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A new Indian documentary seeks to shed light on a secretive sect of Hindu ascetics who eat corpses in the belief that ingesting dead flesh will make them ageless and give them supernatural powers.
“Feeding on the Dead,” a 10-minute documentary, delves into the closed, little-known world of the 1,000-year-old Aghori sect, whose sadhus, or holy men, pluck dead bodies from the Ganges river.
While the sect has been written about, they’ve rarely been filmed performing rituals. Director Sandeep Singh, who shut down his transport business to pursue filmmaking, said it took him more than three months to gain the trust of an Aghori sadhu and convince him to be filmed while performing a cannibalistic ritual.
There are about 70 Aghori sadhus at a given time, and they remain with the sect for 12 years before returning to their families. Unlike other Hindu holy men, most of whom are vegetarian teetotalers, the Aghoris consume alcohol and meat.
But it is their consumption of human flesh — a practice whose origins remain a mystery — which has earned them the condemnation of other Hindus and relegated most Aghori sadhus to living around crematoriums in the hills of northern India around the holy city of Varanasi, where the documentary was filmed.
Singh and three cameramen waited with an Aghori sadhu — whose name is not mentioned in the film — for 10 days in June before finding a floating corpse. Hindus generally cremate the dead, but bodies are sometimes ceremonially disposed of in the Ganges.
“The body was decomposed and bluish in color, but the sadhu was not afraid about falling sick,” Singh told The Associated Press in an interview Wednesday. “He sat on the corpse, prayed to a goddess of crematoriums and offered some flesh to the goddess before eating it.”
Singh said the sadhu ate part of the corpse’s elbow, believing the flesh would stop him from aging and give him special powers, like the ability to levitate or control the weather.
Singh did not see any of those powers on display.