Aghori ascetics, while being devotees of the Hindu god Shiva, are monists who adhere to the common Hindu belief in liberation (moksha) from the cycle of reincarnation (samsara). This liberation is a realization of the self’s identity with the absolute. Because of this monastic doctrine, the Aghoris maintain that all opposites are identical and the conventional Hindu distinctions between purity and impurity are ultimately illusory.

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The Aghoris are ascetics living in cremation grounds, smearing themselves with the ashes of corpses and eating from a cranial begging bowl. They are attributed with eating corpse flesh, which may be a once in a lifetime ritual act, and meditating seated upon a corpse and thereby gaining control over the corpse’s spirit. They have also been accused of practicing human sacrifice.

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The Aghoris claim to perform a secret Tantric ritual involving sex with a lower caste, menstruating woman during which the Aghori becomes Shiva and his partner Shiva’s female energy or shakti .The purpose of embracing pollution in these practices is a realization of non-duality through transcending social taboos and seeing the illusory nature of all conventional categories.

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Although akin to the Kapalika ascetics of medieval Kashmir, with whom there may be a historical connection, the Aghoris trace their origin to Kina Ram, an ascetic who is said to have lived for 150 years during the second half of the eighteenth century. Kina Ram is thought to have been an incarnation of the Hindu god Shiva, as have been each of Kina Ram’s successors. Necrophagy, the eating of corpse flesh, is attested to by a sixteenth-century Persian source and in nineteenth century British accounts.

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The death’s theme, so recurrent among the Aghoris, constantly remembers us our mortality but it is also a challenge to transcend the duality of life and death. Breaking every mental scheme, going over every taboo makes aware of the illusion of this world and becomes a path toward the liberation (moksha), the realization of itself with the absolute one. Also the conventional Hindu distinction among pure and impure.for the Aghoris is an illusion.

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Nothing is unholy or not auspicious for them, but everything is sacred. They gain their powers by doing things that are considered unholy or unclean by societies.They believe true Aghori should break all ties with families, friends and all earthly possessions and should live entire life at the cremation ground and eat and drink only through the human skull. They roam freely anywhere they want to, wherever they go they will find their home – cremation ground.

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The mentor of author Svoboda, Aghori Vimalananda, whose spiritual practices awakened his Kundalini and Svoboda’s Aghora trilogy is based on him, said, “Meat, fish, wine, parched grain and sex are all intoxicants, and the purpose of intoxicants is to stimulate your nerves to be able to withstand the force of the Kundalini Shakti. You can use alcohol and the rest to make fast spiritual progress only if you know how to use them properly, otherwise, you just bind yourself down more tightly to the wheel of existence.”

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Benares is the home and birthplace of the Aghoris. This sect is an offshoot of the famous Kapaliks of Kashmir Saivism who carried human skull as a symbol of a sect. In its present form the origins of the sect can be traced to Baba Kinaram, an Aghori ascetic who lived for 150 years and believed to be the incarnation of lord Shiva. There is a Kinaram temple in Varanasi, where he was buried, which is the most sacred for Aghoris. Dattatreya who is believed to be the initiator of Aghor tradition.

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Aghoris were a powerful group among the sadhus in India, today a handful remain who lead this unusual life. The ultimate motive for an Aghori is to seek liberation from this endless cycle of reincarnation and achieve salvation.

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While in an urban setting, people see Aghoris as the sadist who engages in black magic or are mentally ill, but they actually have a mystical way to transform the mind into one that connects with the universal soul, it’s a path not meant for all! Would you be able to take an Aghori’s path to enlightenment?