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fakir lying on thornsPhoto:
Image by Margaret Bourke-White, 1946

According to a fascinating report printed in the London Telegraph in 1880, a man was buried ‘in a condition of apparent death’ for 40 days and survived. No tricks or tomfoolery were involved, so how did he do it?

It’s often the case that when someone professes to be able do something remarkable, that great gift of human nature kicks in – skepticism. So when Maharajah Ranjeet Singh heard from an Indian fakir who claimed he could come back to life after being buried for several months in an apparent state of death, the Maharajah could only reply with one statement – proof or it didn’t happen.

At once, the fakir, named Haridas, was summonsed before the Maharajah – who regarded the idea as possibly fraudulent – to act out exactly how he could accomplish this amazing feat.

In full view of the Maharajah and nobles of the court, within a short time, the fakir appeared comatosed. One of the witnesses at the time, an Honorable Captain Osborn, made his own account of the event:

“When every spark of life had seemingly vanished, he was … wrapped up in the linen on which he had been sitting, and on which the seal of Ranjeet Sing was placed. The body was then deposited in a chest, on which Ranjeet 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 created around it, and sentinels posted.”

So was the mistrust of the Maharajah.

The familiar image of a fakir on a bed of nails:
fakir lying on bed of nailsPhoto:
Image: Herbert Ponting

After 40 days the fakir was exhumed and the chest opened. The man, although cold, was in the exact same condition as he was in 40 days previously. Revived by having heat applied to the head, his body rubbed and warm air blown into his ears and mouth, the fakir returned to a full state of consciousness.

A second eye witness account by a Sir Claude Wade, present to detect any signs of fraud, better explain the fakir’s resuscitation:

“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 then 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… 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?””


The Maharajah did indeed believe him and presented the fakir with gifts of a pearl necklace, gold bracelets and pieces of silk and muslin, those that are normally reserved for people of distinction.

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