Aghora

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By Swami Harshananda

Aghora literally means

  • Not terrible; not fearsome
  • Pleasant; agreeable; mild
  • Is another name for Śiva
  • Refers to a Tāntrik denomination of worshipers of Śiva and Durgā and its followers. This group worships Śiva as the Absolute, are strictly and uncompromisingly non-dualistic in their philosophy, and are known for their extremely challenging and unconventional disciplines & rituals that aim at a forcible transformation of the limited human personality & consciousness into an universal or divine one.

Śiva as Aghora

Śiva is responsible for dissolution of the universe (laya or pralaya). One of the names, by which he is well-known, is Pañcānana or Pañcamukha, ‘the five faced one’. These five faces are actually five aspects of his manifestation. ‘Aghora’ is one of these five. Facing south and ruling over the element agni (fire), Aghora stands for the power that absorbs and renovates the universe. His description is as follows:

  • He has a terrific face and eight hands holding śula (spear), ḍamaru (drum), pāśa (noose), kapāla (skull-cup), daṇḍa (staff), cāpa (bow), bāṇa (arrow) and asi (sword).
  • The neck is blue and the rest of the body is black.
  • The body is either naked or clad in the hides of elephant and lion.
  • Snakes and scorpions form the ornaments.

Since his terrible form frightens away all the sufferings devotees that have taken refuge in Him, he is ‘Aghora,’ the ‘not terrible’ to them. The mantra beginning with the words ‘aghorebhyo’ in the Mahānārāyana Upanisad[1] is known as ‘aghora-mantra’ and is one of the five mantras well-known as ‘pañcabrahma-mantras’ employed in the worship and meditation of Mahādeva. These mantras are normally prescribed for japa to a person who desires divine illumination.

References

  1. Mahānārāyana Upanisad 19.1
  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore
  • Agora by Jit Majumdar"