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They are, for instance, known to engage in post-mortem ritual, they also 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 skull bowls (which Shiva and other Hindu deities are often iconically depicted holding or using) and jewellery.
Many Aghori gurus command great reverence from rural populations as they are supposed to possess miraculous 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.
Aghoris, while being devotees of the god Shiva in his manifestation as Lord Bhairava, are monists who adhere to the common Hindu belief in liberation, or moksha in Hindu parlance, from the cycle of reincarnation (samsara). 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.
The Aghoris are not to be confused with the Shivnetras, who are also ardent devotees of Shiva but do not indulge in extreme ritual worship practices known to some extent as tamasic. Although the Aghora enjoy close ties with the Shivnetras, the two groups are in reality quite distinct, Shivnetras being purely sattvic in the nature of their worship.
Aghoris base their beliefs on two principles common to broader Shaivite beliefs: that Shiva is perfect (omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, etc.) and that Shiva is responsible for everything that occurs – all conditions, causes and effects – in the phenomenal universe. 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 persons soul is Shiva but is covered by Astha maha pasha or the eight great nooses or bonds i.e kama(sensual pleasure), krodha(anger), lobha(passion), moha(obsession), bhaya(fear), ghirna(jealousy) etc. The practices of the Aghoris are centered around the removal of these bonds. Ex-Sadhana in cremation grounds destroys bhaya pasha(fear);sexual practices with certain riders and controls help release one from kama pasha(sex), being naked destroys ghrina pasha(shame).On release from all the 8 bonds the soul becomes Sadashiva and gets Moksha.
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. 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."
Baba Keenaram was held to be an incarnation of Shiva, as have been each of his successors. 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.
Aghoris go in search of powers through which they can avoid the punarjanma (rebirth) in this life.. 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 Mahakala, Bhairava, Virabhadra, Avadhooti, and others.
Barrett (2008: p. 161) discusses the 'charnel ground sadhana' (Sanskrit: shmashān sādhanā) of the 'Aghora'[disambiguation needed] (Sanskrit; Devanagari: अघोर) 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. In this sense, Aghor sādhanā is a process of unlearning deeply internalized cultural models. When this sādhanā takes the form of shmashān 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."
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (April 2012)|
The Aghori ascetic is himself a symbol of the God Shiva in Shiva's form as Bhairava. The main symbol which makes him distinct from other sadhus is the skull cup he uses as a begging bowl. He goes naked or wears the shroud of a corpse, covers himself in the ashes of the cremation ground and always has his hair disheveled or in matted dreadlocks. If an aghori uses a corpse as part of his ritual worship, the corpse upon which he meditates, it is a symbol of his own body, and the corpse-devouring ritual is a symbol of the transcendence of his lower self and a realization of the greater, all pervading Self that is universal consciousness. Another symbol of the aghori, which ties him to the affiliation of Bhairava and links aghoris together with other Saiva and Sakta traditions, is the trident.
The three pronged trident staff in Tantric Hinduism, which aghoris follow, is a symbol representing the three constituents of which Shiva and/or Shakti first creates the universe: iccha shakti (power of will/desire/intention), gyaan shakti (power of knowledge – the preconceived architectural design of the universe), and kriya shakti (the power of action). The staff part of a trident in Hinduism represents the human spinal cord, of which the sushumna nadi runs along. The sushumna nadi is the main nerve current, or meridian, in the human body which is the track that the kundalini energy rises up, bringing the aghori or yogi, or meditation practitioner, into full spiritual enlightenment, nirvana, or more precisely nirvikalpa samadhi.
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (April 2012)|
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. Therefore, no official figures are available.
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. 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.[verification needed]
This is an incomplete list of prominent Aghori recognition.