Hindu monk Swami Sivananda was born on August 8, 1896, according to his passport. If true, his life would have spanned three centuries, but despite his apparent age he remains strong enough to perform yoga for hours at a time.
He is now applying to Guinness World Records to verify his claim. It currently lists Japan’s Jiroemon Kimura, who died in June 2013 aged 116 years and 54 days, as the oldest man to have ever lived.
India’s passport authorities confirmed Sivananda’s age from a temple register, the only record many Indians even decades younger have of their date of birth.
However it would be extremely difficult to independently verify his age.
Sivananda was featured by local media earlier this summer, with the Times of India noting he looked 50 years younger than his apparent age but taking his claims at face value.
Sivananda, from the holy city of Varanasi, grew up in extreme poverty and chose to become a monk, saying he owed his age to “yoga, discipline, and celibacy”.
“I lead a simple and disciplined life. I eat very simply — only boiled food without oil or spices, rice and boiled daal (lentil stew) with a couple of green chillies,” he told AFP after a two-hour yoga session in Kolkata, the eastern Indian city where he had come for a short visit.
Standing 1.58 metres (five feet two inches) tall, Sivananda sleeps on a mat on the floor and uses a wooden slab as a pillow.
“I avoid taking milk or fruits because I think these are fancy foods. In my childhood I slept many days on an empty stomach,” he said.
Sivananda said he had not previously come forward to claim the record because he did not seek publicity, but was eventually persuaded by his followers to apply.
The elderly man lost both parents before he was six and was given away by his relatives to a spiritual guru, whom he travelled with around India before settling in Varanasi.
Fit and without any medical complications, he lives independently and even travels alone on trains.
Sivananda, who was born in colonial-era India without electricity, cars or telephones, says he is not enthused by new technology and prefers being on his own.
“Earlier people were happy with fewer things. Nowadays people are unhappy, unhealthy and have become dishonest, which pains me a lot,” he said.
“I just want people to be happy, healthy and peaceful.”
— This story accompanies a photo essay by Dibyangshu Sarkar —
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