A Aghori sadhu in a cave near badrinath
The Aghori, Aghora (Sanskrit (Devanagari): अघोर), or Aughads are a Shaivite Hindu sect – mostly composed of ascetic sadhus – believed to have split off from the tantric Kapalika order (which dates from 1000) in India in the 14th century. The Aghori are known for their extreme and outlandish violations of typical Indian and other social mores, as well as their unorthodox, taboo rituals which have caused many mainstream Hindus to condemn them as non-Hindu. They are, for instance, known to engage in post-mortem ritual cannibalism (necrophagy), urophagia and corprophagy; they also often dwell in charnel grounds, have been witnessed smearing cremation ashes on their bodies, and have been known to use bones from human corpses for crafting skull bowls (which Shiva and other Hindu deities are often iconically depicted holding or using) and jewellery.
Many Aghori gurus command great reverence from rural populations as they are supposed to possess miraculous healing powers gained through their intensely eremitic rites and practices of renunciation and tápasya.
Aghoris, while being devotees of the god Shiva in his manifestation as Lord Bhairava, are monists who adhere to the common Hindu belief in liberation, or moksha in Hindu parlance, from the cycle of reincarnation (samsara). This liberation is a realization of the self's identity with the absolute. Because of this monistic doctrine, the Aghoris maintain that all opposites are ultimately illusory. The purpose of embracing pollution and degradation through various customes is the realization of non-duality (Advaita) through transcending social taboos, attaining what is essentially an altered state of consciousness and perceiving the illusory nature of all conventional categories. The Aghoris are not to be confused with the Shivnetras, who are also ardent devotees of Shiva but do not indulge in extreme ritual worship practices known to some extent as tamasic. (Rituals involving some or all of the following: meat eating, alcohol drinking, consumption of beverages and foods with opiates – hallucinogens and Cannabis products as key ingredients (non-Aghora sadhus have also been known to use Cannabis) – cannibalism, residing in cremation grounds, and taking part in tantric sexual rituals.) Although the Aghora enjoy close ties with the Shivnetras, the two groups are in reality quite distinct, Shivnetras being purely sattvic in the nature of their worship.
Aghoris base their beliefs on two principles common to broader Shaivite dogma: that Shiva is perfect (omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, etc.) and that Shiva is responsible for everything that occurs – all conditions, causes and effects – in the phenomenal universe. Consequently, everything that exists must be perfect, and to deny the perfection of anything would be to deny the sacredness of all life in its full manifestation, as well as to deny the supreme being and the demigods' perfections.