For centuries, the Aghori have been known as the most radical ascetics in India: living naked on the cremation grounds, meditating on corpses, engaging in cannibalism and coprophagy, and consuming intoxicants out of human skulls. In recent years, however, they have shifted their practices from the embrace of ritually polluted substances to the healing of stigmatized diseases. In the process, they have become a large, socially mainstream, and politically powerful organization. Based on extensive fieldwork, this lucidly written book explores the dynamics of pollution, death, and healing in Aghor medicine. Ron Barrett examines a range of Aghor therapies from ritual bathing to modified Ayurveda and biomedicines and clarifies many misconceptions about this little-studied group and its highly unorthodox, powerful ideas about illness and healing.
List of Illustrations
Jonathan P. Parry
Note on Transliteration, Abbreviations, and Names
The Cosmic Sinks
Fire in the Well
The Wrong Side of the River
Dawa and Duwa
Death and Nondiscrimination
Ron Barrett is Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropological Sciences at Stanford University.
“Fascinating in its exploration. . . . Adeptly introduces the reader to this system of healing and would be a worthwhile read for anyone interested in multicultural medicine.”—Feminist Review
“This is a brilliant book, lucidly written, abounding with insights on medicine, religion and politics in contemporary northern India that will be of interest to social scientists and historians of medicine and religion well beyond its regional framework.”—Guy Attewell Social History Of Medicine
“A must for those interested in India’s plural medical system and the importance of medicine answering.”—Maarten Bode Medische Antropology
moves seamlessly between an ethnography of religion and medical anthropology. The stories of suffering and renunciation, of collective experience that turn Indian hierarchy and discrimination upside down are quite marvelous. The writing is clear and direct and the interpretations balanced and scrupulously documented. Barrett has written one of the best accounts on local traditions "modernizing" in ways that combine indigenous significance with globally crucial changes that react against health and social inequalities."—Arthur Kleinman, Harvard University
"Ronald Barrett's fine account of aghor medicine reveals essential characteristics of India's popular culture, and, since an ashram in California has an important role in the story, of American popular culture as well."—Charles Leslie, author of Death Row Letters
Wellcome Medal for Medical Anthropology, Royal Anthropological Institute