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Buried Alive in Ninteenth-Century India June 11, 2013

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

buried alive

***Dedicated to Leif***

Busy day chez Beachcombing as two Romanians help to retrieve a garden that has been abandoned for forty years to a state of wellbeing. On the subject of digging this brilliant piece was sent in by an old friend of this blog, Leif. The text comes from The Court and Camp of Runjeet Sing by Lord William Godolphin Osborne (London: Henry Colburn, 1840), pp. 122-135. It is well worth reading for a bit of Indian shysterism

6th June. The monotony of our camp life was broken this morning by the arrival of a very celebrated character in the Punjab, and a person we had all expressed great anxiety to see, and whom the Maharajah had ordered over from Umritsir on purpose. He is a Faqueer by name, and is held in extraordinary respect by the Sihks, from his alleged capacity of being able to bury himself alive for any period of time. So many stories were current on the subject, and so many respectable individuals maintained the truth of these stories, that we all felt curious to see him. He professes to have been following this trade, if so it may be called, for some years, and a considerable time ago, several extracts from the letters of individuals who had seen the man in the upper provinces, appeared in the Calcutta papers, giving some account of his extraordinary powers, which were, at the time, naturally enough, looked upon as mere attempts at a hoax upon the inhabitants of Calcutta. However, Osborne had a first-hand account from an English friend, a certain Captain Wade. Captain Wade, political agent at Loodhiana, told me that he was present at his resurrection after an interment of some months, General Ventura having buried him in the presence of the Maharajah and many of his principal Sirdars; and, as far as I can recollect, these were the particulars as witnessed by General Ventura: After going through a regular course of preparation, which occupied him some days, and the details of which are too disgusting to dilate upon, the Faqueer reported himself ready for interment, in a vault which had been prepared for the purpose by order of the Maharajah.

The ‘disgusting’ details presumably had to do with the human digestive system?

On the appearance of Runjeet and his court, [the Faqueer] proceeded to the final preparations that were necessary, in their presence, and after stopping with wax his ears, nostrils, and every other orifice through which it was possible for air to enter his body, except his mouth, he was stripped and placed in a linen bag; and the last preparation concluded by turning his tongue back, and thus, closing the gullet, he immediately died away into a sort of lethargy. The bag was then closed, and sealed with Runjeet’s own seal, and afterwards placed in a small deal box, which was also locked and sealed. The box was then placed in a vault, the earth thrown in and trod down, and a crop of barley sown over the spot, and sentries placed round it. The Maharajah was, however, very sceptical on the subject, and twice in the course of the ten months he remained underground sent people to dig him up, when he was found to be in exactly the same position, and in a state of perfectly suspended animation. At the termination of the ten months, Captain Wade accompanied the Maharajah to see him disinterred, and states that he examined him personally and minutely, and was convinced that all animation was perfectly suspended.

If the Maharajah wasn’t in on the joke, Beach must confess that he finds this pretty difficult to explain.

[Captain Wade] saw the locks opened, and the seals broken by the Maharajah, and the box brought into the open air. The man was then taken out, and on feeling his wrist and heart, not the slightest pulsation was perceptible. The first thing towards restoring him to life was the forcing his tongue back to its proper position, which was done with some little difficulty by a person inserting his finger and forcibly pulling it back, and continuing to hold it until it gradually resumed its natural place. Captain Wade described the top of his head to have been considerably heated; but all other parts of the body, cool and healthy in appearance. Pouring a quantity of warm water over him constitutes the only further measure for his restoration, and in two hours’ time he is as well as ever. He is apparently about thirty years of age, with a disagreeable and cunning expression of countenance. Osborne himself met the man: We had a good deal of conversation with him, and he volunteered to be interred for any length of time we pleased, in order to convince us that he is no impostor. We took him at his word, and he is to be buried on our arrival at Lahore, and to remain underground during our stay there, which will probably be three weeks or a month; and though he complains that the period is too short, and that it is hardly worth his while to undergo all the trouble of the preparation, if he comes out alive I will willingly give him credit for being able to remain a hundred years if he chooses it. He states that his thoughts and dreams are most delightful, and that it is painful to him to be awoke from his lethargy. His nails and hair cease growing, and on his first disinterment he is for a short time giddy and weak, but very soon recovers his natural health and spirits. His only fear whilst in his grave is that of being attacked by insects, which he obviates by having his box suspended from the ceiling.

That being suspended from the ceiling might be the key to one mystery: any other suggestions, drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com Osborne, btw, never got a chance to see an internment. According to another source the Faqueer eloped to the mountains with a young married woman! Here is another account that Osborne found in a book by one Dr McGregor ‘of the home artillery’. It is apparently a different version of the internment mentioned above.

A Faqueer who arrived at Lahore engaged to bury himself for any length of time, shut up in a box, and without either food or drink. Runjeet naturally disbelieved the man’s assertions, and was determined to put them to the test. For this purpose the Faqueer was shut up in a wooden box, which was placed in a small apartment below the middle of the ground; there was a folding door to his box, which was secured by a lock and key. Surrounding this apartment there was the garden house, the door of which was likewise  locked, and outside the whole, a high wall, having its doorway built up with bricks and mud. In order to prevent any one from approaching the place, a line of sentries was placed, and relieved at regular intervals. The strictest watch was kept up for the space of forty days and forty nights, at the expiration of which period the Maharajah, attended by his grandson and several of his sirdars, as well as General Ventura, Captain Wade, and myself, proceeded to disinter the Faqueer. The bricks and mud were removed from the outer doorway; the door of the garden house was next unlocked, and lastly that of the wooden box, containing the Faqueer; the latter was found covered with a white sheet, on removing which, the figure of the man presented itself in a sitting posture; his hands and arms were pressed to his sides, and his legs and thighs crossed. The first step of the operation of resuscitation consisted in pouring over his head a quantity of warm water; after this, a hot cake of otta was placed on the crown of his head; a plug of wax was next removed from one of his nostrils, and on this being done, the man breathed strongly through it. The mouth was now opened, and the tongue, which had been closely applied to the roof of the mouth, brought forward, and both it and the lips anointed with ghee; during this part of the proceeding, I could not feel the pulsation of the wrist, though the temperature of the body was much above the natural standard of health. The legs and arms being extended, and the eyelids raised, the former were well rubbed, and a little ghee applied to the latter; the eyeballs presented a dimmed, suffused appearance, like those of a corpse.  The man now evinced signs of returning animation, the pulse became perceptible at the wrist, whilst the unnatural temperature of the body rapidly diminished. He made several ineffectual efforts to speak, and at length uttered a few words, but in a tone so low and feeble as to render them inaudible. By and by his speech was re-established, and he recognised some of the bystanders, and addressed the Maharajah, who was seated opposite to him, watching all his movements. When the Faqueer was able to converse, the completion of the feat was then announced by the discharge of guns, and other demonstrations of joy. A rich chain of gold was placed round his neck by Runjeet, and ear-rings, baubles, and shawls were presented to him. However extraordinary this feat may appear, both to Europeans and natives, it is difficult, if not impossible, to explain it on phrenological principles. The man not only denied his having tasted food or drink, but even maintained that he had stopped the function of respiration, during a period of forty days and forty nights. To all appearance, this long fasting had not been productive of its usual effects, as the man seemed to be in rude health, so that digestion and assimilation had apparently proceeded in the usual manner; but this he likewise denied, and piously asserted, that during the whole time he had enjoyed a most delightful trance.