The Famous Fakir of Lahore

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The Famous Fakir of Lahore
by Claude Wade

Published in "The Word", May, 1911 - written 1837

On the approach of the anointed time, according to invitation, I accompanied Runjeet Singh to the spot where the fakir was buried. It was a square in the gardens, adjoining the palace at Lahore, with an open verandah all around, having an enclosed room in the centre. On arriving there, Runjeet Singh, who was attended on the occasion by the whole of his court, dismounting from his elephant, asked me to join him in examining the building to satisfy himself that it was closed as he had left it. We did so; there had been a door on each of the four sides of the room, three of which were perfectly closed with brick and mortar, the fourth had a strong door, which was also closed with mud up to the padlock, which was sealed with the private seal of Runjeet Singh in his own presence, when the fakir was interred. Indeed, the exterior of the building presented no aperture by which air could be admitted, or any communication held by which food could be conveyed to the fakir. I may also add, that the walls closing the doorway bore no mark whatever of having been recently disturbed or removed.

Runjeet Singh recognized the seal as the one he had affixed, and as he was as sceptical as a European could be of the success of such an enterprise, -- to guard as far as possible against any collusion, -- he had placed two companies from his own personal escort near the building, from which four sentries were furnished and relieved every two hours, night and day, to guard the building from intrusion. At the same time, he ordered one of the principal officers of his Court to visit the place occasionally, and to report the result of his inspection to him, while he himself, or his Minister, kept the seal which closed the hole of the padlock, and the latter received the report, morning and evening, from the officer of the guard.

After our examination, we seated ourselves in the verandah opposite the door, while some of Runjeet Singh's people dug away the mud wall, and one of his officers broke the seal and opened the padlock. 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 cell, where a wooden box, about four feet long by three broad, with a sloping roof, containing the fakir, was placed upright, the door of which had also a padlock and seal similar to that on the outside. On opening it we saw a figure enclosed in a bag of white linen, fastened by a string over the head -- on 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 gratified 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 had been squatted (like a Hindu idol) in the box itself.

Runjeet Singh and myself then descended into the cell, which was so small that 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 servant then began pouring warm water over 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 legs and arms of the body were shrivelled and stiff, the face full, the head reclining 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 arm. There was, however, a heat about the region of the brain, which no other part of the body exhibited.

The servant then recommended bathing him with hot water, and we gradually relaxed his arms and legs from the rigid state in which they were contracted, Runjeet Singh taking his right and I his left leg, and by friction restoring them to their proper action; during which time the servant placed a hot wheaten cake, about an inch thick, on the top of his head, -- a process which he twice or thrice renewed. He then pulled out of his nostrils and ears the wax and cotton with which they were stopped; and after great exertion opened his mouth by inserting the point of a knife between his teeth, and, while holding his jaws open with his left hand, drew the tongue forward with his right, -- in the course of which the tongue flew back several times to its curved position upwards, in which it had originally been, so as to close the gullet.

He then rubbed his eyelids with ghee for some seconds, until 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 his head, the body was violently convulsed, the nostrils became inflated, when respiration ensued, and the limbs began to assume a natural fullness; 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 afterwards the eyeballs became dilated, and recovered their natural colour, when the fakir, recognizing Runjeet Singh sitting close to him, articulated in a low sepulchral tone, scarcely audible, "Do you believe me now?" Runjeet Singh replied in the affirmative, and invested the fakir with a pearl necklace and 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.

From the time of the box being opened, to the recovery of the voice, no more than half an hour could have elapsed; and in another half-hour the fakir talked with myself and those about him freely, though feebly, like a sick person; and we then left him, convinced that there had been no fraud or collusion in the exhibition we had witnessed.