AGHORĪ or AGHORPANTHĪ, one of the several Kāpālika sects, connected with the Tāntrik cult of Śaivism, 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, Śiva. Aughaṛ or Aughaḍa is another cognate word which stands for a follower of the Aghorpanth. Besides, there is also a Vaiṣṇava sect of Aghorīs of modern origin, said to have been founded by Bābā Kinārāma (1684-1787) who himself was a disciple of Bābā Kālārāma Aghorī of Vārāṇasī.

        With no independent canonical text or organized church of their own, the Aghorīs derive their ideas and beliefs from those of Kāpālikas who are also known as Vāmachārī Śaivites. Their chosen deity is Śiva 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 Aghorīs present.

        The Aghorīs worship Aghorīśvara 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 Rudrākṣa 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 Aghorīs and their practices which led to the gradual decline in their number. Only a very small number of Aghorīs exist today and they are generally confined to concentrations in Bengal, Bihār and Eastern U. P.

        In the Bālā Janam Sākhī, the story is related of Gurū Nānak's encounter with a demon called Kauḍā. From the story it appears that Kauḍā was a Kāpālika Aghorī. Once travelling through Central India, Gurū Nānak, accompanied by Mardānā, passed through the tribal areas ministering to communities primitive in their ways. In this country, Mardānā once wandered out in search of food and was seized by a marauding giant. His name, as mentioned inBālā Janam Sākhī, was Kauḍā. He was the leader of a clan of cannibals and always kept an oil cauldron sizzling for man or beast that might fall into his hands. Mardānā would have met the fate of Kauḍa's many other luckless victims but for the Gurū's timely appearance. The Gurū uttered the greeting, "Sat Kartār--the Creator is the eternal truth. " The ring of his words startled Kauḍā. When he turned to look towards the Gurū, his heart was touched as never before. He had not known such benignity and tenderness, nor such calm and tranquillity. He released Mardānā and fell at the Gurū's feet. He was, saysBālā Janam Sākhī, converted and charged with the rescuing of his companions. It is stated that Gurū Nānak and Mardānā stayed with Kauḍā for seven days.

        Kāmākhyā (Assam), - Vārāṇasī, Ujjain, Girnār and Mount Ābū were some of the well known centres of Aghorī ascetics.

        Bābā Kinārāma, a latter-day leader of the sect, was a Vaiṣṇava devotee whose teachings, like those of the medieval sants, are a mixture of Vaiṣṇava bhaktī and Siddha culture. He wrote Rāmagītā, Rāmacapeṭā, Rāmarasāla, Gītāvalī and Vivekasāra. A versified translation of the Yogavasiṣṭha is also attributed to him. Most of these texts expound Vaiṣṇavite piety of the sant variety. In the Gītāvalī, he stresses the soteriological importance of satyaśabda (the divine/true word) which incidentally is a point of convergence with Sikhism. Vivekasāra, his most important work, discusses the theological and moral ideas of the sect, such as creation of the world, self-introspection, meditation, sahaja-samādhī, satsang and the ecstatic or mystical experience born of supreme devotion and sādhānā.

        The term aghorī or ghorī has 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
  3. Chaturvedī, Parśūrām, Uttarī Bhārat kī Sant Pramprā. Allahabad, 1963
  4. Kohlī, Surindar Siṅgh, ed. , Janam Sākhī Bhāī Bālā. Chandigarh, 1975

L. M. Joshi