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The Woman Yogi Who Never Eats
"Sir, whither are we bound this morning?" Mr. Wright was
driving the Ford; he took his eyes off the road long enough to gaze
at me with a questioning twinkle. From day to day he seldom knew what
part of Bengal he would be discovering next.
I replied devoutly, "we are on our way to see an eighth wonder
of the world --- a woman saint whose diet is thin air!"
of wonders --- after Therese Neumann." But Mr. Wright laughed eagerly
just the same; he even accelerated the speed of the car. More extraordinary
grist for his travel diary! Not one of an average tourist, that!
The Ranchi school
had just been left behind us; we had risen before the sun. Besides
my secretary and myself, three Bengali friends were in the party.
We drank in the exhilarating air, the natural wine of the morning.
Our driver guided the car warily among the early peasants and the
two-wheeled carts, slowly drawn by yoked, hump-shouldered bullocks,
inclined to dispute the road with a honking interloper.
would like to know more of the fasting saint."
is Giri Bala," I informed my companions. "I first heard
about her years ago from a scholarly gentleman, Sthiti Lal Nundy.
He often came to the Gurpar Road home to tutor my brother Bishnu."
know Giri Bala well,' Sthiti Babu told me. 'She employs a certain
yoga technique which enables her to live without eating. I was her
close neighbor in Nawabganj near Ichapur.1 I made it a point to watch her closely; never did I find
evidence that she was taking either food or drink. My interest finally
mounted so high that I approached the Maharaja of Burdwan2 and asked him to conduct an investigation. Astounded at the story,
he invited her to his palace. She agreed to a test and lived for
two months locked up in a small section of his home. Later she returned
for a palace visit of twenty days; and then for a third test of
fifteen days. The Maharaja himself told me that these three rigorous
scrutinies had convinced him beyond doubt of her non-eating state.'
story of Sthiti Babu's has remained in my mind for over twenty-five
years," I concluded. "Sometimes in America I wondered
if the river of time would not swallow the yogini3 before
I could meet her. She must be quite aged now. I do not even know
where, or if, she lives. But in a few hours we shall reach Purulia;
her brother has a home there."
our little group was conversing with the brother, Lambadar Dey,
a lawyer of Purulia.
sister is living. She sometimes stays with me here, but at present
she is at our family home in Biur." Lambadar Babu glanced doubtfully
at the Ford. "I hardly think, Swamiji, that any automobile
has ever penetrated into the interior as far as Biur. It might be
best if you all resign yourselves to the ancient jolt of the bullock
one voice our party pledged loyalty to the Pride of Detroit.
comes from America," I told the lawyer. "It would be a
shame to deprive it of an opportunity to get acquainted with the
heart of Bengal!"
Ganesh4 go with you!" Lambadar Babu said, laughing. He added courteously,
"If you ever get there, I am sure Giri Bala will be glad to
see you. She is approaching her seventies, but continues in excellent
tell me, sir, if it is absolutely true that she eats nothing?"
I looked directly into his eyes, those telltale windows of the mind.
true." His gaze was open and honorable. "In more than
five decades I have never seen her eat a morsel. If the world suddenly
came to an end, I could not be more astonished than by the sight
of my sister's taking food!"
together over the improbability of these two cosmic events.
has never sought an inaccessible solitude for her yoga practices,"
Lambadar Babu went on. "She has lived her entire life surrounded
by her family and friends. They are all well accustomed now to her
strange state. Not one of them who would not be stupefied if Giri
Bala suddenly decided to eat anything! Sister is naturally retiring,
as befits a Hindu widow, but our little circle in Purulia and in
Biur all know that she is literally an 'exceptional' woman."
brother's sincerity was manifest. Our little party thanked him warmly
and set out toward Biur. We stopped at a street shop for curry and luchis, attracting a swarm of urchins who gathered round to
watch Mr. Wright eating with his fingers in the simple Hindu manner.5 Hearty appetites caused us to fortify ourselves against an afternoon
which, unknown at the moment, was to prove fairly laborious.
way now led east through sun-baked rice fields into the Burdwan
section of Bengal. On through roads lined with dense vegetation;
the songs of the maynas and the stripe-throated bulbuls streamed out from trees with huge, umbrellalike branches. A bullock
cart now and then, the rini, rini, manju, manju squeak of
its axle and iron-shod wooden wheels contrasting sharply in mind
with the swish, swish of auto tires over the aristocratic
asphalt of the cities.
halt!" My sudden request brought a jolting protest from the
Ford. "That overburdened mango tree is fairly shouting an invitation!"
The five of
us dashed like children to the mango-strewn earth; the tree had
benevolently shed its fruits as they had ripened.
a mango is born to lie unseen," I paraphrased, "and waste
its sweetness on the stony ground."
like this in America, Swamiji, eh?" laughed Sailesh Mazumdar,
one of my Bengali students.
I admitted, covered with mango juice and contentment. "How
I have missed this fruit in the West! A Hindu's heaven without mangoes
I picked up
a rock and downed a proud beauty hidden on the highest limb.
I asked between bites of ambrosia, warm with the tropical sun, "are
all the cameras in the car?"
in the baggage compartment."
Giri Bala proves to be a true saint, I want to write about her in
the West. A Hindu yogini with such inspiring powers should
not live and die unknown --- like most of these mangoes."
Half an hour
later I was still strolling in the sylvan peace.
Mr. Wright remarked, "we should reach Giri Bala before the
sun sets, to have enough light for photographs." He added with
a grin, "The Westerners are a skeptical lot; we can't expect
them to believe in the lady without any pictures!"
This bit of
wisdom was indisputable; I turned my back on temptation and reentered
right, Dick," I sighed as we sped along, "I sacrifice
the mango paradise on the altar of Western realism. Photographs
we must have!"
The road became
more and more sickly: wrinkles of ruts, boils of hardened clay,
the sad infirmities of old age! Our group dismounted occasionally
to allow Mr. Wright to more easily maneuver the Ford, which the
four of us pushed from behind.
Babu spoke truly," Sailesh acknowledged. "The car is not
carrying us; we are carrying the car!"
climb-out auto tedium was beguiled ever and anon by the appearance
of a village, each one a scene of quaint simplicity.
twisted and turned through groves of palms among ancient, unspoiled
villages nestling in the forest shade," Mr. Wright has recorded
in his travel diary, under date of May 5, 1936. "Very fascinating
are these clusters of thatched mud huts, decorated with one of the
names of God on the door; many small, naked children innocently
playing about, pausing to stare or run wildly from this big, black,
bullockless carriage tearing madly through their village. The women
merely peep from the shadows, while the men lazily loll beneath
the trees along the roadside, curious beneath their nonchalance.
In one place, all the villagers were gaily bathing in the large
tank (in their garments, changing by draping dry cloths around their
bodies, dropping the wet ones). Women bearing water to their homes,
in huge brass jars.
led us a merry chase over mount and ridge; we bounced and tossed,
dipped into small streams, detoured around an unfinished causeway,
slithered across dry, sandy river beds and finally, about 5:00 P.M.,
we were close to our destination, Biur. This minute village in the
interior of Bankura District, hidden in the protection of dense
foliage, is unapproachable by travelers during the rainy season,
when the streams are raging torrents and the roads serpentlike spit
for a guide among a group of worshipers on their way home from a
temple prayer (out in the lonely field), we were besieged by a dozen
scantily clad lads who clambered on the sides of the car, eager
to conduct us to Giri Bala.
led toward a grove of date palms sheltering a group of mud huts,
but before we had reached it, the Ford was momentarily tipped at
a dangerous angle, tossed up and dropped down. The narrow trail
led around trees and tank, over ridges, into holes and deep ruts.
The car became anchored on a clump of bushes, then grounded on a
hillock, requiring a lift of earth clods; on we proceeded, slowly
and carefully; suddenly the way was stopped by a mass of brush in
the middle of the cart track, necessitating a detour down a precipitous
ledge into a dry tank, rescue from which demanded some scraping,
adzing, and shoveling. Again and again the road seemed impassable,
but the pilgrimage must go on; obliging lads fetched spades and
demolished the obstacles (shades of Ganesh!) while hundreds of children
and parents stared.
were threading our way along the two ruts of antiquity, women gazing
wide-eyed from their hut doors, men trailing alongside and behind
us, children scampering to swell the procession. Ours was perhaps
the first auto to traverse these roads; the 'bullock cart union'
must be omnipotent here! What a sensation we created --- a group piloted
by an American and pioneering in a snorting car right into their
hamlet fastness, invading the ancient privacy and sanctity!
by a narrow lane we found ourselves within a hundred feet of Giri
Bala's ancestral home. We felt the thrill of fulfillment after the
long road struggle crowned by a rough finish. We approached a large,
two-storied building of brick and plaster, dominating the surrounding
adobe huts; the house was under the process of repair, for around
it was the characteristically tropical framework of bamboos.
anticipation and suppressed rejoicing we stood before the open doors
of the one blessed by the Lord's 'hungerless' touch. Constantly
agape were the villagers, young and old, bare and dressed, women
aloof somewhat but inquisitive too, men and boys unabashedly at
our heels as they gazed on this unprecedented spectacle.
a short figure came into view in the doorway --- Giri Bala! She was
swathed in a cloth of dull, goldish silk; in typically Indian fashion,
she drew forward modestly and hesitatingly, peering slightly from
beneath the upper fold of her swadeshi cloth. Her eyes glistened
like smouldering embers in the shadow of her head piece;
we were enamored by a most benevolent and kindly face, a face of
realization and understanding, free from the taint of earthly attachment.
she approached and silently assented to our snapping a number of
pictures with our 'still' and 'movie' cameras.6 Patiently and
shyly she endured our photo techniques of posture adjustment and
light arrangement. Finally we had recorded for posterity many photographs
of the only woman in the world who is known to have lived without
food or drink for over fifty years. (Therese Neumann, of course,
has fasted since 1923.) Most motherly was Giri Bala's expression
as she stood before us, completely covered in the loose-flowing
cloth, nothing of her body visible but her face with its downcast
eyes, her hands, and her tiny feet. A face of rare peace and innocent
poise --- a wide, childlike, quivering lip, a feminine nose, narrow,
sparkling eyes, and a wistful smile."
Wright's impression of Giri Bala was shared by myself; spirituality
enfolded her like her gently shining veil. She pronamed before
me in the customary gesture of greeting from a householder to a
monk. Her simple charm and quiet smile gave us a welcome beyond
that of honeyed oratory; forgotten was our difficult, dusty trip.
The little saint
seated herself cross-legged on the verandah. Though bearing the
scars of age, she was not emaciated; her olive-colored skin had
remained clear and healthy in tone.
I said in Bengali, "for over twenty-five years I have thought
eagerly of this very pilgrimage! I heard about your sacred life
from Sthiti Lal Nundy Babu."
She nodded in
acknowledgment. "Yes, my good neighbor in Nawabganj."
those years I have crossed the oceans, but I never forgot my early
plan to someday see you. The sublime drama that you are here playing
so inconspicuously should be blazoned before a world that has long
forgotten the inner food divine."
The saint lifted
her eyes for a minute, smiling with serene interest.
father) knows best," she answered meekly.
I was happy
that she had taken no offense; one never knows how great yogis or
yoginis will react to the thought of publicity. They shun it, as
a rule, wishing to pursue in silence the profound soul research.
An inner sanction comes to them when the proper time arrives to
display their lives openly for the benefit of seeking minds.
I went on, "please forgive me, then, for burdening you with
many questions. Kindly answer only those that please you; I shall
understand your silence, also."
She spread her
hands in a gracious gesture. "I am glad to reply, insofar as
an insignificant person like myself can give satisfactory answers."
not insignificant!" I protested sincerely. "You are a
"I am the
humble servant of all." She added quaintly, "I love to
cook and feed people."
A strange pastime,
I thought, for a non-eating saint!
Mother, from your own lips --- do you live without food?"
true." She was silent for a few moments; her next remark showed
that she had been struggling with mental arithmetic. "From
the age of twelve years four months down to my present age of sixty-eight --- a
period of over fifty-six years --- I have not eaten food or taken liquids."
never tempted to eat?"
"If I felt
a craving for food, I would have to eat." Simply yet regally
she stated this axiomatic truth, one known too well by a world revolving
around three meals a day!
you do eat something!" My tone held a note of remonstrance.
She smiled in swift understanding.
nourishment derives from the finer energies of the air and sunlight,7 and from the
cosmic power which recharges your body through the medulla oblongata."
Again she acquiesced, her manner soothing and unemphatic.
please tell me about your early life. It holds a deep interest for
all of India, and even for our brothers and sisters beyond the seas."
Giri Bala put
aside her habitual reserve, relaxing into a conversational mood.
it." Her voice was low and firm. "I was born in these
forest regions. My childhood was unremarkable save that I was possessed
by an insatiable appetite. I had been betrothed in early years.
my mother often warned me, 'try to control your greed. When the
time comes for you to live among strangers in your husband's family,
what will they think of you if your days are spent in nothing but
she had foreseen came to pass. I was only twelve when I joined my
husband's people in Nawabganj. My mother-in-law shamed me morning,
noon, and night about my gluttonous habits. Her scoldings were a
blessing in disguise, however; they roused my dormant spiritual
tendencies. One morning her ridicule was merciless.
soon prove to you,' I said, stung to the quick, 'that I shall never
touch food again as long as I live.'
laughed in derision. 'So!' she said, 'how can you live without eating,
when you cannot live without overeating?'
was unanswerable! Yet an iron resolution scaffolded my spirit. In
a secluded spot I sought my Heavenly Father.
I prayed incessantly, 'please send me a guru, one who can teach
me to live by Thy light and not by food.'
divine ecstasy fell over me. Led by a beatific spell, I set out
for the Nawabganj ghat on the Ganges. On the way I encountered
the priest of my husband's family.
sir,' I said trustingly, 'kindly tell me how to live without eating.'
stared at me without reply. Finally he spoke in a consoling manner.
'Child,' he said, 'come to the temple this evening; I will conduct
a special Vedic ceremony for you.'
vague answer was not the one I was seeking; I continued toward the ghat. The morning sun pierced the waters; I purified myself
in the Ganges, as though for a sacred initiation. As I left the
river bank, my wet cloth around me, in the broad glare of day my
master materialized himself before me!
little one,' he said in a voice of loving compassion, 'I am the
guru sent here by God to fulfill your urgent prayer. He was deeply
touched by its very unusual nature! From today you shall live by
the astral light, your bodily atoms fed from the infinite current.'"
Giri Bala fell
into silence. I took Mr. Wright's pencil and pad and translated
into English a few items for his information.
The saint resumed the tale, her gentle
voice barely audible. "The ghat was deserted, but my
guru cast round us an aura of guarding light, that no stray bathers
later disturb us. He initiated me into a kria technique which
frees the body from dependence on the gross food of mortals. The
technique includes the use of a certain mantra8 and
a breathing exercise more difficult than the average person could
perform. No medicine or magic is involved; nothing beyond the kria."
In the manner
of the American newspaper reporter, who had unknowingly taught me
his procedure, I questioned Giri Bala on many matters which I thought
would be of interest to the world. She gave me, bit by bit, the
never had any children; many years ago I became a widow. I sleep
very little, as sleep and waking are the same to me. I meditate
at night, attending to my domestic duties in the daytime. I slightly
feel the change in climate from season to season. I have never been
sick or experienced any disease. I feel only slight pain when accidentally
injured. I have no bodily excretions. I can control my heart and
breathing. I often see my guru as well as other great souls, in
I asked, "why don't you teach others the method of living without
hopes for the world's starving millions were nipped in the bud.
She shook her head. "I was strictly commanded by my guru not
to divulge the secret. It is not his wish to tamper with God's drama
of creation. The farmers would not thank me if I taught many people
to live without eating! The luscious fruits would lie uselessly
on the ground. It appears that misery, starvation, and disease are
whips of our karma which ultimately drive us to seek the true meaning
I said slowly, "what is the use of your having been singled
out to live without eating?"
that man is Spirit." Her face lit with wisdom. "To demonstrate
that by divine advancement he can gradually learn to live by the
Eternal Light and not by food."
The saint sank
into a deep meditative state. Her gaze was directed inward; the
gentle depths of her eyes became expressionless. She gave a certain
sigh, the prelude to the ecstatic breathless trance. For a time
she had fled to the questionless realm, the heaven of inner joy.
darkness had fallen. The light of a small kerosene lamp flickered
fitfully over the faces of a score of villagers squatting silently
in the shadows. The darting glowworms and distant oil lanterns of
the huts wove bright eerie patterns into the velvet night. It was
the painful hour of parting; a slow, tedious journey lay before
our little party.
Bala," I said as the saint opened her eyes, "please give
me a keepsake --- a strip of one of your saris."
She soon returned
with a piece of Benares silk, extending it in her hand as she suddenly
prostrated herself on the ground.
I said reverently, "rather let me touch your own blessed feet!"
In northern Bengal.
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H. H. Sir Bijay Chand Mahtab, now dead. His family doubtless possesses
some record of the Maharaja's three investigations of Giri Bala.
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"Remover of Obstacles," the god of good fortune.
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Sri Yukteswar used to say: "The Lord has given us the fruits
of the good earth. We like to see our food, to smell it, to taste
it-the Hindu likes also to touch it!" One does not mind hearing
it, either, if no one else is present at the meal!
Back to text
Mr. Wright also took moving pictures of Sri Yukteswar during his
last Winter Solstice Festival in Serampore.
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"What we eat is radiation; our food is so much quanta of energy,"
Dr. George W. Crile of Cleveland told a gathering of medical men
on May 17, 1933 in Memphis. "This all-important radiation,
which releases electrical currents for the body's electrical circuit,
the nervous system, is given to food by the sun's rays. Atoms, Dr.
Crile says, are solar systems. Atoms are the vehicles that are filled
with solar radiance as so many coiled springs. These countless atomfuls
of energy are taken in as food. Once in the human body, these tense
vehicles, the atoms, are discharged in the body's protoplasm, the
radiance furnishing new chemical energy, new electrical currents.
'Your body is made up of such atoms,' Dr. Crile said. 'They are
your muscles, brains, and sensory organs, such as the eyes and ears.'"
will discover how man can live directly on solar energy. "Chlorophyll
is the only substance known in nature that somehow possesses the
power to act as a 'sunlight trap,'" William L. Laurence writes
in the New York Times. "It 'catches' the energy of sunlight
and stores it in the plant. Without this no life could exist. We
obtain the energy we need for living from the solar energy stored
in the plant-food we eat or in the flesh of the animals that eat
the plants. The energy we obtain from coal or oil is solar energy
trapped by the chlorophyll in plant life millions of years ago.
We live by the sun through the agency of chlorophyll."
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8 Potent vibratory
chant. The literal translation of Sanskrit mantra is "instrument
of thought," signifying the ideal, inaudible sounds which represent
one aspect of creation; when vocalized as syllables, a mantra constitutes
a universal terminology. The infinite powers of sound derive from
AUM, the "Word" or creative hum of the Cosmic Motor.
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