AGHORA, At the Left Hand of God
Wrap around cover painting by Robert Beer
Vimalananda, the subject of this book, designed the cover and dictated to the author the following regarding its symbolic meaning:
"Ghora is darkness, the darkness of ignorance. Aghora means light, the absence of darkness. Under the Tree of Knowledge is an Aghori, a follower of the path of Aghora. He has gone beyond ignorance thanks to the Flame of Knowledge which billows from the funeral pyre. The funeral pyre is the ultimate reality, a continual reminder that everyone has to die. Knowledge of the ultimate reality of Death has taken the Aghori beyond the Eight Snares of Existence: lust, anger, greed, delusion, envy, shame, disgust and fear which bind all beings. The Aghori plays with a human skull, astonished by the uselessness of limited existence, knowing the whole world to be within him though he is not in the world. His spiritual practices have awakened within him the power of Kundalini, which takes the form of the goddess dancing on the funeral pyre: Smashan Tara. He is bewildered to think that all is within him, not external to him; that he sees it not with the physical eyes but with the sense of perception. The Flame of Knowledge is that which preserves life, the Eternal Flame, the Supreme Ego, the Motherhood of God which creates the whole Maya of the universe and thanks only to Whose grace the Aghori has become immortal."
The contents of this book have been encapsulated on its cover: the breadth, the power, the majesty and the divine delirium of Aghora.
By the artist Robert Beer
At midnight on the dark night of the moon an aghori sits alone in the great cremation ground (smashan) of Tarapith the 'sacred site of Tara' in Bengal, India. He is naked or 'sky-clad', fearless and unashamed, and gazes in wonder at the resplendent form of his beloved goddess, Smashan Tara. His matted hair is piled up into a topknot symbolizing that he upholds his tantric vows, and the rest of his hair hangs down freely representing that he is completely free from the restraints of conventional reality. His right hand holds a skull, indicating that he has realized the insubstantial nature of all phenomena and the ultimate truth of selflessness. With his left hand he counts the beads of a rosary made from rudraksha seeds as he invokes the goddess with her mantra. He is seated upon a stone plinth and surrounded by pieces of bone from the charnel ground, and has created a protective circle around himself by hammering pegs of bone into the ground and binding them with black thread a ritual practice known as kilana. Behind the aghori's head is a small Shiva temple crowned with an iron trident, whilst in the background are a range of triangular mountains and the ascending columns of smoke from smoldering funeral pyres. Behind his back is a shrine to Bhairava and Bhairavi the wrathful forms of Shiva and his consort Parvati which are represented by a stone boulder with a wrathful face painted upon it, and a trunk of wood painted with the three eyes of the goddess. In front of this shrine are three skulls, which represent Shiva's mastery over the three gunas or qualities of nature dynamic (rajas), pure (sattva), and inert (tamas). At the back of this shrine is a leafless bel or bilva tree a tree that is especially sacred to Shiva and to all manifestations of the goddesses or shaktis. In front of the aghori is a female jackal, who serves as the 'messenger' or emissary of Smashan Tara. The jackal bares her teeth and gazes back lovingly towards her Mistress, after she has crossed the boundary of the aghori's protective circle with her right paw. Behind the jackal is a wrathful lamp fashioned from an upturned human skull. The skull rests upon a square block representing the element of earth, and is fuelled by human fat and a wick twisted from the hair of a corpse. From the flames of this lamp arises the symbol of a tantric staff or khatvanga, which is fashioned from a small skull mounted upon a handle of human vertebrae. At the top of this skull-staff is a flaming iron trident, which symbolizes the goddess's victory over the three realms (beneath, upon, and above the earth), three times (past, present and future), and three poisons (ignorance, desire and aversion). [Note: The wrathful lamp image is on the spine of the book and not pictured here.] Smashan Tara 'Tara of the Cremation Grounds' - is deep blue in color, with one face, three eyes, and four arms. She arises amidst the blazing heat of a funeral pyre, and stands in 'warrior-stance' upon the fire-consumed skeleton of a male corpse with her right foot pressing upon the breast of the skeleton (the place of desire), and her left foot pressing upon the skeleton's legs (the place of worldly ambition or progress). The roaring flames of the funeral pyre represent the 'fire at the end of time' (kalagni) the ultimate conflagration of the universe, which transmutes all phenomenal appearances into the unified ashes of selflessness. Her body is formed of pure light and the flames can be seen through her lower legs. She is unrestrained, wild, terrifying and fearless, with a beautiful midnight-blue complexion that represents her immutable and indestructible nature. She is the color of space vast and measureless like the night sky and she is beyond all concepts or qualities (nirguna). Her breasts are large or pot-shaped (ghatastani) symbolizing the spiritual nourishment of her devotees, and her stomach is full and rounded (lambodari) symbolizing her hunger for the corpses of selflessness and the blood of ecstatic bliss. She is naked or 'clothed in the sky' (digambara), symbolizing her freedom from the veils of emotional defilements. Around her waist she wears a girdle of eight blood-dripping forearms, which symbolizes her severance of all actions or karmas and the eight worldly dharmas of loss and gain, praise and blame, pleasure and pain, ignominy and fame. Her long black hair is disheveled and hangs freely behind her back, symbolizing that she has untied the knot of appearances and revels in her unconditional freedom. Another symbolic meaning that may be applied to her disheveled hair is that she is menstruating, as Indian women were traditionally considered to be 'impure' or 'polluted' during their menstrual cycles and would only rebind their hair after the ritual bath that marked the end of their menstrual periods. Smashan Tara has three lotus-like eyes, which represent her triumph over the three realms and times, and the three main psychic channels or nadis (sushumna, ida, pingala) of the subtle body that are activated in Kundalini Yoga. Her left eye has the nature of the moon (lunar channel or ida-nadi), her right eye has the nature of the sun (solar channel or pingala-nadi), and her central wisdom eye has the nature of fire (central channel or sushumna-nadi). Her forehead and limbs are smeared with finger-marked lines of cremation ashes, symbolizing the undifferentiated perfection of her wisdom. Her mouth gapes open showing her sharp canine teeth, and her extremely long tongue lolls downwards and drips with flesh blood symbolizing that she consumes and is consumed with absolute bliss. Around her neck she wears a garland of eight freshly severed and blood-dripping male heads, which as sacrificial symbols represent her destruction of the 'eight snares of worldly existence' ignorance, desire, anger, jealousy, pride, shame, aversion and fear. She wears bracelets, armlets and anklets made from small splinters of human bone, which are bound with small poisonous serpents, and a necklace of human bone. These bone ornaments represent her perfections, and the serpents represent the various castes of nagas or serpent-spirits that are under her control. Her four arms represent the four activities of karma pacifying, enriching, subjugating and destroying, and the four purified elements of earth, water, fire and air. In her upper right hand she wields a sacrificial cleaver, which is marked with the single wisdom-eye of the goddess and is used to behead sacrificial animals. This cleaver symbolizes the severance of all conceptual thought processes and the decapitation of the ego or self-cherishing identity. In her lower right hand she holds a pair of sharp scissors, which are used for disemboweling sacrificial victims and for severing their life-veins. These scissors represent her severance of all delusions and emotional obscurations. In her upper left hand she wields a rope-snare or noose, which is used to bind all demonic fiends and enemies. With this snare she captures, binds and strangles all mental delusions and emotional defilements. In her lower left hand she holds an upturned human skull, symbolizing her triumph over death and all phenomenal appearances.
Italian Edition published by Edizioni Vidyananda, Assissi, Italy