|Doctrines|| ||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 realisation of the self's identity with the absolute. Because of this monistic doctrine, the Aghoris maintain that all opposites are identical and the conventional Hindu distinctions between purity and impurity are ultimately illusory.|
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 practising human sacrifice. 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 (see Tantrism).The purpose of embracing pollution in these practices is realisation of non-duality through transcending social taboos and seeing the illusory nature of all conventional categories.
|History|| ||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 to 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.|
|Symbols|| ||The Aghori ascetic is himself a symbol of the god Shiva. He goes naked or is dressed in the shroud of a corpse, he covers himself in the ashes of the cremation ground, which would be polluting for an orthodox Brahmin, and his, sometimes macabre, ritual actions are symbols of his non-dualistic beliefs. 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 realisation of the greater, all pervading self .|
|Adherents|| ||No official figures are available. At the end of the nineteenth century there were an estimated two or three hundred Aghori ascetics in Varanasi, though now there are perhaps as few as twenty living in their main centre. The Aghoris do, however, have quite a large lay following and devotees from the Indian middle classes.|
| ||The main centre of the Aghoris is Kina Ram's hermitage or ashram in Varanasi. Here Kina Ram is buried in a tomb or samadh which is a centre of pilgrimage for Aghoris and Aghori devotees. Apart from this, any cremation ground would be a holy place for an Aghori ascetic.|