The Gruesome Flesh-Eating Monks of Varanasi

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Image: Cristiano Ostinelli

They’ve been called “extreme,” “disgusting,” “terrifying” and “divine madmen.” Their rituals involve consuming excrement, imbibing urine from human skulls, chewing the heads off live animals, daubing their bodies with ash from burnt corpses, meditating on top of cadavers, and devouring human flesh – “dead or alive,” in the words of one guru. A combination of marijuana, alcohol and meditation helps them to reach a disconnected state of heightened awareness that they believe brings them closer to revered Hindu god Lord Shiva. They are India’s outcast Aghori sect.

aghori-sadhu-baba-cristiano-ostinelli-photographer-photojournalist-italy-kumbh-mela-2013
Image: Cristiano Ostinelli

The Aghori sadhus, or holy men, consider all things to be sacred – even animal feces and rotting flesh. Nothing, then, is off limits. Indeed, they hold that the less they discriminate between pure and impure, or sacrosanct and sacrilegious, the more powerful they become.

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Image: Cristiano Ostinelli

The Aghori also believe that by immersing themselves without prejudice in what others deem taboo or disturbing, they’re on course to achieving enlightenment. Central to this is an intense state of being that disregards what they perceive to be mortal illusions and distractions.

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