HUMAN SACRIFICES AND HOLY MAN CANNIBALISM IN INDIA

VILLAGERS KILLS CHILDREN FOR GODDESS KALI

Reporting from Barha, a poor village in Khurja, Uttar Pradesh,Dan McDougall wrote in The Observer, “A painted image of the Hindu goddess Kali is propped up against a stone in the dirt, her long red tongue goading terrified worshippers into submission. From one of her eight flailing arms a severed head dangles, her neck is adorned by a necklace of bleached human skulls. There are bloodstains on the cracked wall behind the terrible postcard-size image and, around the dark room, splattered gore on the heavy wooden furniture. These dark marks bear witness to a child sacrificed in the name of the abominable goddess. [Source: Dan McDougall, in Khurja, The Observer, March 5, 2006 */*]

“Sumitra Bushan, 43, who lived in Barha for most of her life, certainly thought she was cursed. Her husband had long abandoned her, leaving her with debts and a life of servitude in the sugarcane fields. Her sons, Satbir, 27, and Sanjay, 23, were regarded as layabouts. Life was bad but then the nightmares and terrifying visions of Kali allegedly began, not just for Sumitra but her entire family. She consulted a tantrik, a travelling 'holy man' who came to the village occasionally, dispensing advice and putrid medicines from the rusty amulets around his neck. His guidance to Sumitra was to slaughter a chicken at the entrance to her home and offer the blood and remains to the goddess. She did so but the nightmares continued and she began waking up screaming in the heat of the night and returned to the priest. 'For the sake of your family,' he told her, 'you must sacrifice another, a boy from your village.'” */*

After that “Sumitra and her two sons crept to their neighbour's home and abducted three-year-old Aakash Singh as he slept. They dragged him into their home and the eldest son performed a puja ceremony, reciting a mantra and waving incense. Sumitra smeared sandalwood paste and globules of ghee over the terrified child's body. The two men then used a knife to slice off the child's nose, ears and hands before laying him, bleeding, in front of Kali's image. */*

“In the morning Sumitra told villagers she had found Aakash's body outside her house. But they attacked and beat her sons who allegedly confessed. 'I killed the boy so my mother could be safe,' Sanjay screamed. All three are now in prison, having escaped lynch mob justice. The tantrik has yet to be found.” In her squalid home Ritu Singh rocks back and forth, beating her chest in grief. She has been mourning since the day her son Aakash's body was discovered in a sewer outside Sumitra Bushan's home. Her husband, Rajbir, said: 'We expect them to be jailed or fined but they won't spend longer than a few years in prison for what they have done. They were my neighbours, they ate in our house. The Tantrik who made them do this has disappeared, they will never find him.'” */*

Tantric Killings in India

Dan McDougall wrote in The Observer, “Police in Khurja say dozens of sacrifices have been made over the past six months. Last month, in a village near Barha, a woman hacked her neighbour's three-year-old to death after a tantrik promised unlimited riches. In another case, a couple desperate for a son had a six-year-old kidnapped and then, as the tantrik chanted mantras, mutilated the child. The woman completed the ritual by washing in the child's blood.” [Source: Dan McDougall, in Khurja, The Observer, March 5, 2006 */*]

“The killings have focused attention on Tantrism, an amalgam of mystical practices that grew out of Hinduism. Tantrism also has adherents among Buddhists and Muslims and, increasingly, in the West, where it is associated with yoga or sexual techniques. It has millions of followers across India, where it originated between the fifth and ninth centuries. Tantrik priests are consulted on everything from marital to bowel problems. */*

“Tantriks caught up in the crackdown in Uttar Pradesh say their reputation is being destroyed by an insane minority. 'Human sacrifices have been made in this region since time immemorial,' says Prashant, a tantrik who runs a small 'practice' from his concrete shell of a home on the outskirts of Bulandshahr. 'People come to me with all sorts of ailments. I recommend simply pujas and very rarely animal sacrifices.' */*

Mumbai Woman Beheaded in Gory Tantrik Ritual

In December 2013, Sanskrity Sinha wrote in the International Business Times, “A 50-year-old Indian woman has been killed in a human sacrifice ritual by six people, including a tantrik, in Nalasopara, a suburb of India's commercial capital, Mumbai. All six men have been arrested a day after the western Indian state assembly of Maharashtra passed an anti-superstition bill. The woman, who was killed as a sacrifice, was identified as Kalavati Gupta when her son recognised her headless body in photographs. [Source: Sanskrity Sinha, International Business Times, December 16, 2013]

According to The Times of India (TOI), Kalavati regularly visited Sarvajeet Kahar, who works as a technician in Air India's transport department and practised black magic at home. She was seeing Kahar for a cure for her 30-year-old paralysed son. Kalavati's neighbour Ramdhani Yadav (33) and his brother Gulab (28), were also visiting the tantrik and were advised by him to perform a human sacrifice for health, wealth and prosperity. The police said that the tantrik first asked for an animal sacrifice but later stressed on a human one. "He (Kahar), however, emphasised that human sacrifice was supreme. That is when the Yadav brothers thought of sacrificing Kalavati," Thane's rural additional superintendent of police Sangramsinh Nishandar told TOI.

“Gulab and Yadav, who is an auto-rickshaw owner, also included an auto driver, Shyamsunder Gupta (42), in their plan for killing Kalavati. They lured her to a prayer session and took her to a secluded area in Nalasopara in the night. There, the trio were accompanied by the tantrik, his son Pankaj (22) and cousin Satyanarayan Gaud (48). According to the police, auto driver Gupta first slashed Kalavati with a knife when she bent down for worship; the others followed to help him behead her. Kahar has admitted to his crime and revealed that he has carried out another human sacrifice in the past. He also said that his father too practised black magic. All the accused have been taken in custody for murder, destroying evidence and also booked under the sections of the anti-superstition bill.

Reasons for Tantric Killings in India

Dan McDougall wrote in The Observer, “Many blame the turn to the occult on the increasing economic gap between rural and urban India, in particular the spiralling debts of cotton and tobacco farmers, linked with high costs of hybrid seed and pesticides, that has led to record numbers of farmers committing suicide. According to Sanal Edamaruku, president of the Indian Rationalist Association, human sacrifice affects most of northern India. 'Modern India is home to hundreds of millions who can't read or write, but who often seek refuge from life's realities through astrology or the magical arts of shamans. Unfortunately these people focus their horrific attention on society's weaker members, mainly women and children who are easier to handle and kidnap.' [Source: Dan McDougall, in Khurja, The Observer, March 5, 2006 */*]

'It's because of blind superstitions and rampant illiteracy that this woman sacrificed this boy,' said Khurja police officer AK Singh. 'It's happened before and will happen again but there is little we can do to stop it. In most situations it's an open and shut case. It isn't difficult to elicit confessions - normally the villagers or the families of the victims do that for us. This has been going on for centuries; these people are living in the dark ages.' According to an unofficial tally by the local newspaper, there have been 28 human sacrifices in western Uttar Pradesh in the last four months. Four tantrik priests have been jailed and scores of others forced to flee. */*

Khasi Thlen Serpent Superstitions

The Khasis are a Khmer people that live around the Shillong hill station the Meghalaya region of Assam. In his book “The Khasis,” Philip Richard Thornhagh Gurdon wrote: “There is a superstition among the Khasis concerning “U thlen”, a gigantic snake which requires to be appeased by the sacrifice of human victims, and for whose sake murders have even in fairly recent times been committed. The following account, the substance of which appeared in the “Assam Gazette”, in August, 1882, but to which considerable additions have been made, will illustrate this interesting superstition:--"The tradition is that there was once in a cave near Cherrapunji, a gigantic snake, or “thlen”, who committed great havoc among men and animals. At last, one man, bolder than his fellows, took with him a herd of goats, and set himself down by the cave, and offered them one by one to the “thlen”. By degrees the monster became friendly, and learnt to open his mouth at a word from the man, to receive the lump of flesh which was then thrown in. [Source:The Khasis by Philip Richard Thornhagh Gurdon, Deputy Commissioner Eastern Bengal and Assam Commission, and Superintendent of Ethnography in Assam, 1914 */*]

“When confidence was thoroughly established, the man, acting under the advice of a god called “U Suid-noh”, (who has as his abode a grove near Sohrarim), having heated a lump of iron red hot in a furnace, induced the snake, at the usual signal, to open his mouth, and then threw in the red-hot lump, and so killed him. He proceeded to cut up the body, and sent pieces in every direction, with orders that the people were to eat them. Wherever the order was obeyed, the country became free of the “thlen”, but one small piece remained which no one would eat, and from this sprang a multitude of “thlens”, which infest the residents of Cherra and its neighbourhood. When a “thlen” takes up its abode in a family there is no means of getting rid of it, though it occasionally leaves of its own accord, and often follows family property that is given away or sold. “ */

Khasi Thlen Serpents and Human Sacrifice

Fabian Lyngdoh wrote in the Shillong Times, “According to Khasi belief, u nongshohnoh is a person hired by a certain Kur or family which offers human sacrifice to evil spirits in the form of u Thlen (a serpent) for economic prosperity. The family that worships u Thlen are called Menshohnoh and the persons hired by the family to capture human beings for the sacrifice to the altar of u Thlen are called ki Nongshohnoh. Some may call this superstition but it is not particular to the Khasis. Indeed the Thlen cult is an outgrowth of Hinduism. It has nothing to do with the Khasi traditional religious faith and belief. The Jaintia Raja practiced human sacrifice to the goddess Kali and to the river Kupli. The British annexed Jaintiapur and Jaintia Pargana as a consequence of the sacrifice of three British subjects to the goddess Kali by a sub-ordinate chief of the Jaintia Raja. In the past human sacrifice was also practiced in Raid Iapngar, Raid Thaiang and other Raids (cluster of villages) in Ri Bhoi area. [Source: Fabian Lyngdoh, Shillong Times, April 25, 2013,

In his book “The Khasis,” Philip Richard Thornhagh Gurdon wrote: “The “thlen” attaches itself to property, and brings prosperity and wealth to the owners, but on the condition that it is supplied with blood. Its craving comes on at uncertain intervals, and manifests itself by sickness, by misadventure, or by increasing poverty befalling the family that owns the property. It can only be appeased by the murder of a human being." The murderer cuts off the tips of the hair of the victim with silver scissors, also the finger nails, and extracts from the nostril a little blood caught in a bamboo tube, and offers these to the “thlen”. The murderer, who is called “u nongshohnoh”, literally, "the beater," before he sets out on his unholy mission, drinks a special kind of liquor called, “ka 'iad tang-shi-snem”. (literally, liquor which has been kept for a year). This liquor, it is thought, gives the murderer courage, and the power of selecting suitable victims for the “thlen”. The “nongshohnoh” then sets out armed with a short club, with which to slay the victim, hence his name “nongshohnoh”, i.e. one who beats; for it is forbidden to kill a victim on these occasions with any weapon made of iron, inasmuch as iron was the metal which proved fatal to the “thlen”. He also takes the pair of silver scissors above mentioned, a silver lancet to pierce the inside of the nostrils of the deceased, and a small bamboo or cylinder to receive the blood drawn therefrom. The “nongshohnoh” also provides himself with rice called "”u 'khaw tyndep”," i.e. rice mixed with turmeric after certain incantations have taken place. [Source:The Khasis by Philip Richard Thornhagh Gurdon, Deputy Commissioner Eastern Bengal and Assam Commission, and Superintendent of Ethnography in Assam, 1914 */*]

“The murderer throws a little of this rice over his intended victim, the effect of which is to stupefy the latter, who then falls an easy prey to the “nongshohnoh”. It is not, however, always possible to kill the victim outright for various reasons, and then the “nongshohnoh” resorts to the following subterfuge:--He cuts off a little of the hair, or the hem of the garment, of a victim, and offers these up to the “thlen”. The effect of cutting off the hair or the hem of the garment of a person by a “nongshohnoh”, to offer up to the “thlen”, is disastrous to the unfortunate victim, who soon falls ill, and gradually wastes away and dies. */*

“The “nongshohnoh” also sometimes contents himself with merely throwing stones at the victim, or with knocking at the door of his house at night, and then returns home, and, after invoking the “thlen”, informs the master that he has tried his best to secure him a prey, but has been unsuccessful. This is thought to appease the “thlen” for a time, but the demon does not remain inactive long, and soon manifests his displeasure for the failure of his keeper to supply him with human blood, by causing one of the latter's family to fall sick. The “thlen” has the power of reducing himself to the size of a thread, which renders it convenient for the “nong-ri thlen”, or “thlen” keeper, to place him for safety in an earthen pot, or in a basket which is kept in some secure place in the house. */*

“When the time for making an offering to the “thlen” comes, an hour is selected, generally at dead of night, costly cloths are spread on the floor of the house of the “thlen” keeper, all the doors are opened, and a brass plate is laid on the ground in which is deposited the blood, or the hair, or a piece of the cloth of the victim. All the family then gathers round, and an elderly member commences to beat a small drum, and invokes the “thlen”, saying, "”ko kni ko kpa” (oh, maternal uncle, father), come out, here is some food for you; we have done everything we could to satisfy you, and now we have been successful; give us thy blessing, that we may attain health and prosperity." The “thlen” then crawls out from its hiding-place and commences to expand, and when it has attained its full serpent shape, it comes near the plate and remains expectant. The spirit of the victim then appears, and stands on the plate, laughing. The “thlen” begins to swallow the figure, commencing at its feet, the victim laughing the while. By degrees the whole figure is disposed of by the boa constrictor. If the spirit be that of a person from whom the hair, or a piece of his or her cloth, has been cut, directly the “thlen” has swallowed the spirit, the person expires.” */*

Thlen Serpent Keepers

In his book “The Khasis,” Philip Richard Thornhagh Gurdon wrote: “ Many families in these hills are known, or suspected, to be keepers of a “thlen”, and are dreaded or avoided in consequence. This superstition is deep-rooted amongst these people, and even nowadays, in places like Shillong or Cherrapunji, Khasis are afraid to walk alone after dark, for fear of being attacked by a “nongshohnoh”. In order to drive away the “thlen” from a house or family all the money, ornaments, and property of that house or family must be thrown away, as is the case with persons possessed by the demon “Ka Taroh”, in the Jaintia Hills. None dare touch any of the property, for fear that the “thlen” should follow it. It is believed that a “thlen” can never enter the Siem's or chief's clan, or the Siem's house; it follows, therefore, that the property of the “thlen” keeper can be appropriated by the Siem. [Source:The Khasis by Philip Richard Thornhagh Gurdon, Deputy Commissioner Eastern Bengal and Assam Commission, and Superintendent of Ethnography in Assam, 1914 */*]

“A Mohammedan servant, not long ago in Shillong, fell a victim to the charms of a Khasi girl, and went to live with her. He told the following story to one of his fellow-servants, which may be set down here to show that the “thlen” superstition is by no means dying out. In the course of his married life he came to know that the mother of his Khasi wife kept in the house what he called a “bhut” (devil). He asked his wife many, many times to allow him to see the “bhut”, but she was obdurate; however, after a long time, and after extracting many promises from him not to tell, she confided to him the secret, and took him to the corner of the house, and showed him a little box in which was coiled a tiny snake, like the hair spring of a watch. She passed her hands over it, and it grew in size, till at last it became a huge cobra, with hood erected. The husband, terrified, begged his wife to lay the spirit. She passed her hands down its body, and it gradually shrank within its box. */*

“It may be stated that the greater number of the Khasis, especially in certain Siemships, viz. Cherra, Nongkrem, and Mylliem, still regard the “thlen”, and the persons who are thought to keep “thlens”, with the very greatest awe, and that they will not utter even the names of the latter for fear some ill may befall them. The superstition is probably of very ancient origin, and it is possible that the Khasi sacrifices to the “thlen” demon may be connected with the primæval serpent-worship which characterized the Cambodians, which Forbes says was "undoubtedly the earliest religion of the Mons." But it must be remembered that snake-worship is of very ancient origin, not only in Further India, but also in the nearer peninsula, where the serpent race or Nagas, who may have given their name to the town of Nagpur, were long held in superstitious reverence.” */*

Cases of Thlen Human Sacrifice in th 1800s

In his book “The Khasis,” Philip Richard Thornhagh Gurdon wrote: “Mr. Gait, in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, vol. i. of 1898, gives some account of the human sacrifices of the Jaintias or Syntengs. He writes as follows: "It appears that human sacrifices were offered annually on the “Sandhi” day in the month of Ashwin (Sukla paksha) at the sacred “pitha”, in the Faljur pargana. They were also occasionally offered at the shrine of Jainteswari, at Nijpat, i.e. at Jaintiapur, the capital of the country. As stated in the “Haft Iqlim” to have been the case in Koch Behar, so also in Jaintia, persons frequently voluntarily came forward as victims. This they generally did by appearing before the Raja on the last day of Shravan, and declaring that the goddess had called them. [Source:The Khasis by Philip Richard Thornhagh Gurdon, Deputy Commissioner Eastern Bengal and Assam Commission, and Superintendent of Ethnography in Assam, 1914 */*]

“After due inquiry, if the would-be victim, or “Bhoge khaora”, were deemed suitable, it was customary for the Raja to present him with a golden anklet, and to give him permission to live as he chose, and to do whatever be pleased, compensation for any damage done by him being paid from the royal treasury. But this enjoyment of these privileges was very short. On the Navami day of the Durga Puja, the “Bhoge khaora”, after bathing and purifying himself, was dressed in new attire, daubed with red sandal-wood and vermilion, and bedecked with garlands. Thus arrayed, the victim sat on a raised dais in front of the goddess, and spent some time in meditation (“japa”), and in uttering mantras. Having done this, he made a sign with his finger, and the executioner, after uttering the usual sacrificial mantras, cut off his head, which was placed before the goddess on a golden plate. */*

“The lungs were cooked and eaten by such “Kandra Yogis” as were present, and it is said that the royal family partook of a small quantity of rice cooked in the blood of the victim. The ceremony was usually witnessed by large crowds of spectators from all parts of the Jaintia pardganas. "Sometimes the supply of voluntary victims fell short, or victims were needed for some special sacrifice promised in the event of some desired occurrence, such as the birth of a son, coming to pass. */*

“On such occasions, emissaries were sent to kidnap strangers from outside the Jaintia Raj, and it was this practice that eventually led to the annexation of the country by the British. In 1821, an attempt was made to kidnap a native of Sylhet proper, and while the agents employed were punished, the Raja was warned not to allow such an atrocity to occur again. Eleven years later, however, four British subjects were kidnapped in the Nowgong district, and taken to Jaintia. Three of them were actually sacrificed, but the fourth escaped, and reported the matter to the authorities. The Raja of Jaintia was called on to deliver up the culprits, but he failed to do so, and his dominions were in consequence annexed in 1835." */*

“There seems to be an idea generally prevalent that the Raja of Jaintia, owing to his conversion to Hinduism, and especially owing to his having become a devotee of the goddess Kali, took to sacrificing human victims; but I find that human victims were formerly sacrificed by the Jaintias to the Kopili River, which the Jaintias worshipped as a goddess. Two persons were sacrificed every year to the Kopili in the months “U' naiwing” and “U' nai prah” (November and December). They were first taken to the “hat” Mawahai or Shang-pung market, where they were allowed to take any eatables they wished. Then they were conducted to Sumer, and thence to Ka Ieu Ksih, where a stone on the bank of a small river which falls into the Kopili is pointed out as having been the place where the victims were sacrificed to the Kopili river goddess. Others say that the sacrificial stone was situated on the bank of the Kopili River itself. */*

“A special clan in the Raliang doloiship used to carry out the executions. It seems probable that the practice of sacrificing human victims in Jaintia was of long standing, and was originally unconnected with Hinduism, although when the Royal family became converts to Hinduism, the goddess Kali may easily have taken the place of the Kopili River goddess. Many of the Syntengs regard the River Kopili to this day with superstitions reverence.” */*

Cases of Thlen Human Sacrifice in the 2000s

In 2011, a seven-year-old boy appeared to have been sacrificed in the Garo Hills of Meghalaya in northeast India. The Hindustan Times reported: “Two BSF personnel have been detained by police for questioning after a suspected case of human sacrifice in Meghalaya's West Garo Hills district. Havildar Chandrawan and constable Babu Khan is being questioned by police at Tura after the body of a seven year old was recovered from near the BSF 121 battalion headquarters at Tura, deputy commissioner Sanjay Goyal said on Saturday. The body of the boy, Krishna Singh, was recovered on Thursday, Goyal said, adding that post mortem pointed to multiple injuries, including that of incense sticks, pierce wounds and others. The boy, son of a BSF cook, went missing a few days earlier. The DC said it appeared to be a case of human sacrifice and investigations were on to ascertain the facts. [Source: Hindustan Times, October 8, 2011]

Fabian Lyngdoh, a Khasi, wrote in the Shillong Times, “Let us accept that some people believe and worship various spirits, be it u Thlen, ka taro , ka shwar, ka tympiam, ka lasam etc. Whether that belief is only a superstition or a satanic cult is not known, but people would do anything to fulfil the requirements of that cult including killing a human being. It is not the superstition of the community that burnt the house of u menshohnoh but the superstitious belief of u menshohnoh which terrorized the community. It is not superstition that caused the arrest of the Hindu priest for sacrificing a child, but the superstition of a couple who desperately wanted a child that caused the murder of a boy at the altar of idols. We are deceived by a belief that once the people of Mawbsein village including members of the village dorbar were arrested and punished in June 17th 2007, the Khasi community would be ushered into the 21st century. But in April 27th 2011 the people of Mawlai, who are closer to the wisdom of the 21st century burnt the house of sorcerers. The perpetrators were booked under the law. We believe that the Khasi people would come round to the wisdom of the 21st century. [Source: Fabian Lyngdoh, Shillong Times, April 25, 2013 /+/]

“But in October 7th 2011, people of Sohra were reported to have killed three nongshohnoh and they were apprehended; the enlightened thought that now the Khasi people would have learned to let go their superstitions and become respectable members of the 21st century. The stories are repeated and on April 23rd 2013, a four thousand strong mob torched the house of Tremlin Nongsiej of Mawryngkang village in East Khasi Hills on the charge that he is u menshohnoh as confessed by his hired nongshohnoh. Nineteen people were arrested and more would be booked in the days to come. Now we believe that this would be the last remnant of the superstition to be put down once and for all. But I would boldly predict that more such cases would recur in the future even if we hang the Rangbah Shnong and members of the Dorbar.” /+/

Oraon Human Sacrifice

The Oraons are a large tribe with more than 4.5 million members that is found mainly on the Chota Nagpur Plateau in Bihar but is also found in Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and West Bengal. They and neighboring Munda and Maria tribe are believed to still occasionally conduct human sacrifice. Although extremely rare cases have been reported to police as late as the 1980s and cases not reported to police are believed to have occurred. The sacrifices are regarded by some villagers as essential for ensuring the fertility of their fields and they are reluctant to come forward with information about the rituals. [Source: Encyclopedia of World Cultures: South Asia, edited by Paul Hockings, C.K. Hall & Company, 1992]

The human sacrifices are usually held in remote places at the beginning of the planting season and are associated with the festival of Sarhul. The victims are often orphans or homeless people somebody no one will miss, who are killed with the cut to the throat from a knife. Police believe the killings are sacrifices rather than some of the form of homicide because generally no one has a motive to kill the victim, signs of worship are found around the corpse and part of the little finger has been cut off or is missing.

The missing finger and blood and grain are believed to be buried in the fields to ensure fertility as an offering to a vengeful goddess thought to contro fertility. In the old days, it is believed, the entire body was cut up and body parts were buried in fields all over but this is no longer done because of concerns about being found out. If a suitable human victim can not be found, hair, spit, fingernail clipping or some such thing are mixed with chicken blood and given as a token offering to the goddess.

Dead Woman Kept for Five Days; Believed She Would Come Back to Life

In August 2012, the Star of Malaysia reported: “Tension was high in Sathamangalam village in Namakkal district, about 300 kilometers from Chennai, Tamil Nadu, after a family refused to bury the body of woman who had died five days ago. Tamil Nesan reported that villagers had to call the police to retrieve the body and bury it. [Source: The Star, August 28, 2012]

Police said Muthusami, 70, the husband of the deceased Chinnammal, 65, and his son Palanivel had kept the body for five days, believing that the dead woman would come back to life. Other villagers learnt about the death only after the body started decomposing. The father and son had been conducting prayers in the house for five days, hoping that Chinnammal, who had been bedridden for a year, would return. When neighbours asked the father and son to bury the body, they refused and threatened them. Police were informed and a post-mortem was conducted before the body was buried.

Cannibals in Varanasi

The most extreme sadhus (holy men), the aghoris , turn normal rules of conduct completely upside down. Rajesh and Ramesh Bedi, who have studied sadhus for decades, estimate that there may be fewer than fifteen aghoris in contemporary India. In the quest for great spiritual attainment, the aghori lives alone, like Lord Shiva, at cremation grounds, supping from a human skull bowl. He eats food provided only by low-ranking Sweepers and prostitutes, and in moments of religious fervor devours his own bodily wastes and pieces of human flesh torn from burning corpses. In violating the most basic taboos of the ordinary Hindu householder, the aghori sadhu graphically reminds himself and others of the correct rules of social behavior. [Source: Library of Congress]

Holy men of the 1,000-year-old Aghor sect of Shiva worshipers in Varanasi drink whiskey from human skulls, have sex with corpses and eat the charred remains of the dead from funeral pyres on the banks of the Ganges. They eat corpses in the belief that ingesting dead flesh will make them ageless and give them supernatural powers. By breaking humanity's strict taboos they claim to transcend society and come closer to enlightenment. They say human meat tastes good and identify the brains as the best part. [Source: Richard Grant, Washington Post, July 30, 2008]

In a story on “Feeding on the Dead,” a 10-minute documentary about the Aghori sect by director Sandeep Singh, Associated Press reported: There are about 70 Aghori sadhus at a given time, and they remain with the sect for 12 years before returning to their families. Unlike other Hindu holy men, most of whom are vegetarian teetotalers, the Aghoris consume alcohol and meat. But it is their consumption of human flesh — a practice whose origins remain a mystery — which has earned them the condemnation of other Hindus and relegated most Aghori sadhus to living around crematoriums in the hills around the holy city of Varanasi. [Source: Associated Press, October 27, 2005]

Singh and three cameramen waited with an Aghori sadhu — whose name is not mentioned in the film — for 10 days in June before finding a floating corpse. Hindus generally cremate the dead, but bodies are sometimes ceremonially disposed of in the Ganges. “The body was decomposed and bluish in color, but the sadhu was not afraid about falling sick,” Singh told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday. “He sat on the corpse, prayed to a goddess of crematoriums and offered some flesh to the goddess before eating it.” Singh said the sadhu ate part of the corpse’s elbow, believing the flesh would stop him from aging and give him special powers, like the ability to levitate or control the weather. Singh did not see any of those powers on display.

Book: “Among the Cannibals: Adventures on the Trail of Man's Darkest Ritual” by Paul Raffaele (Smithsonian, 2008)]

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Ministry of Tourism, Government of India, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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