A cult is a religious sect that is considered to be extremist and to hold false beliefs. Every cult is known to have a leader that is adored by and holds authority over their followers. The admiration held for the leader by their followers is blinding and makes them vulnerable. Often, members of cults do not seem to think straight whilst taking extreme actions led by the leader that are highly unnecessary.
Many cults have absolute control over its members, from their workplace to who they interact with. By controlling its members, a cult can be sure that nobody is affected by the critical opinions of the world. Cults are always chasing after new members and are very welcoming to them. Cults look down on society and strongly believe that no one but themselves will achieve salvation. Many religious groups are considered cults, but the topic is a sensitive and debatable one.
The world has seen many religious groups with questioning beliefs and bizarre rituals. Sometimes, they are referred to as a cult. The ‘cult’ I will be discussing are the Aghori.
The Aghori or Aghora is a sect of Hinduism that originated in Varanasi, India, close to 500 years ago. The founder of this feared religious group is said to be Aghoracharya Baba Kinaram or better known as Baba Kinaram. He is said to be born in the early 17th century and to have lived for 150 years. He was ascetic and was the founding father of the religious sect or even ‘cult’.
The beliefs of the Aghori are contradictory to orthodox Hinduism. Other Hindus in India completely oppose the beliefs and lifestyle of an Aghori. It is a form of Shaivism, which means that they revere to their lord Shiva, an important god associated with Hinduism, as a supreme being. They believe that Shiva is perfect and he is the creator of all. So, naturally, everything in the world is perfect. The concept that the Aghori sect revolves around is that of the god within oneself.
They believe that Shiva is within everyone, but is concealed by atamahapasa, or in other words, “The eight bonds”. Examples of these bonds are, anger, fear and greed. Through the practices of this religious sect, these bonds are supposedly removed from one’s body, thus, achieving Moksha. Moksha is almost a form of salvation.
In Hinduism, Samsara is a major belief. It refers to reincarnation or rebirth. Most Hindus are very particular about the things they touch, eat, and take part in. For, they cannot become impure. Becoming impure will accumulate bad karma and will eventually lead to one being reincarnated as an “untouchable”, the lowest caste in the caste system of Hinduism. They are not respected and must do any work that is considered impure, thus putting them in an endless cycle of bad karma. The Aghori are strongly against this and believe that everyone is the same. Instead of focusing on the caste system, the Aghori focus on “The eight bonds”.
In order for an Aghori to be rid of the bonds that keep them from Moksha, they must take part in a number of bizarre and even frightening rituals. The Aghori have a specific ritual for the removal of each of the eight bonds. Aghoris often roam naked, this is to remove shame from the soul. They also reside in cremation grounds, which gets rid of fear.
The Aghori are known to do things that are considered the height of impurity in everyday Hinduism or just plain unusual. Their belief that all is perfect leads them to believe that they can do no wrong and that they should embrace the ‘impure’. They are sure that this is the only way to reach Moksha. The Aghori are usually seen, separated from society as wandering ascetics. They consume an extreme amount of marijuana and alcohol. It is not uncommon to come across a fully intoxicated Aghori. To them, being intoxicated is a spiritual state of mind, which they aim to achieve.
When night falls, the Aghori go to a Smashan, a city of spirits or a cremation ground and begin their crazy ritual. They aim to awaken the spirits and harness the power and strength. They must draw a circle around them to keep away the evil and unwanted spirits. They smear cremation ashes on their bodies, they supposedly gain power this way. To awaken the spirits they must invoke the goddess of the Smashan, Tara, but a sacrifice is needed to appease her. The Aghori usually resort to a human corpse and severe the head. It is their belief that the head holds all energy and this is how they can harness it. This ritual is called Shava samskara. Some Aghoris may even consume the rotting flesh of a human corpse.
Every Aghori has a guru who teaches them everything they know. They can be very secretive about the explanations they’ve been taught, some Aghoris have said that they would rather be beheaded than ever share some of the teachings of their gurus. To learn this information one must be an Aghori.
To become an Aghori, one must find a guru and obey everything they say. The first, being to cut bonds with anyone who is not an Aghori. Although the Aghori do not have one official leader, the gurus hold a lot of authority. Their guru is equivalent to a god. They are admired by their students and have their total loyalty.
The next thing needed to become an Aghori is a human skull and should be used as their only food bowl. This is called a Kapala. Eating from the Kapala is believed to give one good karma. They then, smear cremation ashes on themselves whilst meditating. Finally, one must consume rotten flesh and take part in Shava samskara.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Aghori consisted of a couple hundred people, but the population of the sect has significantly declined in recent years, barely scraping a hundred followers.
The beliefs of the Aghori may seem intellectual and inspiring but the manner in which they act on account of these beliefs is extremely unorthodox. Their rituals involving corpses are insensitive and cannibalistic.
This religious sect slightly lacks the characteristics associated with a cult. In most cults, its members are controlled and engaged in ‘constant activity’. They are also always seeking new members. In relation to the Aghori, it is difficult to know what goes on within the sect, for they are not very public and are quite hidden. Though, from what we know the Aghori are quite open to new members as long as they are willing to take part in all of their bizarre practices.
From “The eight bonds” to Moksha and severing corpses to eating from human skulls, the Aghori are a confusing religious sect and are considered a ‘cult’ for their unusual and unsettling ways.