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The Aghori: Hindu ascetics who seek purity in the darkest places

Domagoj Valjak

In Hinduism, the word sadhu describes religious ascetics. The Hindu ascetics usually practice constant meditation and contemplation of Brahman in an effort to achieve Moksha, a state of spiritual liberation.

They have been known to wear saffron-colored clothing, through which they emphasize their renouncement of earthly and materialistic pursuits. Most Hindu ascetics practice traditional rituals and conventional methods of contemplation, but some groups have become renowned for their unusual and sometimes downright frightening practices.

A sadhu in Kathmandu. Photo Credit

A sadhu in Kathmandu. Photo Credit

One such group are the Aghori sadhus, who practice the “left way” to reach divinity. The “right way” of traditional Hinduism includes veganism, sanctity, and abstinence from lust. However, the Aghori claim that their way of seeking liberation is quicker and far purer, as it leads to true godliness. For the Aghori, the key to achieving pure godliness can be found in “seeking purity in the filthiest things,” as they practice concentrating on God while performing dark and perverted rituals.

The Aghori ascetics often dwell on or around charnel grounds, sites reserved for cremation and ritual putrefaction of human bodies. They are known to make ritual bowls out of human skulls, which they use for their ghastly eating rituals. They are known to eat rotten foods, putrefying human remains, as well as animal and human feces. In their philosophy, consumption of excreta kills ego and shatters the human perception of beauty, and these ideals are crucial if one wishes to become an Aghori.

An Aghori ascetic meditating. Photo Credit

An Aghori ascetic meditating. Photo Credit

They also consume enormous amounts of marijuana, as they believe it helps them concentrate on their mantras and elaborate yogic rituals.

An Aghori ascetic smoking marijuana. Photo Credit

An Aghori ascetic smoking marijuana. Photo Credit

They claim that they don’t smoke marijuana for pleasure, as they live lives devoid of pleasure, but that the altered state of mind brings them a heightened spiritual experience.

The Aghori denounced the traditional robes of traditional Hindu ascetics, and their sense of fashion is rather eerie. They usually walk around naked or wear a simple loin cloth; their nakedness symbolizes their complete renunciation of the material world. Still, they smear their bodies with the ashes of cremated human remains and wear jewelry made out of human bones to emphasize their complete devotion to the darkest forms of achieving spiritual liberation.

An Aghori sadhu in a cave near Badrinath. Photo Credit

An Aghori sadhu in a cave near Badrinath. Photo Credit

Despite being feared and notorious, the Aghori are respected members of the community. Since they practice healing through purification, many people seek their aid with battling various illnesses.

Read another story from us: The odd rituals of blood and death that originated in the Ancient World

The patients believe the Aghori are able to transfer pollution out their bodies because of their superior state of body and mind.