades Foundation, 1 Jan. 2010. Web. 13 Feb. 2017.

Swancer, Brent. "The Mystic Cannibal Monks of India." Mysterious Universe. N.p., 18 Aug. 2014. Web. 15 Feb. 2017.

Works Cited (pictures)

"Aghori: Cannibal Hindu Monks." Cult of Weird. N.p., 25 Feb. 2016. Web. 15 Feb. 2017.

"Bizarre: Sex Rituals of Aghori Sadhus." Bizarre: Sex Rituals of Aghori Sadhus. N.p., 08 July 2015. Web. 15 Feb. 2017.

Caetano, Pedro Nuno. "A Cruise through the Ghats III." Flickr. Yahoo!, 21 Dec. 2011. Web. 15 Feb. 2017.

"Free Image on Pixabay - Varanasi, Ghats, India, River." Free Photo: Varanasi, Ghats, India, River - Free Image on Pixabay - 1370505. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Feb. 2017.

Gordon, Sarah. "The Cannibal Monks of Varanasi: Indian Tribe Feasts on Human Flesh, Drink from Skulls and Live among the Dead." Daily Mail Online. Associated Newspapers, 03 Mar. 2015. Web. 15 Feb. 2017.

"SHIVA." Bhajans Kirtans Prayers. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Feb. 2017.

"Varanasi Ghats." Flickr. Yahoo!, 09 Aug. 2011. Web. 15 Feb. 2017.

"Varanasi Museums and Art Galleries." World Guides. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 Feb. 2017.

"Where Is Varanasi, India?" WorldAtlas. N.p., 02 Oct. 2015. Web. 15 Feb. 2017.


Created with images by Pedro Nuno Caetano - "A cruise through the ghats III" • kraigseder - "varanasi ghats india" • ruffin_ready - "Varanasi ghats"

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