Varanasi, also known as Benares, is a city on the banks of the ganges river (also called Ganga) in the Uttar Pradesh state of North India. It is considered the spiritual capital of India and the holiest of the seven sacred cities. This city has been an ultimate pilgrimage spot for Hindus for ages, they consider this land to be abode of Lord Shiva and Parvati, who are believed to be the foremost citizens of the city as they lived here for sometime after their marriage and worshiped for being the holiest city along side Ganga.
Ganga in Varanasi is believed to have the power to wash away the sins of mortals. It is believed that if a person’s ashes are scattered here then their soul will finally achieve nirvana (moksha)... but to liberate the soul, the worn-out body must first be burned.
The Manikarnika ghats operates 24 hours a day and it is the oldest burning ghat in Varanasi where about 80 bodies a day are cremated. Bodies are first bathed in the holy river and then they go on the wooden pyre. It takes 350 kg of wood to burn a body properly and the cremation takes about three hours. It costs around 5.000 rupie (minimum), but goes 10.000, 15.000 and much more easily to get burned in the traditional way.
There are some exceptions where the burning is not allowed: babies, Sadhu (religious ascetic or holy person), pregnant women, they are considered already pure so the bodies go directly to heaven and they are thrown in the ganga as they are, with stone to sink.
Life and death here are mixed up together, you can see bodies burning over some piles of wood and - few metres ahead - some kids playing on the banks of the Ganges rivers, while an infant's body floats a short distance away.
And so, while bodies burn, on the other side of the Ganges some Aghori monks celebrate their rituals and mysterious practices. They eat left over from human dead bodies on the banks of river Ganges and they drink in a bowl made of human skull.
The practice of cannibalism and animal or human sacrifices are mostly related to tantric rites of the worshipers of the mother goddess.
Novices have to meditate about twelve years and complete certain rituals under the guidance of an aghori guru in order to reach their spiritual strength. There are certain rules they must follow to become an Aghori: firstly an Aghori must find a guru and do what he tells him to do. He will use "kappala" (human skull) as a ritual tool before initiation, he must apply the ash of a pyre on his body during meditation to symbolically show the nature of the Lord Shiva. The final part of ritual requires eating of rotten human flesh and also meditating sitting on a dead corpse. It symbolizes the rise from savak (human nature) to siva.