Prahlad Jani, also known as "Mataji", (born Chunriwala Mataji, 13 August 1929) is an Indian sadhu who claims to have lived without food and water since 1940. He says that the goddess Amba sustains him.
At the age of 11, Jani underwent a religious experience and became a follower of the Hindu goddess Amba. From that time, he chose to dress as a female devotee of Amba, wearing a red sari-like garment, jewellery and crimson flowers in his shoulder-length hair. Jani is commonly known as Mataji ("[a manifestation of] The Great Mother"). Jani believes that the goddess provides him a liquid sustenance or water which drops down through a hole in his palate, allowing him to live without food or drink.
Two observational studies of Jani have been conducted, one in 2003 and one in 2010, both involving Dr Sudhir Shah, a neurologist at the Sterling Hospitals in Ahmedabad, India, who had studied people claiming to have exceptional spiritual abilities, including other fasters such as Hira Ratan Manek. In both cases the investigators confirmed Jani's ability to survive healthily without food and water during the testing periods, although neither study was submitted to a scientific journal. When questioned six days into the 2010 experiment, the DRDO spokesperson announced that the study's findings would be "confidential" until results were established, and a further official press release by the team stated that any inside analysis information may be disclosed only at the discretion of the principal investigator, DIPAS. Uninvolved doctors and other critics have questioned the validity of the studies and stated their belief that, although people can survive for days without food or water, it is not possible to survive for years, especially since glucose, a substrate critical to brain function, isn't provided. The veracity of Mataji's claims has also never been independently confirmed with all tests being indigenously conducted.
In 2003, Dr Sudhir Shah and other physicians at Sterling Hospitals, Ahmedabad, India observed Jani for 10 days. He stayed in a sealed room . Doctors say that he passed no urine or stool during the observation, but that urine appeared to form in the bladder. A hospital spokesperson said that Jani was physically normal, but noted that a hole in the palate was an abnormal condition. The fact that Jani's weight dropped slightly during the 10 days has cast some doubt on his claim to go indefinitely without food.
From 22 April until 6 May 2010, Prahlad Jani was again observed and tested by Dr Sudhir Shah and a team of 35 researchers from the Indian Defence Institute of Physiology and Allied Sciences (DIPAS), as well as other organizations. The director of DIPAS said that the results of the observations could "tremendously benefit mankind", as well as "soldiers, victims of calamities and astronauts", all of whom may have to survive without food or water for long durations. The tests were again conducted at Sterling Hospitals. Professor Anil Gupta of SRISTI, involved in monitoring the tests, described the team as being "intrigued" by Jani's kriyas apparently allowing him to control his body's physiological functions.
The team studied Jani with daily clinical examinations, blood tests, and scans. Round-the-clock surveillance was reportedly followed using multiple CCTV cameras and personal observation. The researchers say that Jani was taken out of the sealed room for tests and exposure to sun under continuous video recording. According to the researchers, Jani's only contact with any form of fluid was said to be during gargling and occasional bathing starting from the 5th day of observation, and the toilet in Jani's room was sealed to test his claim that he did not need to urinate or defecate.
After fifteen days of observation during which he reportedly did not eat, drink or go to the toilet, all medical tests on Jani were reported as normal and researchers described him as being in better health than someone half his age. The doctors reported that although the amount of liquid in Jani's bladder fluctuated and that Jani appeared "able to generate urine in his bladder", he did not pass urine. Based on Jani's reported levels of leptin and ghrelin, two appetite-related hormones, DRDO researchers posited that Jani may be demonstrating an extreme form of adaptation to starvation and water restriction. DIPAS stated in 2010 that further studies were planned, including investigations into how metabolic waste material is eliminated from Jani's body, from where he gets his energy for sustenance, and how he maintains his hydration status.
Dr. Michael Van Rooyen, director of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, dismissed the observation results as "impossible", observing that the bodies of profoundly malnourished people quickly consume their own body's resources, resulting in liver failure, tachycardia and heart strain. A spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association remarked that the human body could survive on water alone, although not healthily, and that a person could not expect to meet their body's vitamin and mineral requirements without ingesting food. Nutrition researcher Peter Clifton also disagreed with study results, accusing the research team of "cheating" by allowing Jani to gargle and bathe, and stating that a human of average weight would die after "15 to 20 days" without water. People who avoid food and water to emulate mystical figures often die. Sanal Edamaruku characterized the experiment as a farce for allowing Jani to move out of the CCTV cameras' field of view, claiming that video footage showed Jani was allowed to receive devotees and to leave the sealed test room for sunbathing. Edamaruku also said that the gargling and bathing activities were insufficiently monitored. Edamaruku was denied access to the site where the tests were conducted in both 2003 and 2010, and accuses Jani of having "influential protectors" responsible for denying him permission to inspect the project during its operation, despite having been invited to join the test during a live television broadcast. The Indian Rationalist Association observed that individuals making similar claims in the past have been exposed as frauds.
In September 2010, Dr Shah announced that scientists from Austria and Germany had offered to visit India to carry out further research on Jani, and scientists from the United States had also offered to join the research. Jani has expressed interest in cooperating in further investigations.
Television, video and public appearances
In 2006, The Discovery Channel aired a documentary called "The Boy with Divine Powers" featuring a five-minute interview with Jani and Shah. In 2010, the Independent Television Network (ITN) posted an article and video featuring Prahlad Jani, commenting on the 2010 tests. In 2010 Prahlad Jani was featured in an Austrian documentary "Am Anfang war das Licht" (English title In the Beginning There Was Light).
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