Yes, you read the title right, cannibals. On my holiday to India, I visited one of the most spiritual places in the world, Varanasi. Every inch of this city jolts you, from the burning bodies to the starving people and the half-dead animals crying for help, but when I heard about the story of the Indian Aghori monks I was in shock.
It was a very hot day (as always), and I was walking around the markets in Varanasi. I decided to duck into a jewellery shop not because I was really interested in it, but also because of the real golden masterpiece on the wall – the air-conditioner. Inside, an Indian boy asked me where I was from. I didn’t reply for a few seconds because this was a common line for most Indian men trying to start a conversation that I just couldn’t be bothered starting, but for some reason I answered. He explained that he was from Kerala (South India) and was travelling with his Dutch friend who has been to India over 6 times. He explained that nothing seems to faze her anymore but he was absolutely petrified as Kerala is a different world away from Varanasi. It couldn’t have come at a better time to meet them simply .because I was at the point of getting aggressive at shopkeepers for asking me so many damn questions all the time. She taught that I need to be calm and take everything as a joke, laugh, be cheeky and don’t take anything seriously in this country. Her advice was true and is pretty much how I stayed sane the entire trip!
Fast forward – I walked around the city with them and met a pot-smoking Sadhu (holy person) who hadn’t eaten in 5 days and told me my future (that’s another story!), and then we decided that we should hop on a boat and watch the sunset before the famous ceremony of light on the edge of the Ganges. While the guy was rowing, someone asked where does the bridge lead over in the distance. He looked like he had just seen a ghost and told us never to go over there. Of course, we asked why and he told us the story of the Aghori Monks.
The Aghoris are infamous with the locals because they apparently cast black magic if the locals go near them. Most human beings run away from death. We are afraid of dying or seeing people dead, but these monks are not, in fact, they live off the dead. They welcome death into their lives like I welcome chocolate into mine. A person has to die before a new person can come into this world, apparently. But as we asked this guy more about what they do, the more my jaw dropped.
The most important and private ritual that they do is called Shav Putra. In order to complete it, they must find a human corpse, which is quite hard to find it Varanasi as nearly everyone is cremated. Some families in Varanasi, cannot afford rituals so instead they will put the bodies in the Ganges, which is how the Aghori literally ‘fish’ them out. When they find a body they meditate on it, chop the head off (because it holds the most energy) and some Aghoris eat the flesh. They believe that they can’t please God if they don’t do this human sacrifice. They keep the skull of the corpse as a reminder of the impermanence of life and believe that all their acts are done in pursuit of spiritual liberation. The Aghoris have their own kind of beliefs that are seen as evil and taboo with Hindus, which is why most of the locals stay right away from them. They have no fear and digest all evil!
Other daily rituals include drinking urine and eating stools in their food. They are also known to consume a lot of alcohol and marijuana. One of the most important and chilling daily rituals that they do is smothering their face in human ash (or as they call it, holy ash).
The Aghoris are shunned out of the local society because of their ‘black magic’ so you may be hard-pressed to find them (that’s if you do want to find them). If you want to know more about these monks then watch this YouTube video from a bunch of photographers that went to photograph them, it’s pretty amazing. I couldn’t believe that this still existed in the modern day, but I should have known better, India is full of surprises! I will never forget that chilling moment of the local telling us about the Aghoris. It’s stories like these that make me think travelling is the best form of education.
Have you heard about the Aghoris? If you’re looking for places to stay in Varanasi I highly recommend Hotels.com or Agoda as they have the best value for money rooms in the city! Want to know more about Varanasi and the cremation process that happens here? I wrote a blog post all about my favourite city in India, Varanasi! Also, let me know if you want to hear the story about the pot-smoking, future telling Sadhu I met! Oh India, I love you…
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