Pilot Baba has seen death from up close almost all his working life. First as a Wing Commander at the Air Force, and then as a godman practising samadhi, or death by interment — a feat he claims to have performed “more than 110 times” since 1976. It is this art of dying at will that has made Pilot Baba a centre of attraction among lakhs of sadhus at the Ardh Kumbh.
Born in Sasaram in Bihar, Pilot Baba, then named Kapil Singh, joined the Air Force in 1957 after a Master’s in organic chemistry from the Benares Hindu University.
During the 1965 war, he conjured up a record for flying his Gnat aircraft roof-skimming low over Pakistani cities. But the destruction he wreaked, particularly during the 1971 war, left Kapil Singh with a mid-career crisis.
He left the Force, travelled the Himalayas for seven years, and found his guru. He then began his dying-time-and-again career.
This singular gift has earned Somnath Giri — named Pilot Baba by Gwalior’s Vijayraje Scindia — a following from Japan to the US. His brightly adorned camp at Sangam has several pictures of one Keiko Aikwa, his guru-sister who is planning to die here on January 18 — only to be reborn three days later.
How does he do it? “Enlighten your consciousness, find the oneness among the five particulate elements, and the samadhi begins. Then you can go beyond death,” he says matter-of-factly.
He holds the ace up his saffron sleeve when quizzed on the method. “Not everyone can understand the way — even among the intiates. If you are in the right frame, you can have a samadhi anywhere.”
Then why has he gone the length and depth of interring himself underground, in an airtight glass container, or under water for attaining samadhi? “To guard against the frailties of the body,” he says. Fittingly, there is mystery even in death by design.
Email Amitava Sanyal: amitavasanyal @hindustantimes.com