The Aghori are a Shaivite Hindu sect – mostly composed of ascetic sadhus – believed to have split off from the tantric Kapalika order (which dates from 1000) in India in the 14th century. The Aghori are known for their extreme and outlandish violations of typical Indian and other social mores, as well as their unorthodox, taboo rituals which have caused many mainstream Hindus to condemn them as non-Hindu.
The Aghori ascetic is himself a symbol of the God Shiva in his manifestation as Lord Bhairava. They are monists who adhere to the common Hindu belief in liberation (moksha) from the cycle of reincarnation (samsara). The Aghoris believe that all opposites are ultimately illusory.
Aghoris base their beliefs on two principles: that Shiva is perfect and that Shiva is responsible for everything that occurs–all conditions, causes and effects–in the universe. Therefore, everything that exists must be perfect, and to deny the perfection of anything would be to deny the sacredness of all life in its full manifestation.
These extreme acts are done as a process of removing doubt, that doing these things are immoral.
– Mark Dycskowski
The main symbol which makes him distinct from other sadhus is the skull cup he uses as a begging bowl. He goes naked or wears the shroud of a corpse, covers himself in the ashes of the cremation ground and always has his hair in matted dreadlocks. If an aghori uses a corpse as part of his ritual worship, the corpse upon which he meditates, is a symbol of his own body and the corpse-devouring ritual is a symbol of the transcendence of his lower self and a realization of the greater, all pervading Self that is universal consciousness.
Another symbol of the aghori, which ties him to the affiliation of Bhairava, is the trident. The three pronged trident staff in Tantric Hinduism, which aghoris follow, is a symbol representing the three constituents of which Shiva and/or Shakti first creates the universe: iccha shakti (power of will/desire/intention), jnana shakti (power of knowledge – the preconceived architectural design of the universe), and kriya shakti (the power of action). The staff part of a trident in Hinduism represents the human spinal cord, of which the sushumna nadi runs along.
The Aghoris distinguish themselves from other Hindu sects and priests by their alcoholic and cannibalistic rituals. Rituals include: meat eating, alcohol drinking, consumption of beverages and foods with hallucinogens and cannabis products as key ingredients (non-Aghora sadhus have also been known to use cannabis), cannibalism, residing in cremation grounds, and tantric sexual rituals.
The corpses, which may be either pulled from a river (such as the Ganges) or obtained from cremation grounds, are consumed both raw and cooked on open flame, as the Aghoris believe that what others consider a “dead man” is, in fact, nothing but natural matter devoid of the life force it once contained. Therefore while for ordinary people cannibalism may be seen as primitive, barbaric and unclean, for Aghoris it is both a spiritual resource and a subversion of taboos. In the Aghori view, nothing is profane nor separate from God, who is hailed to be all and in all. In fact, the Aghoris see it as a scientific approach in trying to discover how matter converts from one form to another.