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An Aghori with a human skull, c. 1875.
Total population
Regions with significant populations

The Aghori (Sanskrit aghora)[2] are ascetic Shaiva sadhus.

The Aghori in Shaivism.

The Aghori are known to engage in post-mortem rituals. They often dwell in charnel grounds, have been witnessed smearing cremation ashes on their bodies, and have been known to use bones from human corpses for crafting kapalas (which Shiva and other Hindu deities are often iconically depicted holding or using) and jewelry. Due to their practices that are contradictory to orthodox Hinduism, they are generally opposed by other Hindus.[3][4]

Many Aghori gurus command great reverence from rural populations as they are supposed to possess healing powers gained through their intensely eremitic rites and practices of renunciation and tápasya. They are also known to meditate and perform worship in haunted houses.


  • Beliefs and doctrines 1
  • History 2
  • Adherents 3
  • Spiritual headquarters 4
  • Medicine 5
  • In popular culture 6
  • References 7
  • Further reading 8

Beliefs and doctrines

Aghoris are devotees of Shiva manifested as Bhairava,[5] are monists who seek moksha from the cycle of reincarnation or saṃsāra. This freedom is a realization of the self's identity with the absolute. Because of this monistic doctrine, the Aghoris maintain that all opposites are ultimately illusory. The purpose of embracing pollution and degradation through various customs is the realization of non-duality (advaita) through transcending social taboos, attaining what is essentially an altered state of consciousness and perceiving the illusory nature of all conventional categories.

Aghoris are not to be confused with Shivnetras, who are also ardent devotees of Shiva but do not indulge in extreme, tamasic ritual practices. Although the Aghoris enjoy close ties with the Shivnetras, the two groups are quite distinct, Shivnetras engaging in sattvic worship.

Aghoris base their beliefs on two principles common to broader Shaiva beliefs: that Shiva is perfect (having omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence) and that Shiva is responsible for everything that occurs – all conditions, causes and effects. Consequently, 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, as well as to deny the Supreme Being.

Aghoris believe that every person's soul is Shiva but is covered by aṣṭamahāpāśa "eight great nooses or bonds" - sensual pleasure, anger, greed, obsession, fear and hatred. The practices of the Aghoris are centered around the removal of these bonds. Sādhanā in cremation grounds destroys fear; sexual practices with certain riders and controls help release one from sexual desire; being naked destroys shame. On release from all the eight bonds the soul becomes sadāśiva and obtains moksha.


Aghori in Satopant.
An Aghori man in Badrinath smoking hashish or Cannabis from a chillum in 2011.

Although akin to the Kapalika ascetics of medieval Kashmir, as well as the Kalamukhas, with whom there may be a historical connection, the Aghoris trace their origin to Kina Ram, an ascetic who is said to have lived 150 years, dying during the second half of the 18th century.[6] Dattatreya the avadhuta, to whom has been attributed the esteemed nondual medieval song, the Avadhuta Gita, was a founding adi guru of the Aghor tradition according to Barrett (2008: p. 33):

Lord Dattatreya, an antinomian form of Shiva closely associated with the cremation ground, who appeared to Baba Keenaram atop Girnar Mountain in Gujarat. Considered to be the adi guru (ancient spiritual teacher) and founding deity of Aghor, Lord Dattatreya offered his own flesh to the young ascetic as prasād (a kind of blessing), conferring upon him the power of clairvoyance and establishing a guru-disciple relationship between them.[7]

Aghoris also hold sacred the Hindu deity Dattatreya as a predecessor to the Aghori Tantric tradition. Dattatreya was believed to be an incarnation of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva united in the same singular physical body. Dattatreya is revered in all schools of Tantrism, which is the philosophy followed by the Aghora tradition, and he is often depicted in Hindu artwork and its holy scriptures of folk narratives, the Puranas, indulging in Aghori "left-hand" Tantric worship as his prime practice.

An aghori believes in getting into total darkness by all means, and then getting into light or self realizing. Though this is a different approach from other Hindu sects, they believe it to be effective. They are infamously known for their rituals that include such as shava samskara (ritual worship incorporating the use of a corpse as the altar) to invoke the mother goddess in her form as Smashan Tara (Tara of the Cremation Grounds).

In Hindu iconography, Tara, like Kali, is one of the ten Mahavidyas (wisdom goddesses) and once invoked can bless the Aghori with supernatural powers. The most popular of the ten Mahavidyas who are worshiped by Aghoris are Dhumavati, Bagalamukhi, and Bhairavi. The male Hindu deities primarily worshiped by Aghoris for supernatural powers are manifestations of Shiva, including Mahākāla, Bhairava, Virabhadra, Avadhuti, and others.

Barrett (2008: p. 161) discusses the "charnel ground sādhanā" of the Aghora in both its left and right-handed proclivities and identifies it as principally cutting through attachments and aversion and foregrounding primordiality; a view uncultured, undomesticated:

The gurus and disciples of Aghor believe their state to be primordial and universal. They believe that all human beings are natural-born Aghori. Hari Baba has said on several occasions that human babies of all societies are without discrimination, that they will play as much in their own filth as with the toys around them. Children become progressively discriminating as they grow older and learn the culturally specific attachments and aversions of their parents. Children become increasingly aware of their mortality as they bump their heads and fall to the ground. They come to fear their mortality and then palliate this fear by finding ways to deny it altogether.[2]

In this sense, the Aghora sādhanā is a process of unlearning deeply internalized cultural models. When this sādhanā takes the form of charnel ground sādhanā, the Aghori faces death as a very young child, simultaneously meditating on the totality of life at its two extremes. This ideal example serves as a prototype for other Aghor practices, both left and right, in ritual and in daily life."[8] The Aghoris are also recorded to perform śāva sādhanā, worship with a corpse.


Though Aghoris are prevalent in cremation grounds across India, Nepal, and even sparsely across cremation grounds in South East Asia, the secrecy of this religious sect leaves no desire for practitioners to aspire for social recognition and notoriety. [1]

Spiritual headquarters

Hinglaj Mata is the Kuladevata (patron goddess) of the Aghori. The main Aghori pilgrimage centre is Kina Ram's hermitage or ashram in Ravindrapuri, Varanasi.[9] The full name of this place is Baba Keenaram Sthal, Krim-Kund. Here, Kina Ram is buried in a tomb or samadhi which is a centre of pilgrimage for Aghoris and Aghori devotees. Present head (Abbot), since 1978, of Baba Keenaram Sthal is Baba Siddharth Gautam Ram.

According to Devotees, Baba Siddharth Gautam Ram is reincarnation of Baba Keenaram himself. Apart from this, any cremation ground would be a holy place for an Aghori ascetic. The cremation grounds near the yoni pithas, 51 holy centers for worship of the Hindu Mother Goddess scattered across South Asia and the Himalayan terrain, are key locations preferred for performing sadhana by the Aghoris. They are also known to meditate and perform sadhana in haunted houses.


Aghori practise healing through purification as a pillar of their ritual. Their patients believe the Aghori are able to transfer pollution and health to and from patients as a form of "transformative healing", due to the believed superior state of body and mind of the Aghori.[10]

In popular culture

This is an incomplete list of prominent Aghori recognition.

  • The Aghori were featured on the first episode of the new Ripley's Believe It Or Not television series, hosted by Dean Cain. The program highlighted the Aghori's rituals.
  • In Tad Williams' Otherland series, the main member of the resistance group the Circle, Nandi Paradivash, spent several years as an Aghori ascetic while preparing for the final confrontation with the Brotherhood.
  • In 2006 a Greek documentary by the name of "Shiva's Flesh" shows a Varanasi Aghori by name Black Boom Boom Baba and the existing faith around Aghoris in Varanasi.
  • The television program Wildboyz starring Steve-O and Chris Pontius featured a segment in which the duo learned about the Aghori culture firsthand. Chris and Steve-O were given the ritualistic alcohol from a skull and were covered in remains of a corpse in the form of ashes. One Aghori also demonstrated the drinking of urine. They hinted that more was filmed but censored when Steve-O remarked "Now imagine what we weren't allowed to show you."
  • Director Jeff Tremaine, responsible for the Wildboyz, Jackass, etc. felt the bit on the Wildboyz was so successful he wanted to re-shoot it for Jackass Number Two. This time they sent in Dave England, Chris Pontius, and Steve-O. When an Aghori started mutilating his own leg, and jumped at Dave England with the blood everyone decided it was far more than they had planned on, and wanted out. This 'bit' ended up in Jackass 2.5, as Johnny Knoxville foreshadows in the taping of the 'bit'.
  • On the Dirty Sanchez TV show, in a season called "Sanchez Get High," Welshmen Matthew Pritchard and Lee Dainton meet up with an Aghori ascetic, and shows Pritchard drinking alcohol from a skull.
  • In popular Finnish Television series Madventures protagonists Riku Rantala and Tuomas Milonoff encounter Aghoris at Varanasi and indulge rituals with them. This segment can be seen in Season 3 of the show.
  • In the Tamil film Naan Kadavul by Bala, Arya essays the role of an Aghori.
  • In the Hindi film Raaz: The Mystery Continues by Mohit Suri, J. Brandon Hill plays the role of an American executive who becomes an Aghori.
  • In the block-buster Telugu film Arundhati, Sonu Sood, the antagonist is a converted Aghora.
  • A popular novel in Kannada Aghorigala naduve (Life with Agoris) was published in 1980. In that novel one of the popular sites for Aghoris in south India is near Chamundi Hills at Mysore, Karnataka state.
  • British death metal band The Rotted wrote the lyrics to the song Just Add Nauseam about the Aghori, and the cover of the album it features on Ad Nauseam features a six-armed, three-faced demonic figure loosely based on Indian artwork.
  • An Aghori was the main character in an episode of Adaalat, an Indian courtroom drama television series. The episode was called "Qatil Aghori", meaning "Murderer Aghori".


  1. ^ a b Indian doc focuses on Hindu cannibal sect
  2. ^ a b 'Aghora' in Monier Williams Sanskrit-English Dictionary [Online]. Source: [4] (accessed: Tuesday February 9, 2010)
  3. ^ "The Meanings of Death" By John Bowker, John Westerdale Bowker, p. 164, Cambridge University Press
  4. ^ "Great Sex Made Simple: Tantric Tips to Deepen Intimacy & Heighten Pleasure", by Mark A. Michaels, Patricia Johnson, publisher = Llewellyn Worldwide, p. 26, isbn = 9780738734118
  5. ^ "Shiva: The Wild God of Power and Ecstasy" Page 46, by Wolf-Dieter Storl
  6. ^ Parry (1994).
  7. ^ Barrett, Ron (2008). Aghor medicine: pollution, death, and healing in northern India. Edition: illustrated. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-25218-7, ISBN 978-0-520-25218-9. Source: [5] (accessed: Sunday February 21, 2010), p.33
  8. ^ Barrett, Ron (2008). Aghor medicine: pollution, death, and healing in northern India. Edition: illustrated. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-25218-7, ISBN 978-0-520-25218-9. Source: [6], (accessed: Monday February 22, 2010) p.161
  9. ^ Aghori, Varanasi, accessdate = 25-11-2013
  10. ^ Attewell, Guy. "Aghor Medicine: Pollution, Death and Healing in Northern India". Social History of Medicine 21.3. Retrieved 2012-09-25. 

Further reading

  • Barrett, Ron L. (2008). Aghor Medicine: Pollution, Death, and Healing in Northern India. University of California Press.  
  • Dallapiccola, Anna (2002). Dictionary of Hindu Lore and Legend. Thames & Hudson.  
  • McDermott, Rachel F.; Jeffrey J. Kripal (2003). Encountering Kālī: in the margins, at the center, in the West. University of California Press.  
  • McEvilley, Thomas (2002). The Shape of Ancient Thought: comparative studies in Greek and Indian Philosophies. Allworth Communications, Inc.  
  • Parry, Jonathan P. (1994). Death in Banaras. Cambridge University Press.  
  • Vishwanath Prasad Singh Ashthana, Aghor at a glance
  • Vishwanath Prasad Singh Ashthana, Krim-kund Katha
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