In the summer of 1968, a young man named Mahavir Singh Rathore made headlines around the world when he claimed to have lived without food or water for 40 days. The story quickly made its way to the United States, where it was reported by Time magazine, among others.
The story goes that Rathore, a 23-year-old farmer from India, had been fasting for religious reasons when he decided to take his experiment a step further and see if he could survive without consuming any food or water at all. For 40 days, Rathore allegedly ate or drank nothing, surviving solely on his faith.
Rathore’s story quickly caught the attention of the medical community. Dr. Dwarkanath Kotnis, a prominent Indian physician, was dispatched to Rathore’s village to investigate. Kotnis was initially skeptical, but he soon became a believer after observing Rathore’s condition for himself.
“I have seen many fasting men in my life but never before have I seen anyone who has gone without food and water for so long and yet remained in such good health,” Kotnis said.
As news of Rathore’s feat spread, so too did the skepticism. Many people questioned whether it was even possible to survive without food or water for that length of time.
Dr. Anand Bardhan, a professor of physiology at King George’s Medical College in Lucknow, decided to put Rathore to the test. Bardhan monitored Rathore closely for 10 days, during which time he did not consume any food or water. At the end of the 10 days, Bardhan declared that Rathore was indeed telling the truth and that he had, in fact, survived without food or water for that length of time.
“It is a medical mystery,” Bardhan said. “I have no explanation for it.”
Rathore’s story sparked a debate in the medical community about the limits of human endurance. Some doctors argued that Rathore must have secretly consumed some food or water, while others insisted that his feat was simply impossible.
Despite the skepticism, Rathore’s story continued to capture the public imagination. In 1970, he was invited to the United States to appear on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. During his appearance, Rathore demonstrated his ability to live without food or water by drinking a glass of water and then vomiting it back up.
Rathore’s story has never been definitively proven, but his claim remains one of the most fascinating and mysterious cases in the history of medicine.