By Ronald L. Barrett, Jonathan P. Parry
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Additional info for Aghor Medicine: Pollution, Death, and Healing in Northern India
Introduction 7 in a cloud of cigarette smoke. Vimalananda’s stories relate common folklore about Aghor practices, such as the shav sa mdhana (sitting meditation upon a corpse), a terrifying first meeting with the Goddess, the use of a skull bowl, and rites involving menstrual fluids, excrement, and human flesh. Overall, Vimalananda’s explanation of these rites is similar to that of the Kina Ram Aghori: that these are difficult and sometimes dangerous spiritual exercises conducted under the guidance of a guru to help one achieve a state of fearless nonattachment and nondiscrimination.
Such was the case for nearly all the Aghor devotees whom I knew, who spoke of how they initially came to the Aghori for healing, or for solutions to practical problems. They testified about miracles performed and about the process in which their healer subsequently became their spiritual teacher (guru) over time. For patients under the guidance of a guru, the symbols and medicines of Aghor became much more than a dumping ground for problems; they were transformational devices to internalize and digest.
Chapter 3 brings the history and hagiography of the Kina Ram Aghor lineage to the present day. It focuses chiefly on the reformation period from the 1960s to the 1980s, in which the old-style Aghor practices gave way to more socially accepted forms of activism and nondiscrimination. Introduction 23 This reformation took place during a leadership transition from Baba Rajeshwar Ram (Burhau Baba) to Awadhut Bhagwan Ram (Sarkar Baba). Burhau Baba was the last of the “old-style” Aghori. He was a large and imposing figure who wielded a heavy wooden staff and rarely wore anything but sandals.