Who are AGHORIS - On Aghoris, Tantrics and Pancaratra Vaishnavism

  • By Dr. Subhasis Chattopadhyay
  • March 14, 2023
Kinaram Ashram Kashi, also called Aghori Baba Ashram.
  • This article is presented as a conversation between a disciple and The Master and seeks to demystify who Aghoris are.


Disciple: What is the meaning of Aghori? Where do they live? Who can be an Aghori?

The Master: One who is simple. One who is not crooked. One who sees Brahman in a dog, in a rich person and also in the poorest of the poor. Aghoris live in houses like normal people. They do not always live in deserted places. They live with no external marks. For them the distinction between the dead and the living has been erased. 


It is not necessarily someone who has smeared himself with ash is an Aghori. An Aghori is someone you can meet on the streets and never recognise. You have to be initiated in this tradition by an Aghori Master. I was initiated at Varanasi. 


Commentary by the Disciple: Western mainstream media and Bollywood have come together to show Aghoris as being dangerous and having nothing to do with the woof of ordinary life. This is untrue. An Aghori ritually tastes a corpse’s flesh to remove one’s natural disgust for rotting flesh. It has nothing to do with cannibalism. 


Sometimes it is also shown that Aghoris spray excreta on others. This too is an exaggeration. This Disciple’s Master is an Aghori adept and lives a humdrum life with no publicity and public display of His Aghori lineage. 


Some Aghoris choose to stay at remote crematoriums so that they can live in peace, away from the world. They live alone not for the sake of being alone at the crematorium, but to progress in this path by reminding themselves of the inevitability of death. The disciple had been instructed by the Master to visit a crematorium every fortnight so that he sees dead bodies burning and realises that death is normal and inevitable.


Aghoris choose to remind themselves of the power of time which devours all. For instance, if one goes to a crematorium, one sees how people cry over the deaths of their loved ones and immediately after the body is burnt some of them start wrangling over the property. Further, repeatedly watching fire destroying the body is a well-known technique of keeping the sense of impermanence alive. 


Vairagya or detachment from the world arises through living near charnel grounds and also by frequently visiting charnel grounds and crematoria. This is not an antinomian practice but a mainstream Dharmic practice. Yet, media portrays Aghoris as borderline insane and antinomian. They are just following an ancient ascetical practice which also removes the fear of loneliness and death. A charnel ground and a palace are both equal to an Aghori. 


Disciple: But you have also been initiated into Tantra and you have the Tantric Siddhis. Is not the path of Tantra different from the path of Aghora? How to attain these Siddhis?

The Master: No certainly not. There is no difference in the lived practice of Tantra and Aghora. These differences are found in books. See you have brought books like the Bhagavad Gita and all these big fat books on different branches of our Dharma. In reality there are no differences.  


Advaita Vedanta, Tantra and the Aghora paths are all the same.


They are all based on the controlling of the sense organs. Unless you can control your mind it is of no use. Unless you want to help others both tangibly and intangibly, you will not have the Siddhis. 


The aim of Tantra and Aghora are not self-realisation only.


These paths are there to help others suffering in this terrible world. Only when you start living for others and controlling your senses, only then will the Siddhis come to you. Live in the world controlling your senses. Do not hate yourself and others. Do not indulge in sense-objects while living in the world. Do these first and then help others in their difficulties. Do not be selfish.   


Commentary by the Disciple: The Master repeatedly told the disciple that it is useless to learn Tantra Shastra or any other spiritual disciple within our Dharma unless it is for the good of others. First, the good of others; then think of one’s own self. 


But to do good to others, one needs to first have a solid foundation based on studies and rigorous self-control whilst living in the world, just as another human being does, among other struggling human beings. In the Bhagavad Gita, the Supreme Lord says that only fools and children find differences between Samkhya and Yoga: 

सांख्ययोगौ पृथग्बालाः प्रवदन्ति न पण्डिताः।
एकमप्यास्थितः सम्यगुभयोर्विन्दते फलम्।।5.4।। 

All paths within our Dharma lead to the same result, according to our Scriptures.


Disciple: I have met your Vaishnava Guru who is now 104 or 105 years old and lives in North India. Did you take initiation from him? Is that why you are a vegetarian?

The Master: Yes, he worked for years as a clerk in the Railways. I knew him from then. I took initiation in Vaishnavism from him. Yes, this is why I am a vegetarian. Also, it is not good to eat non-vegetarian food if one wants to progress in Aghora or Tantra and of course, it is forbidden in Vaishnavism too. If you want to progress in the spiritual path, gradually reduce your non-vegetarian eating habits. 


Commentary by the Disciple: The Master insists that the disciple control his senses and make his life more attuned to the ways of Lord Krishna. His advice to his disciple is to imitate Mother Ganges. Much muck is thrown on Her, but She flows peacefully and without being disturbed. This is the path of the Aghori, the Tantric and the Vaishnava practitioner. There are Vaishnava Tantric texts called Pancaratra texts. They show the unity of Tantra and Vaishnavism.


Disciple: How to recognise a Tantric/Aghori/ a follower of Sri Krishna?

The Master: A Tantric follows the Mahavidyas, an Aghori is a follower of Lord Shiva and Vaishnavas follow Lord Krishna. There is no known way that you can really know any one of them since a true follower never publicises his lineage. He lives hidden from all publicity.


Commentary by the Disciple: The Master has forbidden the disciple to give his name or place of residence. He has become one with Brahman and the Holy Mother.


Om Harih Om.

Namah Shivaya.

Dedicated to the Master who has become a Bhairava.


Also read by author

1. How to become a Tantric

2. Being with a Tantric

3. What is Shaktipat

4. Left-hand Tantra – Vama Marga

5. What Tantra is not

6. What is Tantra-FAQ  


 Author Subhasis Chattopadhyay  has a Ph.D. in Patristics and the Problem of Evil in American Horror Literature from the University of Calcutta. His reviews from 2010 to 2021 in Prabuddha Bharata have been showcased by Ivy League Presses. He has qualifications in Christian Theology and Hindu Studies and currently teaches English Literature in the PG and UG Department of a College affiliated to the University of Calcutta. He also has qualifications in Behavioural Sciences.

To read all articles by author


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4. Where Tantra still thrives by Pt Rajmani Tugnait

5. Vigyan Bhairav Tantra

6. Shakti Worship and Selfhood in Kashmir

7. Sadhguru on what Aghori Sadhana is like

8. In Defence of Aghora            

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