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From The Tribes And Castes Of The Central Provinces Of India
By R. V. Russell
Of The Indian Civil Service
Superintendent Of Ethnography, Central Provinces
Assisted By Rai Bahadur Hira Lal, Extra Assistant Commissioner
Macmillan And Co., Limited, London, 1916.
NOTE: The 'Central Provinces' have since been renamed Madhya Pradesh.
The most disreputable class of Saiva mendicants who feed on human corpses and excre- accounts ment, and in past times practised cannibalism. The sect is caste. apparently an ancient one, a supposed reference to it being contained in the Sanskrit drama Malati Mdd/iava, the hero of which rescues his mistress from being offered as a sacri- fice by one named Aghori Ghanta.^ According to Lassen,
quoted by Sir H. Risley, the Aghoris of the present day are closely connected with the Kapalika sect of the Middle Ages, who wore crowns and necklaces of skulls and offered human sacrifices to Chamunda, a form of Devi, The Aghoris now represent their filthy habits as merely giving practical ex- pression to the abstract doctrine that the whole universe is full of Brahma, and consequently that one thing is as pure as another. By eating the most horrible food they utterly subdue their natural appetites, and hence acquire great power 1 This article is mainly based on a Aiithr. Soc. Bombay, iii. p. 197. paper on Aghoris and Aghorpanthis, ^ Bhattacharya, Hindu Casles and by Mr. H. W. Barrow, in Ihe Journal Sects, p. 392.
over themselves and over the forces of nature. It is believed that an Aghori can at will assume the shapes of a bird, an animal or a fish, and that he can bring back to life a corpse of which he has eaten a part. The principal resort of the Aghoris appears to be at Benares and at Girnar near Mount Abu, and they wander about the country as solitary mendi- cants. A few reside in Saugor, and they are occasionally met with in other places. They are much feared and disliked by the people owing to their practice of extorting alms by the threat to carry out their horrible practices before the eyes of their victims, and by throwing filth into their houses. Similarly they gash and cut their limbs so that the crime of blood may rest on those who refuse to give. " For the most part," Mr. Barrow states,^ " the Aghorpanthis lead a wander- ing life, are without homes, and prefer to dwell in holes, clefts of rocks and hwxmw^-ghdts. They do not cook, but eat the fragments given them in charity as received, which they put as far as may be into the cavity of the skull used as a begging-bowl.
The bodies of chelas (disciples) who die in Benares are thrown into the Ganges, but the dead who die well off are placed in coffins. As a rule, Aghoris do not care what becomes of their bodies, but when buried they are placed in the grave sitting cross-legged. The Aghori gurus keep dogs, which may be of any colour, and are said to be maintained for purposes of protection. The dogs are not all pariahs of the streets, although some gurus are followed by three or four when on pilgrimage. Occasionally the dogs seem to be regarded with real affection by their strange masters. The Aghori is believed to hold converse with all the evil spirits frequenting the burning-^/^5/j-, and funeral parties must be very badly off who refuse to pay him some- thing. In former days he claimed five pieces of wood at each funeral in Benares ; but the Doms interfere with his perqui- sites, and in some cases only let him carry off the remains of the unburned wood from each pyre. When angered and excited, Aghoris invoke Kali and threaten to spread devasta- tion around them. Even among the educated classes, who should know better, they arc dreaded, and as an instance of the terror which they create among the ignorant, it may be 1 Aghoris and Aghorpanthis, pp. 224, 226.
mentioned that in the Lucknow District it is believed that if ahns are refused them the Aghoris will cause those who refuse to be attacked with fever. " On the other hand, their good offices may secure bene- fits, as in the case of a zamlndar of Muzaffarnagar, who at Allahabad refused to eat a piece of human flesh offered to him by an Aghori ; the latter thereupon threw the flesh at the zamlndar's head, on which it stuck. The zamlndar afterwards became so exceedingly wealthy that he had difficulty in storing his wealth."
Instances Of Cannibalism
In former times it is believed that the Aghoris used to kidnap strangers, sacrifice them to the goddess and eat the bodies, and Mr. Barrow relates the following incident of the ism. murder of a boy: ^ "Another horrible case, unconnected with magic and apparently arising from mere blood-thirst, occurred at Neirad in June 1878. An Aghori mendicant of Dwarka staying at the temple of Sitaram Laldas seized a boy of twelve, named Shankar Ramdas, who was playing with two other boys, threw him down on the ^(^//ir? of the temple, ripped open his abdomen, tore out part of his entrails, and, according to the poor little victim's dying declaration, began to eat them. The other boys having raised an alarm, the monster was seized. When interrogated by the magistrate as to whether he had committed the crime in order to perform Aghorbidya, the prisoner said that as the boy was Bhakshan he had eaten his flesh. He added that if he had not been interrupted he would have eaten all the entrails. He was convicted, but only sentenced to transportation for life. The High Court, however, altered the sentence and ordered the prisoner to be hanged." The following instance, quoted by Mr. Barrow from Rewah, shows how an Aghori was hoist with his own petard : " Some years ago, when Maharaja Bishnath Singh was Chief of Rewah, a man of the Aghori caste went to Rewah and sat dhania on the steps of the palace ; having made ineffectual demands for alms, he requested to be sup- plied with human flesh, and for five days abstained from food. The Maharaja was much troubled, and at last, in order to get rid of his unwelcome visitor, sent for Ghansiam Das,
another Aghori, a Fakir, who had for some years Hved in Rewah. Ghansiam Das went up to the other Aghori and asked him if it was true that he had asked to be supphed with human flesh. On receiving a reply in the affirmative, Ghansiam Das said : ' Very well, I too am extremely partial to this form of food ; here is my hand, eat it and I will eat you'; and at the same time he seized hold of the other's hand and began to gnaw at it. The Aghori on this became much alarmed and begged to be excused. He shortly afterwards left Rewah and was not heard of again, while Ghansiam Das was rewarded for his services." The following recent instance of an Aghori devouring human corpses is reported from the Punjab : ^ " The loath- some story of a human ghoul from Patiala shows that the influence of the Aghorpanthi has not yet completely died out in this country. It is said that for some time past human graves have been found robbed of their contents, and the mystery could not be solved until the other day, when the police succeeded in arresting a man in the act of desecrating a child's grave, some forty miles distant from the capital (Patiala). The ghoul not only did not conceal the undevoured portion of the corpse he had with him, but told his captors the whole story of his gruesome career. He is a low-caste Hindu named Ram Nath, and is, according to a gentleman who saw him, ' a singularly mild and respectful-looking man, instead of a red-eyed and ravenous savage,' as he had expected to find him from the accounts of his disgusting propensities. He became an orphan at five and fell into the hands of two Sadhus of his own caste, who were evidently Aghorpanthis. They taught him to eat human flesh, which formed the staple of their food. The meat was procured from the graves in the vil- lages they passed through. When Ram Nath was thoroughly educated in this rank the Sadhus deserted him. Since then he had been living on human carrion only, roaming about the country like a hungry vulture. He cannot eat cooked food, and therefore gets two seers of raw meat from the State every day. It is also reported that the Maharaja has 1 The Tribune (Lahore), November Ascetics and Saints of India, pp. 164, 29, 1898, quoted in Oman's Mystics, 165.
now prohibited his being given anj'tliing but cooked food with a view to reforming liim."
Sir J. B. Fuller relates the following incident of the employment of an Aghori as a servant •} " There are actually ten thousand persons who at census time classed them- selves a,s Aghoris. All of them do not practise cannibalism and some of them attempt to rise in the world. One of them secured service as a cook with a British officer of my acquaint- ance. My friend was in camp in the jungle with his wife and children, when his other servants came to him in a body and refused to remain in service unless the cook was dis- missed, since they had discovered, they declared, that during the night-time he visited cemeteries and dug up the bodies of freshly buried cliildren. The cook was absent, but they pointed to a box of his that emitted a sickening smell. The man was incontinently expelled, but for long afterwards the family were haunted by reminiscences of the curries they had eaten."
' Studies of Indian Life mid Sen/iweiif, p. 44. VOL. II
Sex with dead corpses
The most feared and the most respected clan of Sadhus or ascetics of India, the Aghori sadhus are notorious for their uncommon and grisly rituals they perform as a part and parcel of their religious routine, enough to arouse curiosity and awe among the public. Aghori Sadhu is associated with cannibalism, rituals using human skulls and making love to corpses. Dark skinned Shiva followers dressed in black clothes, with long black hair, are easy creatures to spot. They are so obviously drunk and drugged that they can barely stand, yet their eyes seem calm and sober. Besides living by ritual burning areas, Aghoris also live in remote places far from the public: in the cold caves of the Himalaya, in the jungles of Bengal where tigers reign, or in the bare, empty, hot deserts of Gujarat where no living creature survives.
The Aghori belief
Aghoris worship Shiva or Mahakala - the destroyer, or its female manifestation: Shakti or Kali, the goddess of death. According to what Aghori Meronath from Varanasi told photographer and writer Davor Rostuhar, "Each deity in Hinduism is just one manifestation of the same God. Different orders worship different deities, thus satisfying all manifestations of God. But what Shiva and Kali demand from their followers is not acceptable to most people. Thus Aghoris are the only ones willing to please them. "
Demands of the Goddess
Aghoris believe that it is Goddess Kali who actually demands satisfaction through meat, alcohol, and sex. All three things are banned for other saddhus. To eat meat actually means to eat everything. To have no limits, because all is one. By eating anything, Aghoris try to gain awareness of the oneness of everything and eliminate discrimination. Therefore they consume feces, human fluids and human flesh. Like other saddhus, they live in celibacy, but with one exception.
The shocking sex rituals
As per the Aghoris, when the goddess Kali demands satisfaction in sex, they then have to find an appropriate corpse and have sexual intercourse with it. In his interview with Davor Rostuhar, Meronath says "The reason why we do things that seem outrageous to the outside world is actually simple. To find purity in the filthiest! If an Aghori manages to remain focused on God even during sex with a corpse or while eating a human brain, then he is on the right way."
An unimaginable union
Aghoris have another very specific and highly secretive ritual for sexual intercourse. The ritual explains that sex in the midst of the dead can give rise to supernatural powers. In the dead of the night, in a graveyard, amidst the strewn ashes of the cremated, the Aghori clans unite to perform this ritual. The women involved in this act are smeared with the ashes of a departed, and the consummation is carried out along the beats of drums and recitation of mantras. It is imperative that the women have to be menstruating while the act is going on, and they cannot be involved in the act by force. The process of coitus is carried on for the greater part of an hour, and the men cannot complete their orgasm until the whole ritual is over. Taking the form of Shiva and Shakti, the men and women perform this act in a strange methodical state of trance, releasing sexual energy in the form of supernatural powers