October 19, 1961 – yogi emerges alive from a 9-day burial (Gene)

Dear Dad and all:

Let me break a writing silence of what must be several weeks by assuring you that everything here is fine. I had a run-in with a virus that put me out of work for a few days (tough bugs they have here), and Anita is now over the worst of a similar bit. The kids have each had a cold, but they’re more rugged than us grown-ups and haven’t been off their feet.

With this out of the way, I want to tell you about the single most interesting experience I believe I’ve ever had in my life. The enclosed clipping from the paper will set the stage by telling you of the yoga who was disinterred after being buried for nine days. I was at the disinterment at four o-clock in the morning on the 18th of October, armed with a battery-operated tape recorder of Pareek’s that I couldn’t resist using under the circumstances. It was the smartest thing I’ve done and I have a tape of the proceedings, a copy of which I will make and send to you.

The location was in Lodi Gardens, about five minutes by car from our home at 102 Jorbagh. For some days I had been hearing about four yogis who had set up under a tree in Lodi Gardens and were engaged in various activities. One stood for forty-one days, never sitting down. He rested occasionally by leaning on a rope sling. I don’t know what the others did and there were no write-ups in the papers to inform or stimulate curiosity. Late in the game our Cook-bearer told me about these men and I thought it’d be interesting to get some photos. Then I got the bug and a few days went by. On Tuesday, on the way home from work at about 6:30 pm, the TCM driver who was alert to what was going on asked if I wanted to stop off and see. We parked the car and walked into the park about 100 feet. Under a tree there were a group of about 30 people gathered around an area that had been roped off. The yogi who had stood for all those days had just finished his stint and was sitting under the tree. Another yogi was reading from a large prayerbook. One roped-off plot had in its center a grassed area under which the buried yogi had spent almost nine days. A little hole in the ground, about the size of a brick, admitted air and a similar hole permitted the air to circulate. Incense-punk was being burned in a little fire nearby and the atmosphere was quiet and filled with mysticism. Nearby was a tent in which food was to be prepared for one and all when the buried yogi was removed, which, I learned, was to be at 3:30 or 4:00 am the following morning.

At supper, I told Anita about this and afterward took her to the spot to see it. It was dark by this time and the area was lighted by several Kohlman lanterns, adding to the eeriness. There were maybe fifty people there at the time, seated about the covered pit containing the buried yogi. Nothing much was happening and we were told by bystanders that the man would be brought up about 3:30 in the morning.

Naturally, I determined to be there. At quarter to three, armed with the little Grundig portable tape recorder which operates on flashlight-type cells in the field and has an alternative base for electric power supply (Val, look this item up and get one, or an equivalent, for the Center…this is a Grundig TK-1), I got in my car, turned on the tape recorder, and dictated my way past some patrolling policemen, past Ambassador Galbraith’s residence, to the side of the road at Lodi Gardens. There I locked the car and walked over to the scene I’ve described. Now there was much activity, about fifty people, still. Rhythmic hand-clapping chants filtered through the lamp-lighted air as I approached, getting louder with closeness. The air was chill, perhaps 65 degrees. The people were sitting essentially u-shape around the “tomb” and in their center and in front of the grass plot of the buried yoga another yoga was dancing to the chant, as graceful as a woman but fully masculine, dressed in a saffron robe knotted at the chest and falling free, and capped with a saffron Turban. Face bearded fully, eath pigments daubed on his face, barefoot, he danced and danced. At the Academy of Music he’d have been wildly applauded. More people began to gather – women with babies in arms, young people, old people came and sat. Gradually I got pushed back from the front line, holding my tape recorder and occasionally giving it a descriptive sentence. Some people asked about it in curiosity, others seeing my camera (which I did not get to use) offered to help me get in closer. All took me for granted and although self-conscious at first carrying my gear, I did not feel that anyone thought me an improper eavesdropper. Finally I found by my side a crisply spoken man with piercing eyes and wildly disarranged hair who introduced himself to me as Professor Raj, who stayed at my side and became a most interesting and talkative informant. He was Western-dressed and had with him a seven- or eight-year-old son who said not a word.

By now the crowd had grown to several hundred, the chanting and hand-clapping continued with only slight pause, the other yogis placed burning punk on the grass plot, horns were blown, percussion instruments were struck. A wooden table was brought through the crowd and placed under the tree and covered with a blanket. The atmosphere grew more charged with emotion but never dangerous, no managed showmanship, never uncontrolled. At four am two men took mattocks and trenched the sides of the pit and leaned down and lifted off the roof of the pit. Everyone was on their feet; I could see nothing of the ground.

A man standing at the pit looked in, raised his hands in the air and shouted. My informant said, “He’s saying that the yogi is alright, he’s alive, there has been no accident!” The tumult was immense. I did not see the yogi being taken from the pit but within minutes he was placed on the blanket on the wooden table and when I saw him he was sitting there fully alert, occasionally waving his hand, waving-gesture, seated first facing east. After a bit he rose, turned and sat facing west. He wore but a breech-clout. His hair, which I later saw was waist-long, was wrapped in a bun on his head. By now, he was covered with a blanket. I moved in closer to get a look at him but got caught in the milling crowd and was literally washed away backwards, holding on to my recorder. From there I went to examine the pit. It was about four feet square and five feet deep. One man was standing in it handing up fistfuls of dirt to reaching hands. The walls of the pit were straight-dug and the bottom was hard and flat. There were no signs of excreta or urine. The roof had been covered with earth at least a foot deep. The yogi survived nine tranced days in that pit! An amazing thing.

I came home, played back my tape and went to bed for a few hours sleep. The next morning I took Anita and the kids to the spot. Still much activity. Three of the yogis were singing in front of a fire, smiling, nodding at me, consenting to my pointing request for pictures. One, who had danced the night before, gave the kids each a banana, walked into the sun away from the tree at my request, for a photograph. The yogi who had been buried had just now taken a seat in front of his pit, before a sandpainting newly placed, and surrounded by people. This is all I know, what I have written. The clipping gives more information as to what they were about but the tape, when it reaches you, will give you a flavor of having been there with me. I wish you could have been.

Jon and Ruth gazing into the pit where the yogi had spent nine days.

Tonight we went to the final evening of Dussehra, the reenactment of the Rayamana, an epic legend of Indian mythology. In this last night forty-foot effigies of three characters are burned amid much fireworks. We took the kids and they were thrilled. More about this another time.

We hope you’re well and keeping active. Thanks for the cards for the kids from you, Naomi, Edna and the others. Will write soon again.

Love from all of us,

Gene

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