June 1, 2010 -- In a country remarkable for tales powerful deities and exotic mystics, an 82-year-old man who claims he can survive without food or drink has baffled doctors who studied him and did not see him eat or drink anything for more than two weeks.
Prahlad Jani said that he has lived for more than 70 years by absorbing water through a hole in his palate. He is regarded as a holy man by some and a fraud by many.
Jani spent more than two weeks in April and May under the observation of doctors at Sterling Hospital in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad.
"We studied him for 15 days with him taking no water or food," Dr. Sudhir Shah told ABC News.
Shah said that Jani gargled water and took baths, but consumed nothing.
While thin, Jani is healthy, doctors said.
"Somebody doesn't take water for seven or eight days he surely dies," Shah said.
Perhaps as equally interesting for the doctors was the fact that Jani passed no urine or stool during the time period. Shah said the normally when someone has no stool or urine, they need dialysis.
Jani has confounded the scientists.
"We are studying the phenomenon," Shah said.
The scientific research may be able to help soldiers or disaster victims live without food or water for longer stretches of time.
Despite having doctors study Jani, there are skeptics.
"The bottom line is that even fasting for more than a day can be dangerous," said Keri Gans, a registered dietician practicing in New York City and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. "You need food to function."
Assuming Jani was consuming some sort of water, Gans thought he might be able to survive, but not healthily.
"He might psychologically be able to handle this, but it doesn't matter if you've done it once or done it 20 times. Every time he's doing it he's setting himself up for nutritional deficiencies," said Gans. "How can anyone expect to ingest their vitamin and mineral needs if they're not ingesting food?"
That is a question Indian scientists hope to find out.
"We realized that, if this whole phenomenon really exists in a human being even for 15 days, it would have immense application in unraveling secrets of medical science and its application for human welfare," a statement from a scientific group, that included the Defence Institute of Physiology and Allied Sciences, said.
"Instead of ignoring this case, we selected to investigate further, in a rational and scientific way. We again make it clear that the purpose of this study was not to prove or disprove a person, but to explore a possibility in science and study a new phenomenon," the statement said.