Aghori, Pashupatinath, Kathmandu, Nepal by Thomas L. Kelly
From Sadhus: The Great Renouncers:
Shaivite sadhu drinks from his human skull bowl. A picture of Shiva can be seen behind him. Although the practice of taking all of one's food and drink from a human skull is rare nowadays, certain sadhus, particularly the Aghori sub-sect, still hold to it as a daily reminder of human mortality and as a challenge to transcend the duality of life and death. The Aghori subsect was founded by Brahma Giri, a disciple of Gorakhnath and are strict followers of Shiva. These ascetics remain naked and often wear a rosary made of bones around their neck and carry a human skull in the left hand and a bell in the right hand. Their sectarian tilaka, forehead mark denotes unity of the Hindu triad. Generally, they are recruited from the lower castes.
From Encounter: Aghoris:
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In Aghori philosophy the cremation ghat is very important. Many Aghoris come to the place and pray to God. So they come here, do their own rituals, and I do my duty of making fires. There's no difference, no dispute. Aghoris never take the meat off bodies in front of people. They steal the flesh when the family of the deceased is distracted, sitting on the steps, taking tea. The whole body doesn't always burn and turn to ash, some flesh remains and it floats in the river, so they take this and eat it. Some Aghoris want to take the skull to use for different kinds of rituals and to drink out of. There's never a dispute. I don't give them the skull, but I don't try to stop them taking it because they are doing prayers and having magical powers, I cannot oppose them.
Sometimes I've seen them taking the body parts in the nighttime, but the families don't see. Taking the flesh is part of getting magical powers. So people seeing them taking flesh don't oppose them because they know they're doing their practice, and for fear of being cursed. The Aghori is Hindu and the family is Hindu, so morally, the family supports the practice.
Lesley Branagan: Are the Aghoris ever drunk or crazy when they do come and try and take the flesh?
Jagdish Chowdury (translated): Yes, it's true; they eat flesh and drink pee also, like they are crazy. They do many activities. We watch them and think they are dirty, but they don't think they are.
[...] Lesley Branagan: Tell me about these skulls, Because you're sitting on the bench with skulls mounted on a stick on either side of you. Where did the skulls come from?
Lalli Baba (translated): This skull is from a lady, this one is a man. Somebody collected them from corpses in the river, and brought them to me, and I paid money for them. The skull has power. When people come and disturb me, I throw the skull at them. I don't want to be disturbed, but if people have problems, I want to fix them and do good things.
Lesley Branagan: Are some people scared of you, because yesterday I saw many people down the bottom staring at you, while you sit up here with your skulls on either side. Are they scared of you?
Lalli Baba (translated): When I put the dust on people's foreheads, their mind is becoming shanti, shanti, peaceful.
Lesley Branagan: So do you see yourself as an Aghori? Are you an Aghori?
Lalli Baba (translated): I don't want to be defined as an Aghori or not. I don't eat human flesh, I don't drink alcohol because it affects the mind. I take tea, nothing more. I drink honey from my skull. I am vegetarian. My way of living out the Aghori philosophy is different from other Aghoris.
Lalli Baba: I am also a little bit kapalik. You have fever, I take mantra, and your fever is coming in my body...
"Ghora is darkness, the darkness of ignorance. Aghora means light, the absence of darkness. Under the Tree of Knowledge is an Aghori, a follower of the path of Aghora. He has gone beyond ignorance thanks to the Flame of Knowledge which billows from the funeral pyre. The funeral pyre is the ultimate reality, a continual reminder that everyone has to die. Knowledge of the ultimate reality of Death has taken the Aghori beyond the Eight Snares of Existence: lust, anger, greed, delusion, envy, shame, disgust and fear which bind all beings. The Aghori plays with a human skull, astonished by the uselessness of limited existence, knowing the whole world to be within him though he is not in the world. His spiritual practices have awakened within him the power of Kundalini, which takes the form of the goddess dancing on the funeral pyre: Smashan Tara. He is bewildered to think that all is within him, not external to him; that he sees it not with the physical eyes but with the sense of perception. The Flame of Knowledge is that which preserves life, the Eternal Flame, the Supreme Ego, the Motherhood of God which creates the whole Maya of the universe and thanks only to Whose grace the Aghori has become immortal."