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May 12, 2010 / Katie

Indian man claims to have gone without food or water for 70 years

I’ve been seeing reports all over the internet about Prahlad Jani, a man who claims that after being blessed by a goddess as a young child, he hadn’t eaten or drunk anything in more than seven decades. Recently, he was put under 24-hour surveillance in a hospital for 15 days to test his claims.

Here’s a YouTube video clip from a Discovery Channel report on this (I’m unclear whether it’s about his recent hospital study or a previous one done in 2003).

Here’s an article about the most recent hospital stay, which he has just been discharged from.

And here‘s a skeptic’s take-down of the whole thing (basically, that similar cases have been investigated and secret feeding/excreting mechanisms were discovered.  In this particular case, the doctor in charge of these experiments would not allow independent groups to investigate his findings, indicating some form of deception).

Sociological Images has an interesting post up comparing this to extreme fasting behaviors in other parts of history, including medieval Europe, the Victorian era, and modern day anorexia.

Clearly, people who appear not to eat or drink anything at all for long periods of time are cultural curiosities, but fasting from food, and sometimes even liquid, has been a major part of many of the world’s religious practices.  My own experience with fasting was complicated; friends of mine in high school would fast for various religious reasons, such as during Lent or fasting in prayer for a sick relative.  I fasted sometimes too, attempting to truly have spiritual motivations but ultimately finding that I hoped that by fasting more often, and thus eating less, I would lose weight.  This, unfortunately, led to binges when I finally allowed myself to eat, which were not good for my health and may have even caused me to put on weight.

In any case, fasting has a very complicated history, both culturally and religiously.  My reaction to this today, though, isn’t really either.  All I feel is a deep sadness at the idea of anyone depriving their body of the physical pleasure of drinking a tall glass of cold water, savoring the sweet juiciness of a ripe orange, hearing the satisfying crunch of a cracker.  We are embodied, and our embodied experience of living life fully—including eating and drinking—are gifts from God.

St. Irenaus said, “the glory of God is the human person, fully alive.” I suppose for some people, extreme ascetic abstinence from food, water, etc. makes them feel more connected to God.  But for the vast majority of us, enjoying the gifts of embodiment is a holy act and depriving ourselves of them separates us from living life fully, which is essentially the same thing as separating ourselves from God.

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