The True Story of Sadhu Haridas, a 19th Century Yogi Phenomenon
Originally published in the London Telegraph, August 22, 1880
We are not told whether the Seven Sleepers who retired to a cave in Ephesus during the reign of the Christian-killing Emperor Decius, and only woke up 155 years afterward, when Theodosins II was on the throne, made any special preparation, but probably they did not. Perhaps it was not necessary. Those were stirring times for members of the new faith, and they had little opportunity to grow obese.
But, as a rule, to fast successfully it is said to be necessary for a man to abstain beforehand, and reduce himself more carefully to the required condition by a long course of preparation. Pre-eminent at this art of suspending animation—for an art it becomes—are the Easterns, and most wonderful stories are told of the natives of India, which, whether they powers are due to narcotics or any other process, seem to open up—if true—a wide field of medical study.
Once of the Indian stories, not easily accessible, but of considerable interest on account of the known veracity of the witnesses, will probably be read with interest at the present time, and is inserted here. The author of it was one Hon. Capt. Osborn, and the notes made of his statement, here subjoined, come from an almost unique copy printed from private circulation.
Caption Osborn’s Story
“Runjeet Sing had heard from a Seyd or Fakir, who lived in the mountains, that the latter could allow himself to be buried when in a condition of apparent death, without really ceasing to live, seeing that he understood the art of being brought back to life on being exhumed after several months had passed. To the Maharajah this appeared to be a rank impossibility. In order, however, that he should be convinced, he ordered the Fakir summoned to the Court, and caused him to undertake the singular experiment, under a threat that no means of precaution would be wanting towards the discovery of fraud.
However wonderful and perhaps laughable these operations appear to many, it is plain that these people must have a singular control over the different organs of their bodies…
The Fakir consequently caused himself to appear in a state of apparent death. When every spark of life had seemingly vanished, he was, in the presence of the Maharajah and the nobles who surrounded him, wrapped up in the linen on which he had been sitting, and on which the seal of Runjeet Sing was placed. The body was then deposited in a chest, on which Runjeet Sing, with his own hand, fixed a heavy padlock. The chest was carried outside the town and buried in a garden belonging to the Minister; barley was sown over the spot, a wall was erected around it, and sentinels posted.
On the fortieth day, when the chest containing the Fakir was dug up and opened, the man was found cold and stark in precisely the same condition as that in which he had been left. With much trouble he was restored to life by means of heat applied to the head, afflation in the ears and mouth, rubbing the body, etc.
The Minister, Rajah Dhyan-Sing, assured a friend that he had this Fakir, whose name was Haridas, for a period of four months under the earth at Jummoo in the mountains. On the day of his burial he had caused his beard to be shaved off, and when he was taken up again his chin was just as smooth as the day when he was consigned to the earth—a proof, as would seem, of suspended animation.
It is related that the Fakir in question took a pergative some time before the burial display, and for several days afterward lived only on a scanty milk diet. On the day of the internment it is said that, instead of taking any nourishment, he swallowed 30 yards of a strip of linen of the breadth of three fingers, which he immediately drew up again, his object being to clean the stomach.
However wonderful and perhaps laughable these operations appear to many, it is plain that these people must have a singular control over the different organs of their bodies, and more especially over their muscular contractions.
When all the necessary preparations have been accomplished, the Fakir closes all the openings of his body with stoppers made of aromatic wax, lays his tongue far back in his throat, crosses his hands on his breast, and suspends animation by means of holding his breath.
On his being brought back to life one of the first operations is, by means of the fingers, to draw the tongue away from the back of the throat; a warm and aromatic paste made of meal is then placed on his head, and air is blown into his lungs and into the ear-holes, from which the wax stoppers have been removed, the stoppers in the nostrils being presently forced out with an explosive noise.
This is said to be the first sign of a return to life. He then gradually commences to breathe, opens the eyes, and recovers consciousness, continuous friction of the body being carried on all the time.
A Second Eyewitness Account
Here is another curious statement of opinion on the subject of the Indian stories from an equally rare source, the little pamphlet of Sir Claude Wade, published in 1837. “I was present,” he writes, “at the court of Runjeet Singh when the Fakir, mentioned by the Hon. Capt. Osborne, was buried alive for six seeks; and, although I arrived a few hours after his actual interment, and did not, consequently, witness that part of the phenomenon, I had the testimony of Runjeet Singh himself, and others of the most credible witnesses of his Court, to the truth of the Fakir having been buried before them; and, from my having been myself present when he was disinterred, and restored to a state of perfect vitality in a position so close to him as to render any deception impossible, it is my firm belief that there was no collusion in producing the extraordinary sight which I have to relate.
“I will briefly state what I saw, to enable others to judge of the weight due to my evidence, and whether my proof of collusion can, in their opinion, be detected. On the approach of the appointed time, according to invitation, I accompanied Runjeet Singh to the spot where the Fakir had been buried. It was in a square building, called a barra durra, in the middle of one of the gardens adjoining the Palace at Lahore, with an open veranda all round, having an inclosed [sic] room in the centre.
On arriving there, Runjeet Singh, who was attended on the occasion by the whole of his Court, dismounted from his elephant, asked me to join him in examining the building to satisfy himself that it was closed as he had left it. After our examination we seated ourselves in the veranda opposite the door, while some of Runjeet Singh’s people dug away at the mud wall, and one of his officers broke the seal and opened the padlock.
The arms and legs of the body were shriveled and stiff, the face full, the head reclined on the shoulder like that of a corpse.
When the door was thrown open nothing but a dark room was to be seen. Runjeet Singh and myself then entered it, in company with the servant of the Fakir, and, a light being brought, we descended about three feet below the floor of the room, into a sort of sell, where a wooden box about 4 feet long by 8 feet broad, with a sloping roof, contained the Fakir, the door of which had also a padlock a seal similar to that on the outside. On opening it was saw a figure inclosed in a bag of white linen, fastened by a string over the head, and the exposure of which a grand salute was fired, and the surrounding multitude came crowding to the door to see the spectacle.
After they had satisfied their curiosity, the Fakir’s servant putting his arms into the box, took the figure out, and, closing the door, placed it with its back against it, exactly as the Fakir has been squatting (like a Hindu idol) in the box itself. Runjeet Singh and myself descended into the cell, which was so small we were only able to sit on the ground in front of the body, and so close to it as to touch it with our hands and knees.
The Resurrection of Haridas
The servant then began pouring warm water of the figure, but as my object was to see if any fraudulent practices could be detected, I proposed to Runjeet Singh to tear open the bag and have a perfect view of the body before any means of resuscitation were employed. I accordingly did so; and may here remark that the bag when first seen by us looked mildewed, as if it had been buried some time.
The arms and legs of the body were shriveled and stiff, the face full, the head reclined on the shoulder like that of a corpse. I then called to the medical gentleman who was attending me to come down and inspect the body, which he did, but could discover no pulsation in the heart, the temples or the arms. There was, however, a heat about the region of the brain which no other part exhibited.
The servant than commenced bathing him with hot water, and gradually relaxing his arms and legs from the rigid state in which they were contracted, Runjeet Singh taking his right and I his left leg, to aid by friction in restoring them to their proper action, during which time the servant placed a hot wheaten cake, about an inch thick, on the top of the head—a process which he twice or thrice repeated.
He pulled them out of his nostrils and ears the wax and cotton with which they had been stopped, and after great exertion opened [Haridas’] mouth by inserting the point of a knife between his teeth, and while holding his jaw open with his left hand drew the tongue forward with his right, in the course of which the tongue flow back several times to its curved position upward, in which it had originally been, so as to close the gullet.
He then rubbed his eyes with ghee (or clarified butter) for some seconds, till he succeeded in opening them, when the eyes appeared quite motionless and glazed. After the cake had been applied for the third time to the top of the head the body was violently convulsed, the nostrils became inflated, when respiration ensured, and the limbs began to assume a natural fullness [sic]; but the pulsation was still faintly perceptible.
The servant then put some of the ghee on his tongue and made him swallow it. A few minutes afterward the eyeballs became dilated, and recovered their natural color, when the Fakir recognized Runjeet Singh sitting close to him, and articulated in a low sepulchral tone, “Do you believe me now?” Runjeet Singh replied in the affirmative, and invested the Fakir with a pearl necklace and a superb pair of gold bracelets, and pieces of silk and muslin, and shawls, forming what is called a khelat, such as is usually conferred by the Princes of India on persons of distinction.
I shared entirely in the apparent incredulity of the fact of a man being buried alive and surviving the trial without food or drink for various periods of duration; but, however incompatible with our knowledge of physiology, in the absence of any visible proof to the contrary, I am bound to declare my belief in the facts which I have represented, however impossible their existence may appear to others.