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Nil by mouth

A collaboration between science and religion in India is putting to the test a holy man's claim to have eaten and drunk nothing for 70 years.

Prahlad Jani is a sadhu, a Hindu ascetic mystic, in his 80s, who says he last drank water at the age of twelve. He was given the gift by the goddess Ambaji, and is sustained by amrita, the nectar of the Hindu gods, which passes into his head from the air.

'Although I walk a hundred, 200 km in the jungle,' he told Al Jazeera television, I neither sweat nor feel tired nor sleepy. I can meditate for three, eight, or 12 hours or even months.

'I will live up to approximately a 1000-5000 years, maybe even 10,000 years, with this kind of body.'

To test his claims to inedia, the ability to live without food, he was kept for 15 days between April and May in Sterling Hospital in Ahmedabad in Gujarat under strict surveillance.

The large investigative team was led by Dr Sudhir Shah, a consultant neurologist at the hospital. He ensured that Jani had no food or liquid except 100ml of water a day to wash his mouth out with (weighed before and after to prevent illicit swallowing).

After four-and-a-half days Shah told the press, 'We are all watching a miracle in science'. He did not come to the experiment as a sceptic however, having done the same tests on the same man in 2003, with the same results.

The most remarkable part perhaps is the reported involvement of the Indian MoD and even NASA in the venture. Dr Ilavazhagan of the Defence Institute of Physiology and Allied Sciences said, 'India is now proposing to have manned mission to the moon and in the long run to Mars also. So if we understand how people are surviving without food and water, that may help us in working out strategies for people to live without food or water for longer duration'.

Whether trying to control a spacecraft while in a yogic trance is a good idea is a question we'll leave to the experts.