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Ripley's Believe It Or Not - 2


"STRANGE is man when he seeks after his gods." Sometimes he thinks too much and seeks too long, yet learns nothing and loses everything... like the naked faquir who sits all day glaring at the blazing sun. He has looked too long and now sees nothing. The fiery rays of the sun have burned out his eyes long years ago.

Each morning as I floated down the sacred stream I saw this sun gazer being carried down the steps to his accustomed place on the Dasashwamedh Ghat. His brothers placed him down gently-he could not walk as his legs had withered away from years of inactivity -and turned his face toward the east. Slowly he opened his eyes to greet the morning sun as it raised its burning head over the temple tops of the Holy City; here he remained the whole day long with his wide staring eyes fastened on the blazing sun without once turning them away or closing them for an instant until the dying disc had sunk once more below the horizon. He had been doing this for fifteen years."

Robert Ripley traveled extensively for his passion, and reported on many an Indian ascetic - another one I remember, which may be detailed later, was the one who sat all day with his arm upraised until a bird came and built its nest in his palm. Many of these events were documented in the 20's and 30's, recorded only with Mr. Ripley's talented pen and flowery descriptions.

Nonetheless, asceticism is a well-documented phenomenon, and the bounds of devotion and/or insanity have never been determined. Mark Twain, in "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court," described many examples of odd ascetic behavior... perhaps embellished by imagination but doubtless based on odd tales from the East which had established themselves in the consciousness of the day.

We drifted from hermit to hermit all the afternoon. It was a most strange menagerie. The chief emulation among them seemed to be, to see which could manage to be the uncleanest and most prosperous with vermin. Their manner and attitudes were the last expression of complacent self-righteousness. It was one anchorite's pride to lie naked in the mud and let the insects bite him and blister him unmolested; it was another's to lean against a rock, all day long, conspicuous to the admiration of the throng of pilgrims and pray; it was another's to go naked and crawl around on all fours; it was another's to drag about with him, year in and year out, eighty pounds of iron; it was another's to never lie down when he slept, but to stand among the thorn-bushes and snore when there were pilgrims around to look; a woman, who had the white hair of age, and no other apparel, was black from crown to heel with forty-seven years of holy abstinence from water. Groups of gazing pilgrims stood around all and every of these strange objects, lost in reverent wonder, and envious of the fleckless sanctity which these pious austerities had won for them from an exacting heaven.

By and by we went to see one of the supremely great ones. He was a mighty celebrity; his fame had penetrated all Christendom; the noble and the renowned journeyed from the remotest lands on the globe to pay him reverence. His stand was in the center of the widest part of the valley; and it took all that space to hold his crowds.

His stand was a pillar sixty feet high, with a broad platform on the top of it. He was now doing what he had been doing every day for twenty years up there -- bowing his body ceaselessly and rapidly almost to his feet. It was his way of praying. I timed him with a stop watch, and he made 1,244 revolutions in 24 minutes and 46 seconds. It seemed a pity to have all this power going to waste. It was one of the most useful motions in mechanics, the pedal movement; so I made a note in my memorandum book, purposing some day to apply a system of elastic cords to him and run a sewing machine with it. I afterward carried out that scheme, and got five years' good service out of him; in which time he turned out upward of eighteen thousand first-rate tow-linen shirts, which was ten a day. I worked him Sundays and all; he was going, Sundays, the same as week days, and it was no use to waste the power.

While I have been able to find no corroborating evidence for this particular instance, it seems well within the limits of possiblity, and Mr. Ripley's report is most likely accurate in all respects.

Verdict: Unverifiable but probably true.

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The Old Wolf

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