City of Death

16 images Created 29 May 2013

The Aghori believe that nothing is blasphemous or independent from God. The Aghoris are distinct from other Hindu sects and Sadu’s (priests) by their alcoholic and cannibalistic ceremonies. Skulls and other human bones are obtained from the cremation grounds and used due to having life-force which they believe can be harnessed for ritual purposes. They are also alleged to pull bodies from the river Ganges, which are then eaten. They do things which a common man finds to be terrifying, so they overcome fears by facing them and acting out horrors, since they do it regularly it is a common thing for them.

The Aghori mainly worship lord Shiva, according to the sect every human is a ‘shava’(dead body) with emotions and they should try to become ‘Shiva’ by denying the human pleasures and practicing Aghori rituals. Commonly living in charnel grounds, they smear cremation ashes on their bodies.

Sri Baba Nagnath Yogeshwar is the leading Aghori Sadu ascetic in Varanasi, the Aghori sect being synonymous with the remains of the dead. Suitably his temple or Ashram was located at one of the most famous site associated with death in India, the Burning Ghat (Manikarnika Ghat). He had not bent his arms in 17 years and he is alleged not to have eaten any food in the last 7 years, existing solely on water. This ascetic devotion has deformed his body with his shoulders and elbows being locked in place and holding his arms at 45 degree angles from his body.

Kinaram ashram in Varanasi is the main location of worship for the Aghori as it is the location of the tomb of Baba Kinaram their patron saint. The entrance to the Ashram is flanked by two columns of concrete skulls stacked on top of each other.

Avadhoot Bhagwan Ram Kustha Sewa Ashram is located on the other bank of the Ganges. Founded in 1961 and while its roots where in Aghori they had moved on as they said ‘into the modern world’. They explained that the skull had power or Prana which the Aghori would harness but also as the early Aghori would practice hermiticism it served the practical purpose in scaring off people. However it was symbolic of the ultimate reality a concept called ‘Atman’ or the individual soul or essence. Part of their development was moving from practices that were seen as abhorrent to working with the lowest of society, the lepers. With this view, Parampujya Aghoreshwar started a service centre at Parao, Varanasi for the lepers in January 1962. Guinness book of records for treating more leprosy patients in the world with 99,045 patients registered with ‘full’ leprosy and 147,503 with ‘partial’ leprosy all of which have been cured.

The final part of this essay took place down the winding maze of Varanasi lanes to the tiny temple of Shri Baba Chamunda Ram, an Aghori, Tantra and Yantra yogi. He filled both a skull and skull cap with whisky and other liquids and went through the ritual of blessing the liquid, chanting mantra and then drinking from the skull.
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