There are many paths that lead to spiritual enlightenment but the Aghori sect travel one of the strangest…
The Aghoris are a secretive Indian religious group that live near or in cemeteries, embrace nudity, routinely use human skulls and bones in their worship, and eat human flesh and human faeces.
A religious off shoot of Hinduism, Aghoris worship the Hindu god Shiva. They believe Lord Shiva, the god of transformation through death and destruction, is the supreme being,.
The Aghori believe they exist in the space between life and death. Which is why they cover themselves in ash and live in or near burial grounds or cremation sites.
Aghoris are ascetics, who forgo a conventional lifestyle to live a life devoted to spiritual goals.
They spend much of their time praying and in meditation.
The practice of Asceticism is to rid yourself of passion, lust, and shame. This why Aghori people wear little or no clothing – as a way to rid themselves of any shame.
Secretive and wary of tourists, Aghoris are uninterested in receiving fame or notoriety.
Yet one photographer Jan Skwara, did get close enough to a sect in Varanasi, North India to take some stunning photographs including ones of worshippers drinking from human skulls.
“The Aghori don’t like visitors – especially tourists – as their lives are concentrated on praying and meditation,”says Jan, from Poland. “I was able to visit them as I met a young man who was a former Aghori…
I must confess, it is scary to see all of the skulls…
They behave strangely – sometimes screaming or running around. Aghori rituals may seem shocking to Western people but they are largely accepted…It’s hard to describe the Aghori as their philosophy is so complex. There are no rules to how they should behave. Many follow their own individual paths.”
Many Indians come to Varanasi to cremate their loved ones on the banks of the river Ganges before scattering their bodies into the sacred waters. The Aghori will fish out the charred human remains and use their bones to make altars or decorate their homes.
On occasion the Aghori will even eat the human flesh. It should be noted that unlike other cannibals, they only eat the flesh of the deceased, they do not actively kill people to eat them. The act of eating human flesh is said to bring them closer to Lord Shiva.
“Post-mortem practices are considered to be filthy in Hinduism but the Aghori disagree with this,” says Jan. “They have their own belief system built upon providing offerings to their God and consuming polluted things like human flesh, excrement, or toxins…There are many Aghori who choose not to partake in these ancient traditions. Instead, they engage in positive social change – even a former president of India was Aghori. However, others live outside of society pushing asceticism to the extreme.