Chapter 46 - 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.
"God willing," I replied devoutly, "we are on our way to see an eighth wonder of the worlda woman saint
whose diet is thin air!"
"Repetition of wondersafter 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
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.
"Sir, we would like to know more of the fasting saint."
"'I 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.'
"This 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."
By ten-thirty our little group was conversing with the brother, Lambadar Dey, a lawyer of Purulia.
"Yes, my 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 cart!"
"The Ford 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!"
"May 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 health."
"Please tell me, sir, if it is absolutely true that she eats nothing?" I looked directly into his eyes,
those telltale windows of the mind.
"It is 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
We chuckled together over the improbability of these two cosmic events.
"Giri Bala 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."
The 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.
Our 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.
"Dick, 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.
"Full many a mango is born to lie unseen," I paraphrased, "and waste its sweetness on the stony
"Nothing like this in America, Swamiji, eh?" laughed Sailesh Mazumdar, one of my Bengali students.
"No," I admitted, covered with mango juice and contentment. "How I have missed this fruit in the West! A
Hindu's heaven without mangoes is inconceivable!"
I picked up a rock and downed a proud beauty hidden on the highest limb.
"Dick," I asked between bites of ambrosia, warm with the tropical sun, "are all the cameras in the
"Yes, sir; in the baggage compartment."
"If 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 unknownlike most of these mangoes."
Half an hour later I was still strolling in the sylvan peace.
"Sir," 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 the car.
"You are 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.
"Lambadar Babu spoke truly," Sailesh acknowledged. "The car is not carrying us; we are carrying the
Our climb-in, climb-out auto tedium was beguiled ever and anon by the appearance of a village, each one a
scene of quaint simplicity.
"Our way 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.
"The road 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 the mud-venom.
"Asking 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.
"The road 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.
"Soon we 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
createda group piloted by an American and pioneering in a snorting car right into their hamlet fastness,
invading the ancient privacy and sanctity!
"Halting 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.
"With feverish 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
"Soon a short figure came into view in the doorwayGiri 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.
"Meekly 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 poisea
wide, childlike, quivering lip, a feminine nose, narrow, sparkling eyes, and a wistful smile."
Mr. 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.
"Mother," 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."
"During 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.
"Baba (honored 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
"Mother," 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."
"Oh, no, not insignificant!" I protested sincerely. "You are a great soul."
"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!
"Tell me, Mother, from your own lipsdo you live without food?"
"That is 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-eighta period of
over fifty-six yearsI have not eaten food or taken liquids."
"Are you 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!
"Of course!" She smiled in swift understanding.
"Your nourishment derives from the finer energies of the air and sunlight,7 and from the cosmic power which recharges your body through the medulla
"Baba knows." Again she acquiesced, her manner soothing and unemphatic.
"Mother, 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.
"So be 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.
"'Child,' 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
"The calamity 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
"'I shall soon prove to you,' I said, stung to the quick, 'that I shall never touch food again as long as
"My mother-in-law laughed in derision. 'So!' she said, 'how can you live without eating, when you cannot
live without overeating?'
"This remark was unanswerable! Yet an iron resolution scaffolded my spirit. In a secluded spot I sought my
"'Lord,' I prayed incessantly, 'please send me a guru, one who can teach me to live by Thy light and not
"A 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.
"'Venerable sir,' I said trustingly, 'kindly tell me how to live without eating.'
"He 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.'
"This 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!
"'Dear 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 following information:
"I have 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 vision."
"Mother," I asked, "why don't you teach others the method of living without food?"
My ambitious hopes for the world's starving millions were nipped in the bud.
"No." 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 of life."
"Mother," I said slowly, "what is the use of your having been singled out to live without eating?"
"To prove 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.
The tropical 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.
"Giri Bala," I said as the saint opened her eyes, "please give me a keepsakea strip of one of your
She soon returned with a piece of Benares silk, extending it in her hand as she suddenly prostrated
herself on the ground.
"Mother," I said reverently, "rather let me touch your own blessed feet!"
Chapter1 - My Parents and Early Life
Chapter2 - My Mother's Death and the Mystic Amulet
Chapter3 - The Saint With Two Bodies
Chapter4 - My Interrupted Flight Toward the Himalayas
Chapter5 - A "Perfume Saint" Displays His Wonders
Chapter6 - The Tiger Swami
Chapter7 - The Levitating Saint
Chapter8 - India's Great Scientist, J.C. Bose
Chapter9 - The Blissful Devotee and His Cosmic Romance
Chapter10 - I Meet My Master, Sri Yukteswar
Chapter11 - Two Penniless Boys in Brindaban
Chapter12 - Years in My Master's Hermitage
Chapter13 - The Sleepless Saint
Chapter14 - An Experience in Cosmic Consciousness
Chapter15 - The Cauliflower Robbery
Chapter16 - Outwitting the Stars
Chapter17 - Sasi and the Three Sapphires
Chapter18 - A Mohammedan Wonder-Worker
Chapter19 - My Master, in Calcutta, Appears in Serampore
Chapter20 - We Do Not Visit Kashmir
Chapter21 - We Visit Kashmir
Chapter22 - The Heart of a Stone Image
Chapter23 - I Receive My University Degree
Chapter24 - I Become a Monk of the Swami Order
Chapter25 - Brother Ananta and Sister Nalini
Chapter26 - The Science of Kriya Yoga
Chapter27 - Founding a Yoga School in Ranchi
Chapter28 - Kashi, Reborn and Rediscovered
Chapter29 - Rabindranath Tagore and I Compare Schools
Chapter30 - The Law of Miracles
Chapter31 - An Interview with the Sacred Mother
Chapter32 - Rama is Raised From the Dead
Chapter33 - Babaji, the Yogi-Christ of Modern India
Chapter34 - Materializing a Palace in the Himalaya
Chapter35 - The Christlike Life of Lahiri Mahasaya
Chapter36 - Babaji's Interest in the West
Chapter37 - I Go to America
Chapter38 - Luther Burbank -- A Saint Amidst the Roses
Chapter39 - Therese Neumann, the Catholic Stigmatist
Chapter40 - I Return to India
Chapter41 - An Idyll in South India
Chapter42 - Last Days With My Guru
Chapter43 - The Resurrection of Sri Yukteswar
Chapter44 - With Mahatma Gandhi in Wardha
Chapter45 - The Bengali "Joy-Permeated" Mother
Chapter46 - The Woman Yogi Who Never Eats
Chapter47 - I Return to the West
Chapter48 - At Encinitas in California
Chapter49 - The Years - 1940 - 1951