views updated

Kāpālika (Skt., ‘skull-wearer’). A sect of Śaivism which flourished from the 7th to 14th cents. CE, also called the Somasiddhānta. The Kāpālikas were cremation-ground (śmaśāna) dwellers who covered themselves with the ashes of corpses and carried a skull which they used as a bowl. The terrifying form of Śiva as Bhairava, Mahākāla, or Kāpālabhṛt (‘skull-carrier’) was the central deity of the cult. Kāpālika practice aimed at a vision of, and possession (aveśa) by, a deity or power (śakti), in order to achieve perfection (siddhi). Practice included the consuming of corpse-flesh and scatalogical substances, meditation whilst seated on a corpse, sexual rites with low-caste women, and animal, human, and self-sacrifice. The Kāpālikas were scorned and feared by orthodox Brahmanism, and if a brahman saw one, he would stare into the sun to purify himself. The Kāpālikas were absorbed into the Nāthas and Aghorīs.