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Kāpālika


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A devotee of Bhairava (a ferocious form of Śiva) and member of an early medieval Tantric tradition which drew on the revelatory authority of the Bhairava Tantras to follow practices opposed, and inimical, to Brahmanical orthodoxy. Chief among these was the ritual use of conventionally impure substances such as meat, wine, and sexual fluids. Their name is derived from their characteristic possession of a human skull (kapāla), for use as a cup cum begging-bowl, and a khaṭvāṅga (a trident incorporating a human skull). Both are carried in imitation of Bhairava, who also provides the model for the Kāpālikas' covering themselves in ashes (bhasman) and living in cremation grounds. The Kāpālika tradition is now defunct, but many of the practices associated with it are consciously sustained by groups such as the Aghorīs.

Subjects: Hinduism.


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