History of the Aghori Gurus
The Aghoris are a group of ascetics (those abstaining from worldly things in pursuit of spiritual goals) dwelling in India. Their extreme practices, beliefs, and doctrines often alienate them from mainstream Hinduism. The origin of the Aghori sect, just like their lifestyle, is shrouded in mystery and might be traced back to Kina Ram, possibly the first Aghori ascetic, who reportedly died at the age of 150 years in the middle of the 18th Century. There is also a possibility that the Aghori have some form of kinship with the Kapalika ascetics of Kashmir and the Kalamukhas of the Deccan Plateau with similar bizarre traditions as the Aghoris.
The Aghoris practice the Tantric form of Hinduism, and consider the Hindu deity Dattatreya to be a predecessor to the Aghori tantric traditions. They are completely dedicated to the Bhairava, a fierce manifestation of the Hindu super-God, Lord Shiva and believe that Shiva is synonymous with perfection. The Aghoris also shun all types of materialistic objects considering them to be completely useless. For this reason, they do not adorn clothes, inhabit cremation grounds, often eat and drink fecal matter, urine and flesh from dead bodies and do not allow any delusions of the material world to influence their way of living. Their ultimate aim is to achieve moksha or salvation from the continuous cycle of death and rebirth and they consider the body to be transitionary in nature, perceiving it as only a mass of flesh and blood which does not deserve physical comfort. The Aghoris also worship the Goddess Kali and her various manifestations who they believe, if pleased by their worship rituals, will bestow supernatural powers on them. The Aghori also consider that everything in this world is perfect because Shiva is perfect and since Shiva resides everywhere and in every being, everything in the world is also perfect. There is nothing called “good” and “bad”, there are no “opposites” and that all of what we perceive in the world is nothing but an illusion. Thus, they become indifferent to everything, transcend taboo and stop distinguishing between what is considered to be conventional and non-conventional or pure and non-pure.
Claims as Healers
The Aghoris claim to possess magical healing powers. People living in rural areas of India sometimes seek the help of these Aghoris to heal them from disease, bad health, or ill fortune. The Aghoris claim that they are able to transfer ailments from their patients’ bodies into their own body from where they expel the disease by the use of magic. They consider that by performing such a generous act they please their superior lord, Lord Shiva, who then bestows them with greater power.
Though the philosophical concepts of the Aghoris appear to sound quite interesting, the rituals, traditions, and ways of the Aghoris are often looked down upon with great disgust. These sadhus have been studied for years by photographers, journalists, and writers, who have often spent days with them to receive an insight into their dark and mysterious ways of life. It is claimed that the Aghoris of Varanasi in India collect the dead and decaying bodies of humans that are floating on the holy Ganges and use these bodies for various purposes. They may feed on the flesh obtained from these bodies, use the bodies as altars for performing their rituals, use the skulls as a container to drink alcohol from, or fashion ornaments from the bones of the dead which are then worn by them. They also are regular consumers of marijuana, and deny doing so for pleasure. Instead, they claim to do so for attaining a higher state of mind that allows them to concentrate on their highly strenuous religious practices.
Perceptions by Outsiders
It is quite evident that the Aghoris are both abhorred and revered by society for their mysterious, dark and unique ways of life. The Aghoris have never been a part of mainstream society and have always lived a secluded life on their own. Though their practices are a source of horror for many, the fact that they do not resort to killing human beings or forcing anyone into accepting their way of life has allowed society to tolerate them for years. Some sections of the Hindu population of India, especially those inhabiting rural areas also associate the Aghori sadhus with mystic supernatural powers and thus seek their help in matters bothering them.