An Indian mystic who undertook to be buried for the weekend as a penance to bring world peace has suffocated in his pit, police say.
Ananda Swami, in his early 20s, had his followers bury him in a deep pit near Madras, saying he would come back at the appointed hour to bless them all.
He apparently went underground in the hamlet of Vadipatti last Friday evening.
The pit was covered with five wooden planks and then fires, which play a key role in all Hindu rituals, were lit close by.
Ananda Swami’s followers were so convinced their swami, or godman, would come out with redoubled spiritual vigour, that they arranged to feed over 1,000 poor people to mark his emergence from the samadhi, or underground trance.
The mystic was scheduled to come out on Sunday morning.
A large number of people from the surrounding area gathered at the site.
It was not clear whether he had promised to break through the wooden planks on his own.
The crowd waited and waited, and finally the anxious disciples removed the planks to wake Ananda Swami from his trance.
However, the swami was found dead. Police removed the body for a post-mortem.
People in the hamlet said Ananda Swami had undergone similar samadhis in the past, though for a much shorter time.
It was thought he might have been suffocated by the smoke that seeped in from the fires lit by his followers.
Some reports said that his face bore scars, indicating he may have tried to push through the wooden planks on top of him as he ran out of air.
Ananda Swami’s followers did not seem to find anything amiss with either what they had done or his failure to return alive.
“It’s all god’s will,” one devotee said.
“Perhaps his mission on earth had come to an end. We still revere him as god’s own representative on earth.”
Indian swamis are reputed to be adept in breath-control exercises and can remain underground for hours before emerging unharmed.
June 16, 2004
Thanjavur Narayanan Gopalan