Image from Bernd Helfert

A radical religious biopunk subculture from Interplanetary Age South Asia on Old Earth. Outgrowths of the subculture into Solsys space had influences upon certain religious groups and genetekker-related cultures.

Background: Late Interplanetary Era Biopunks

Biopunk subcultures, tended to be fairly underground groups who performed their own biohacking procedures upon themselves and each other. They were found in a few major urban centres on Old Earth, in particular among the young people of southern cities in Brazil, of the Californian and Confederate cities, in Lagos and in South Asian cities. Many of these groups had modified skin patterns, customized implants and other DIY modifications. There are unconfirmed records of a Californian group known for sprouting narwhal-like horns on their foreheads.

By the later Interplanetary Era, augments and genemods were widely available by the mainstream, being provided in approved and standardized forms by many corporations and agencies. These included medical genemods as well as aesthetic and other mods. What made the biopunks different was their lack of adherence to either the approved or standardized nature of these mods.

The biopunks tended to try out new modifications and augments before their official approval through orthodox channels. It seems some corporations covertly encouraged this for testing purposes. Either through acquiring the basics of new technologies or through developing them through imitation, they would try out cutting-edge ideas on themselves before they’d been released to the mass market.

In addition to their use of pre-release cutting-edge mods and augments, the biopunks would typically eschew the standardized corporate packages which were found in mainstream use, by making their own mods and combinations of mods individually, so that each biopunk or group of biopunks would have a unique appearance. In some cases, mods with no mainstream appeal found widespread use among biopunks, and sometimes gained popularity as a result and spread into the mainstream. Through processes such as this, innovative and edgy biopunks would sometimes become absorbed into the structure of corporate mod development.

Kabristaanis on Old Earth

Even amongst these biopunks, the Aghori Punks, or Kabristaanis, were seen as radical. A highly religious Hindu group, they were Shaktas/Shaivas, primarily worshipping Kali and Durga, and to a lesser extent other forms of Devi and Shiva. Right from their beginnings in the mid-4th Century, they took a great deal of their tradition from the Aghoris; attempting to shred their attachments and bondages through cultivation of a divine madness and through the subversion of cultural mores. While they were not all renunciates in the manner of the original Aghoris, who lived as wandering celibate ascetics, they drew on a great deal of their ethos.

Kabristaanis, who existed as a subculture in a few northern cities of the South Asian Union, in particular Delhi, Varanasi, Mumbai, Lucknow, Jaipur and Allahabad, dedicated their lives to devotion to the Divine Mother, centred upon her depiction as Kali, and to resolving themselves of all bondage so as to realize their unity with Her. To do this, they eschewed the ideals of mainstream society, and even modified their bodies in bizarre manners to further subvert social norms. Drinking of alcohol, the smoking of marijuana and often the partaking of a number of modern synthetic narcotics was very common, but if this was not unusual enough for a devotional Hindu group they also were prone to engineering new glands, organs and symbiotes to release hallucinogenic, stimulant or otherwise mild-altering compounds directly within their bodies either on demand, constantly or at random. They were often associated with the North Indian underground music scene of the time, where they were received better than in most circles. They would tattoo the Shakta tilak, a single red vertical line, onto their foreheads. Most noticeable were their varying biological modifications. These were not germline modifications, but bioborg modifications often drawing upon animalian sources. Very common were the injection of moving colonies of chromatophoric bacteria under the skin, randomly-placed patches of scales, thick hair, spines or feathers, horns from sheep, antelopes or stags (not always on the head), glands exuding slime or other substances, subdermal implants giving them strange facial features, changes to the colour of the eyes and various crests and frills, in addition to the previously-mentioned glands, symbiotes and organs producing novel narcotics. Many other modifications were to be found among various Kabristaanis, and no two looked alike. These modifications combined to give them a bizarre appearance, and put together with their outlandish behavior (their drunkenness, frequent ecstatic worship, their playing in the street and insulting of random passers-by) pushed them to the edge of society, as they wanted. Kabristaanis also inherited many of the practices of the Aghoris, such as worship and meditation in cemeteries, covering themselves with the ashes from cremation grounds, going about naked and subjecting themselves to various austerities such as meditation surrounded by fire or even painful subdermal implants and terror-inducing narcotics. They tended to live on the streets or in their communes.

While somewhat rare, it was not altogether unusual for Kabristaanis to have children. As their modifications weren’t germline, these children did not inherit them. Such children would be brought up within the Kabristaani environment, participating in their worship and being around their drunken and drugged behavior. Typically, these children would grow up as Kabristaanis themselves, and would be highly respected within the community, but sometimes would run away from the environment during their youth. Generally local authorities would remove children from the custody of Kabristaani parents, only relenting in the cases when parents or family groups moderated their behavior somewhat for the sake of the child.

Despite their predilections for eschewing societal norms, Kabristaanis needed to subsist somehow. Most importantly, they had to find a way to carry out their bioborgisations, although outside of this they had few major expenses. While it is understandable that they found it difficult to work in typical jobs, some small Kabristaani groups did use their expertise in biological engineering to found start-up companies, which would occasionally be quite successful, despite their unorthodox organizational methods. These groups seem to have funded much of the community’s more expensive efforts, including the few large inner city penthouses and basements and rural houses which served as the foci for the Kabristaani community. Others did find support and sympathy from certain groups other ‘outcaste’ subcultures, who saw them as spiritual leaders and would keep them going through donations, especially to one of the Kabristaani temples found in the built-up residency blocks of Mumbai and Jaipur and downriver from Varanasi, or indeed at the large shrines which dominated the dwelling-places of the Kabristaanis. Still other Kabristaanis continued the old sadhu tradition and lived on the streets, subsisting purely through appealing to their fellows, who provided them with occasional lodgings and food, and provided them the facilities for their bioborg implants (NB: more traditional sadhus continued to be able to live on the streets and subsist on alms, but these more outlandish derivatives did not inspire as much public sympathy). Finally, however, most of the Kabristaanis received the government stipend and neither worked nor begged, clubbing together into communal dwellings so as to minimize costs and save money for their bioborging and genehacking.

Kabristaanis off-Earth

While Kabristaanis were generally speaking not well-resourced, by the 4th and 5th Centuries access to space was cheap, with several space elevators linking Earth to the stations operated by the Orbital Alliance. Not quite so cheap, but even so still achievable by ordinary sophonts by the Nanotech Age, was the acquisition of transport to a small comet nucleus or asteroid and the equipment to settle it. Several firms were involved in producing such ‘homestead packs’. Despite their general attempts to let go of attachments, there were many Kabristaanis who saw value in the further perpetuation of their tradition, and sought to achieve greater freedom for its exercise by establishing their own societies off-Earth. During the course of the 5th Century a couple of hundred Kabristaanis shifted off-world to a couple of asteroids orbited by small rotating bolo habs in the Jovian Trojans. It seems that almost this entire movement was funded by the seven Kabristaani founders of Mumbaikar NewBio, a Kabristaani start-up which had moved up to become one of the pre-eminent northern Indian biotech companies.

These small habitats having been established and given over almost entirely to temples to Kali and Shiva, as well as hydroponic farms and bioborg-tech facilities, they soon had to cope with a sudden influx of new residents with the onset of the Great Expulsion. Of the minority of the highly tech-dependent Kabristaanis who survived the Technocalypse to be kicked off-world in the Great Expulsion, almost all migrated to the only sanctuary available to them, in the Kabristaani habs.

A certain degree of moderation of their activities was necessary for the continued survival of the Kabristaani habs, and so many became more restricted in their intoxication and other forms of madness, co-operating as was necessary to continue their quest for the Divine and their upkeep of Mother’s temples in their habs. Birth rates increased on the habs, allowing for a continuation of their population there.

Interactions with the Genetekker groups surviving in the Trojans, and with the easing of restrictions as the Sundering neared its end with the Genetekkers of the Jovian system proper, led to a fair degree of cross-influencing. Kabristaani ideas were a substantial influence on development of genetekker bio-tantra, and their ideas fed into those of Mutationist groups as well. In the other direction, Genetekker technology was very useful to the Kabristaanis in their self-modifications, and over time many of the Kabristaani groups became more Genetekker-influenced, in essence becoming extensions of Genetekker culture. A few Kabristaani groups also emigrated from Solsys soon after the founding of the Federation, and became noted minorities within several of the interstellar colonies.

However, the centuries of life as the majority within a hab-based society had strongly moderated the Kabristaanis, and while they retained a strongly ectastic and devotional Shakta tradition and eclectic appearances, their divine madness had rather subsided and their intoxication had phased out. Many became affiliated with other more mainstream Shakta movements, in particular diverse Adi Parashakta groups, and those who weren’t absorbed into Genetekker cultures were ultimately left as an unusual bioborg clade, which seems to have dissipated by the Middle Federation Age. Kabristaanis of the younger generations, especially those raised in exposure to broader cultures, tended to lose interest in their forebears’ lifestyles and moderate even further, adopting more mainstream appearances and converting to alternative philosophies, in particular the new religions coming to dominate the scene during the Federation years, such as Lucidian Sophism, Solarism and forms of Omegism and Universalism. Nevertheless, their madness has been influential on other Shakta groups and their eclecticism upon some Genetekker, and later Genen, clans, while their prominence led to a growth in Shaktism in various forms in a few of the early Federation interstellar colonies. Additionally, the dialect of Hindustani they developed during the Sundering, replete with normalised swear words, seems to have had some influence on the languages of a handful of Inner Sphere cultures of the time, particularly in slang.

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Text by Kirran Lochhead StrangInitially published on 01 February 2016.