AGHORI or AGHORPANTHI. one of the several Kapalika sects, connected with the Tantrik cult of Saivism, notorious for its cannibalism and other abominable practices. Aghora literally means “not terrible,” “not evil,” otherwise, “pleasant” or “handsome,” and is one of the euphemistic titles of the Hindu god, Siva. Aughar or Aughada is another cognate word which stands for a follower of the Aghorpanth. Besides , there is also a Vaisnava sect of Aghoris of modern origin, said to have been founded by Baba Kinarama (1684-1787) who himself was a disciple of Baba Kalarama Aghori of Varanasi.

With no independent canonical text or organized church of their own, the Aghoris derive their ideas and beliefs from those of Kapalikas who are also known as Vamachari Saivites. Their chosen deity is Siva or Aghora whose blessings they seek by following a degenerate and crude form of yoga. They practise a kind of divination by the examination of a child cut out of a pregnant woman at full time. They offer human sacrifices, generally, of volunteering victims who, immediately after they volunteer, become sacred and they are provided whatever they desire.

On the appointed day and at a special ceremony, the volunteering victim is decapitated or slain by having a dagger struck in his throat. His blood and flesh are then consumed by the Aghoris present. The Aghoris worship Aghorisvara as the one Supreme Reality. Ethically, they believe that everything is good for a good person. Distinction between the pure and the impure is irrelevant from their standpoint. Their way of life is absolutely unconventional and the people in general feel much impressed and scared by their occult powers, their practice of human sacrifices, austerities, disregard for fame and wealth, indifference to cleanliness of food and their fearful dress.

Living almost naked, they besmear their bodies with the ashes taken from funeral pyres. They wear the rosary made up of Rudraksa beads and a necklace made of the bones of a snake and the tusks of a wild boar. Some members of this sect wear necklaces made of human teeth. They invariably carry a skull in hand. They eat flesh from human corpses and animal carcasses except those of horses. They are even said to eat their own excretions. Sexual act with a woman is considered a symbolic way of union with the goddess. Their rituals are generally performed at cemeteries.

In the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century, strict measures were adopted by the government to curb the Aghoris and their practices which led to the gradual decline in their number. Only a very small number of Aghoris exist today and they are generally confined to concentrations in Bengal, Bihar and Eastern U.P. In the Bala Janam Sakhi, the story is related of Guru Nanak`s encounter with a demon called Kauda. From the story it appears that Kauda was a Kapalika Aghori.

Once travelling through Central India, Guru Nanak, accompanied by Mardana, passed through the tribal areas ministering to communities primitive in their ways. In this country, Mardana once wandered out in search of food and was seized by a marauding giant. His name, as mentioned in BalaJanam Sakhi, was Kauda. He was the leader of a clan of cannibals and always kept an oilcauldron sizzling for man or beast that might fall into his hands. Mardana would have met the fate of Kauda *s many other luckless victims but for the Guru`s timely appearance.

The Guru uttered the greeting, “Sat Kartar the Creator is the eternal truth.” The ring of his words startled Kauda. When he turned to look towards the Guru, his heart was touched as never before. He had not known such benignity and tenderness, nor such calm and tranquillity. He released Mardana and fell at the Guru`s feet. He was, says Ba/a Janam Sakhi, converted and charged with the rescuing of his companions. It is stated that Guru Nanak and Mardana stayed with Kauda for seven days.

Kamakhya (Assam) ,Varanasi, Ujjain, Girnar and Mount Abu were some of the wellknown centres of Aghori ascetics. Baba Kinarama, a latterday leader of the sect, was a Vaisnava devotee whose teachings, like those of the medieval sants, are a mixture of Vaisnava bhakti and Siddha culture. He wrote Ramagita, Ramacapeta, Ramarasala, Gitavali and Vivekasara. A versified translation of the Yogavasistha is also attributed to him. Most of these texts expound Vaisnavite piety of the sant variety.

In the Gitavali, he stresses the soteriological importance of satyasabda (the divine/true word) which incidentally is a point of convergence with Sikhism. Vivekasara, his most important work, discusses the theological and moral ideas of the sect, such as creation of the world, selfintrospection, meditation, sahaja samadhi, satsang and the ecstatic or mystical experience born of supreme devotion and sadhana. The term agA onor^honhas passed into popular Punjabi usage standing for one who is indolent of habit and indifferent in matters of personal hygiene and cleanliness.


1. Crooke, W., “Aghoris”, in The Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, vol. I. Ed. James Hastings. Edinburgh, 1964
2. Eliade, Mircea, Yoga. Immortality and Freedom. Princeton, 1969
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4. Kohli, Surindar Singh, ed., Janam Sakhi Bhai Bala. Chandigarh, 1975