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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 January 2007, 18:11 GMT
The ex-pilot reborn as a guru

By Geeta Pandey
BBC News, Allahabad

Pilot Baba and Japanese boy
Pilot Baba with a Japanese boy

A short bearded man sits on a chair outside a tent. Hundreds of people are lining up before him. One by one, they come and prostrate at his feet.

He puts his hand on each person's head. "God bless you," he says.

Many put rupee notes and coins into a plate next to his feet.

"Baba I'm very ill," one woman tells him. "You'll be fine," he assures her.

The man here is Pilot Baba, so called because before he turned into a spiritual guru, he was a pilot with the Indian air force.

Pilot Baba is one of many spiritual leaders to be found among the millions of Hindu pilgrims at the Ardh Kumbh mela festival grounds in the northern Indian city of Allahabad.

'Killed many'

As a pilot, he went by the name of Kapil Singh.

During the 1965 India-Pakistan war, he flew several sorties over Pakistani territory. Reports say his bombings killed many.

Pilgrims at the mela
Pilgrims at the mela take their holy dip

"It's the game of war. If you don't kill, then you will get killed," he says matter of factly.

But that was in another lifetime.

"In 1966 I was flying an MiG aircraft in the north-east of India. The controls failed. I had a vision of my guru Hari Baba. He appeared in the cockpit of the plane and helped me land safely. So I decided to start another life," he says.

Pilot Baba says the new life has given him peace. "I'm more relaxed now, there's no fighting and I can help people."

Many of his followers say Pilot Baba has special healing powers.

Touches his feet

The claim may be questionable, but in the few hours I have spent with him, there has been a constant stream of visitors who have come to seek his blessings, many of them from as far away as Japan, Europe and the US .

Pilot Baba and Yogmata
Pilot Baba prepares to bury Yogmata alive

"I'm glad to be here," a young Japanese woman says. She kneels and touches his feet with her forehead. "Welcome to India," he blesses her.

Dressed in a saffron sarong and a bright orange shawl, the only remnant of his air force past is a cadet's maroon beret he wears over his head.

At the Ardh Kumbh mela grounds in Allahabad, Pilot Baba's camp is a big draw.

His is one enclosure which is heavily guarded, at the entrance soldiers carrying machine guns keep an eye on the comings and goings.

Thousands of pilgrims coming from remote Indian villages to participate in the Ardh Kumbh mela troop in to pay their respects to him.

Pilot Baba is famous for performing Samadhi, or death by interment.

He claims to have buried himself in the Samadhi ceremony more than 100 times, the longest one for 33 days.

'You stop breathing'

"I sat on a nine-day Samadhi under water, I have also done one in an air-tight compartment," he tells me.

"It's a path to reaching higher consciousness. You go beyond body and mind, you step out of yourself, you stop breathing, you journey inside yourself, you face the truth and then you become like the ocean," he explains.
MiG-21 fighter jet as used by the Indian Air Force
Pilot Baba flew several missions over Pakistan

Today, he is presiding over a Samadhi ceremony by Keiko Aikwa, a Japanese woman better known as Yogmata, and thousands of people are walking into his compound to watch it.

Pilot Baba and Yogmata, who is an electronic engineer, share the same guru.

Among the crowds watching the interment ceremony are several dozen Japanese pilgrims.

The crowds chant, invoking Lord Shiva's name.

As Yogmata waves to her ecstatic disciples and gingerly steps down a ladder into the pit, some smile and laugh, while others burst into tears and weep loudly.

As the drum beat reaches its crescendo, Pilot Baba seals the chamber with tin sheets, and throws a handful of sand over it. Soon the entire ground is covered in sand by his followers.

Pilot Baba tells me this underground cubic chamber, measuring nine feet on all sides, will be the Yogmata's home for three days.

"Come back on Sunday at 1 pm. We'll take her out then," he tells the gathering.

It is very cold here and Yogmata is lightly dressed. I wonder if she would be cold and uncomfortable in her chamber.

"She will be refreshed and even more radiant when she comes out. Samadhi is like a re-birth," says Pilot Baba.

He should know. After all, he is the expert on Samadhi - the art of dying time and again.

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