In India, there is a secretive religious sect whose beliefs are based around Hinduism, but the group has been nearly universally denounced by mainstream Hindus. They have the same basic belief system, so what could cause this splinter group to clash with other Hindus? In a word, cannibalism. But boiling the Aghori and their practices down to just one sensationalistic word does a disservice to their strength of their beliefs. Here's an in-depth look at who the Aghori really are.
There have been countless depictions of cannibals in pop culture. Hannibal Lecter, of Thomas Harris's classic thriller, The Silence of the Lambs, is a notable practitioner, and throughout Greek mythology, there were dozens of people - sometimes close family members - devoured piece by piece.
Because of these connotations, it's hard to believe that in 2016, cannibalism is still practiced in certain parts of the world. What is typically regarded as a classic horror film trope or a last-ditch attempt at survival following a disastrous plane crash is, depending on where you live, somehow still common.
Which brings us to the cannibal monks in India, the Aghori. They live near Varanasi, North India, not too far from the Ganges River.
While the Aghoris indeed practice cannibalism, there is so much more to these often marginalized people. From their belief in mysticism to their grisly post-mortem practices (which goes FAR beyond just eating their dead), the Aghori people have carved out a unique place as one of the most fascinating groups in the world.
They Practice Cannibalism, with No Part Wasted
The Aghori are known to eat the dead. Seems simple, right? After all, we've all heard stories about cannibals.
But the Aghori take things a few steps further. In fact, they not only eat the recently deceased, but have also been known to drag corpses from the severely polluted Ganges River. People who live along the river often throw bodies into the Ganges for various reasons, but efforts are made to weigh down the corpses so they sink and become inaccessible to the Aghori. But sometimes, tying down the bodies doesn't work, and the Aghori pull them from the river. This means non-Aghori men, women and children who are unfortunate enough to be disposed of in the famous body of water are subject to being consumed.
So, yes, Aghori tribe members practice cannibalism, but they also utilize every last piece of the body, transforming human skulls into bowls, and carving various pieces of bone into jewelry. And their reasoning behind the practice ties back in to their beliefs.
In Shaivism, practitioners devote themselves to the Hindu god Shiva. Their ultimate goal is to break the cycle of reincarnation and achieve transcendence. The Aghori use cannibalism as a way to embrace death and reject Earthly attitudes and customs, which they believe will help them become an incarnation of Shiva. These extreme methods have led to the Aghori being ostracized by other Hindus.
They Use Human Ashes to Embrace Death
In order to transcend their Earthly bodies, the Aghori believe they must face death and decay head on. Because of this, they have been known to gather human ashes from cremation grounds and smear them on their bodies from head to toe.
It is believed that, in addition to bringing them closer to Shiva, this act will also protect them from any future disease. Afterwards, the Aghori meditate and pray.
They Live Around Cremation Sites and Cemeteries
The Aghori typically reside in old cemeteries, near crematoriums, and within walking distance to many ghats (stone steps where bodies are dumped into the Ganges). It's purely for economical reasons: since they use dead bodies and human remains in their rituals, it makes sense that they live near places which provide that gruesome resource.
They Swear Like It's Their Religion, Because It Kind of Is
You're not going to f*cking believe this, but the Aghori subscribe to the idea that by utilizing swear words in their everyday language, it will bring them closer to spiritual enlightenment. Occasionally going on multi-swear tirades, the Aghori believe that there should be no taboos in life and that we should be as connected with our true selves as humanly f*cking possible.