Cannibalism still exists in Modern India
Monday June 23, 2003 (0344 PST)
Kapal Nath, born Gary Stevenson, is a Houston native and member of the Aghora sect of Hinduism. He described for writer Mike Yon his practice of cannibalism.... Photo Mike Yon
TAMPA, June 23 (Online): An American's research of the Hindu Aghora sect revealed that India, where Hindus normally known worldwide for idol and animal worship, also has extremist elements in its society such as cannibalism.
According to details, Mike Yon, American writer and formal bodyguard of pop star Michael Jackson noticed a lot of washed-out posters of missing Western tourists everywhere in India during a trip last year.
The 39-year-old Winter Haven native and former Green Beret was gathering ideas for a book as he travelled through Asia. He found ripe material one day in front of a funeral pyre.
Yon watched an Indian holy man belonging to the Aghora sect meditate before a burning corpse and learned that some members of the sect practised cannibalism to gain magical powers. Yon was hooked when he heard Aghoris speak of a member from Houston. Born as Gary Stevenson but the man went by the Aghori name Kapal Nath.
"Like the skeletal remains of the Vietnam War, all these Americans and Europeans who went there seeking enlightenment or running from the draft have gone off the deep end and never come back," Yon said.
During a rescue operation of an drowned Israeli, Yon met Yigal Zur, leader of the Israeli rescue team who knew of the Aghora sect and 10,000 Israelis visit India annually, many seeking brief adventures before mandatory military service but some simply disappear.
According to Yon, while he was talking to Zur, an Aghori walked to the bloated body on the shore, placed a coin on the man's exposed liver, pulled off a piece of the corpse and ate it.
Although Zur knew about the Aghora sect but it wasn't until he spoke to Yon that he began wondering if some of the missing foreigners became sacrifices for Aghoris.
Yon said, "I heard rumours that European and American tourists were being taken. It sounds ludicrous, but where it is in India, anything goes.''
Foreigners are viewed as powerful, Yon added. According to details, Mike Yon, American writer and formal bodyguard of pop star Michael Jackson noticed a lot of washed-out posters of missing Western tourists everywhere in India during a trip last year.
"If you sacrifice a rich or powerful person, they have more Shakti," he said, referring to the creative energy Hindus believe flows from God. "Children have more Shakti because they haven't lived long,"
Fascinated by modern-day cannibals he encountered in India, Yon travelled to Nepal to find the roots of the Aghora sect there. He walked about 300 miles, reading everything he could of the Aghoris, including accounts of British soldiers coming upon the cannibals at the beginning of the 20th century.
When he reached Nepal, he again heard of the American Aghori, Kapal Nath.
Yon discovered that the doors into the closed society opened by giving Aghoris whiskey. The sect uses whiskey to mimic the Aghora version of Shiva, the last from the divine trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva and the Hindu god of destruction and reproduction. The Aghoris also worshipped Kali, the destroyer, and the dark god of Hinduism.
Yon decided to seek Nath to interview him for his proposed book.
After several months of searching, Yon found Nath, 52, in a restaurant in Varanasi, a sacred Hindu city. He told Nath, who lived near steps leading to the Ganges where corpses were thrown after a purification burning, that he was a writer interested in Aghoris.
Swathed in dreadlocks and branded with tattoos, Nath told Yon his story. Only three teeth remained in Nath's mouth, and his health was poor.
As he spoke, Nath drank from a human skull in the Aghori custom. He carried small drums made from baby skulls. Yon said that though Nath was treated like a holy man by many Indians his weird exclamations struck him more like Dennis Hopper's strung- out photographer in the film "Apocalypse Now."
As they sat in the restaurant, Nath talked of how humans should be prepared.
"I like to take a fresh body, you know, maybe even an Israeli, cook 'em barbecue," Nath spoke into Yon's tape recorder.
Nath described his technique, using a ``big, big bucket of barbecue sauce, paintbrush, roller, you know.''
Yon spent the next 11 days with Nath. Cannibalism, Yon said, was taken as a part of Indian culture.
"The amazing thing is they are doing it there in the open,'' Yon said. ``A policeman was burning the body of his neighbour and cracked open the skull to release the soul. The policeman gave Nath some of the brains to eat.''
Aghori ascetics believe that by consuming human flesh, they can break the cycle of life and death and avoid reincarnation, according to a description by the British St. Martin's College Religion Department.
Aghoris typically live at cremation grounds, smear themselves with the ashes of corpses and eat from a cranial begging bowl, the top part of a human skull. Some Aghoris eat the flesh of corpses only rarely. They meditate by sitting on the corpses, believing they gain control over the corpse's spirit.
Within the caste system of India, traditionally only the lower castes handle the dead. Nathan said Aghora is a primitive form of spiritualism, closer to tribal religions.
"This is a deviant ritual that has nothing to do with mainstream Hinduism,'' Nathan said.
"Non violence is how you find freedom from the circle of birth and death. Eating human flesh is nowhere close to attaining that freedom.''
Historical records kept by the British indicate Aghoris have long been accused of practicing human sacrifice because sacrifice was a part of cults that worshiped Kali.
I told you things would change.