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By Ronald L. Barrett, Jonathan P. Parry

For centuries, the Aghori were referred to as the main radical ascetics in India: dwelling bare at the cremation grounds, meditating on corpses, accomplishing cannibalism and coprophagy, and eating intoxicants out of human skulls. lately, notwithstanding, they've got shifted their practices from the embody of ritually polluted components to the therapeutic of stigmatized illnesses. within the procedure, they've got develop into a wide, socially mainstream, and politically robust association. according to broad fieldwork, this lucidly written booklet explores the dynamics of toxins, loss of life, and therapeutic in Aghor medication. Ron Barrett examines more than a few Aghor treatments from ritual bathing to converted Ayurveda and biomedicines and clarifies many misconceptions approximately this little-studied crew and its hugely unorthodox, strong principles approximately sickness and healing.

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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.

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