Aghori is a biographical novel taking you through the journey of an Aghori – someone who follows the path of Aghor. For those who do not know Aghor is a path in Hinduism for the followers of Lord Shiva. This is a tantrik practice that involves these practitioners spending a lot of time at cremation grounds. You would have probably heard of them at Kumbh Mela when they all gather at Prayag.
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I enjoyed reading Manoj Thakkar’s Kashi Marnanmukti which was also a story of a Dom in Kashi. So, as soon as his next book came, I was keen to read it too. I am happy I read the book. Now I can say that I know a bit about Aghor practice and Aghori Babas.
The fact that the story belongs to the late 20th CE, pretty much during my lifetime, makes it very real. Aghori practitioners stay away from inhabited areas, so it is not very often that you get to meet, leave apart understand their ways. I do not think I have ever seen or met anyone from this path. All I know about them is the common perceptions they carry in an average Indian’s mind – they are frightening and they can do anything. This story made me travel with an Aghori and see what he goes through in his life before he reaches the energy levels where they can perform miracles.
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The story begins in a small town in Bihar where a child is born to poor parents. He grows up like a normal child, went to school and college as directed by parents. However, when his father senses that he wants to become a Sadhu or a spiritual practitioner, he tells him to become a good one. The young boy leaves home and starts living in a cremation ground – a place that naturally attracts him. From here his journey on the path of Aghor starts.
He meets many Guru – living and those gone on his path. He follows their teachings and through guidance, he moves step by step towards his spiritual journey. What I liked about the story of this Aghori Baba is that the authors take you on a journey along. They tell you where he fails and what he goes through – physically, mentally & emotionally.
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In between his journey, the authors introduce you to the concepts on this path of spirituality. This was the best part of the book. I understood many concepts that I have come across in various scriptures but I did not fully understand. For example, I did not know what are Asht Siddhis or Nine Nidhis – something that I would have chanted a million times while reading Hanuman Chalisa. Similarly, I had read about Dash Mahavidyas but this book told me the significance of each of them. I can relate to each of the manifestations of Devi much better now.
The path of Aghor focusses a lot on Shakti or the Divine Feminine. The followers of this path worship goddess in all her forms from benign ones to the scary ones. The cosmos reveals to them in the form of the Scariest image of Goddess Kali when they understand that without Shakti even Shiv is a Shav or a corpse.
Did you know Pranda, Praneshi, Apara, Timir Chandrika, Shankarpriya, Urmila, Dikshavati are some of the thousand names of River Ganga!
Geographically, the book takes you from Haridwar to the mountains of Garhwal and Kumaon, to Assam, and then finally brings you back to Varanasi. The way Haridwar and Varanasi are described would want you to pack your bags and go there. I have been Haridwar so many times, but I never knew that the core of this city that was once called Maya is a triangle of three devi temples. Similarly, I have been to Kamakhya Temple in Assam but never knew about all the other temples on the same hill. Talk of going as a tourist versus going as a seeker.
Some quotes from the book
- Spirituality has four limbs – Body, Mind, Intellect & Soul
- In the Pitch black darkness of Pralay, when nothing else remains, the only thing that does remain is Kali standing upon a corpse-like Shiv.
- There is no greater Aghorini than mother Ganga.
- Radha and Krishna, light and darkness, are the core elements of all of the creation.
There was one mistake that I could find out – the time gap between 1984 and 1992 does not add up in the journey of the Aghori. He had spent 8 years alone at one place on one cremation ground. At another place, it mentions Karnal in Punjab while it is in Haryana.
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As a Hindi speaker, I would have preferred to read the book in Hindi. I hope the authors and publishers are coming up with a Hindi Translation of the book. English is not bad but it can be way better. There are a lot of words that could have been more in tune with the theme of the book. I do not appreciate the word the Ganges for Ganga. It is a proper noun and Ganga should be spelled as Ganga in today’s literature. As an Indian reader, it alienated me.
Overall, it is a work of great literary value. It is about a subject that is not written about very often. I am not aware of many books who would tell you the journey of an Aghori in so much detail, although authors have not revealed any of the secret practices.
If the little know paths within Hinduism interest you, or if you have wondered about the naked Sadhus you met at a Kumbh Mela – this is a book for you.