Aughars and their Sense of ‘Place’
Jishnu Shankar [+]
University of Texas at Austin
Aughars provide a very interesting category of ascetic practices in India. Although the Aghor tradition is a very old one, some elements of it can be traced as far back as the Buddha (approximately 5th century BC), they are still often misunderstood because of one major component of their practices – the cremation ground. A majority of the meditative and ritual practices that they have take place either in isolated spots or in the cremation ground. Unlike in Europe where tourists go to visit hundreds of thousands of skulls and bones amassed at the, for example, the ‘Cimitero delle Fontanelle’ (the cemetery of skulls) in Napoli, Italy, or the catacombs in Paris, France, for a Hindu person in India the cremation ground is not a place one visits casually. In fact, most people try to avoid it if they can. They visit it only when they have to, as when transporting a dead body, and when they return home they have to go through a purificatory ritual, or take a bath at the least, because the cremation ground is regarded in the popular conception as an unclean, even inauspicious place. For the Aughars the situation is totally opposite. For them the cremation ground is the ultimate home of all living beings, it is the place of ultimate rest and purity where a very stark but continuous homage of lifeless bodies is offered to the care of the god of fire. This worldview informs their outlook on life in a very different manner, rather, it turns the normal person’s worldview on its head. For them the world of the senses represents a falsehood in that it is transient, while the cremation ground represents the stability of an inalterable truth. In this chapter I take a close look at how the Aghor worldview and their conception of the cremation ground informs their ascetic practice and their way of life.