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Aghori Sadhu. Wikimedia Commons

By- Khushi Bisht

What Is Cannibalism?


Cannibalism is described as eating all or a part of another being of the same species as food. The practice of people consuming the flesh or body parts of other humans is referred to as ‘human cannibalism’. A ‘cannibal’ is anyone who engages in cannibalism.

Cannibalism is not rare. Neither is cannibalism a remote historical reality. Its rituals have been discovered in nearly every region of the world.


Cannibalism in Brazil in 1557. Wikimedia Commons

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Cannibalism has been practiced as a very last option by people who suffer from starvation or famine. It has been performed for a variety of purposes, including religious ones, throughout history. It is a cultural phenomenon in certain communities. In this scenario, the eating of flesh or specific parts is a ceremonial way of obtaining certain characteristics of the human consumed or to gain some occult, magic, or supernatural powers.

The Aghoris

There are some hermits who engage in cannibalism in order to cross the barrier of spiritual liberation. Consider the Aghoris, a Hindu ascetic sect in India. These people consume human flesh. The Aghori Babas of Varanasi, India, are well-known for their dark and scary search for divine redemption and eating the dead human being. They claim that the strongest fear that humans have is the fear of dying, and therefore this apprehension is an obstacle to enlightenment. By facing this fear, one will attain liberation.


Aghori at Harishchandra Ghat in Varanasi city. Wikimedia Commons

The entire idea of Aghori belief is that all objects in the world, including dead bodies, are similarly holy. There is no such thing as good or bad. The Aghoris seek to overcome all distinctions, see beyond the illusory essence of all existing distinctions, and achieve eternal bliss by becoming one with supreme existence. However, this ritual is frowned upon in orthodox Hinduism. Aghoris are vocal opponents of injustice and the lingering vestiges of the caste system, which traditionally divided Indians into unyielding social classes.

We will never know how far back in human evolution history this practice of cannibalism goes. It, however, evidently appeared to be a mere act of survival at a certain stage in human evolution, and then became a prohibition, a place of intersection between the holy and the blasphemous.


An ‘aghori’ and a ‘tantric’ sadhus explaining to their disciple. Wikimedia Commons

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Cannibalistic rituals have been documented in South America, Europe, Western Africa, several Pacific Islands, among ancient Native American tribes, and in several places around the world.

Some practices are as simple as meditation, while others might be terribly stressful and aggressive. Cannibalism has no adequate and comprehensive justification. Multiple cultures and communities have practiced it for various purposes. It has no universal sense. Rather, it is tailored to the religious context of each society where it is performed.


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