Ajmer: Three members of a family from Allahabad died of starvation while observing "chilla kashi" – a 40-day fast – to "ward off black magic", at the 14th century saint Khwaja Moinudeen Chishti's mausoleum in Ajmer, on Monday, Indian media reported.
Meanwhile, 10 others, including two children aged two and three, have been admitted to hospital in a critical condition because of the fast.
Mohammad Salam (14), Nausar (17) and Kaiser (28) were declared dead at a local hospital. The family had been fasting for 38 days, claiming that they were doing it "on the Khwaja's orders".
Head of the family, Mohammad Mustafa (59), said, "We were fasting to ward off black magic that my brother had performed on me and my family about four years ago".
A retired merchant navy official, Mustafa said they started fasting after he had a dream "ordering" him to do so during a visit to Ajmer dargah. "Everything was going wrong with my family ever since the witchcraft was performed," he added.
However, even after three deaths in the family, the other ailing members were unrepentant as they refused to accept treatment and pulled out the needles from their wrists.
They claimed the treatment was disobeying god's commands. The hospital staff had to struggle to persuade the family members to receive first aid.
Mustafa regretted that they were just two days short of finishing the 40-day fast on the Khwaja's "order".
Mustafa's son, Rizwan Shaikh, said the family spent most of its time at the shrine, where they had been staying for over two years.
"After coming to Ajmer, I again had a dream about a month-and-a-half ago, that if the whole family observed fast for 40 days, normality would return to the family. After that, all of us did not eat or drink anything," said Mustafa.
"My father told us about the dream and the whole family started fasting. Most of the time we sat near astane' in the dargah for 20 to 23 hours a day," said Rizwan, his brother.
When local people noticed the condition of the fasting family members, they asked them to eat, but all were adamant on their vows.
"I requested and sat for an hour near them on Sunday and asked them to eat something but they refused," said Muzaffar Bharati, a social worker.
The incident has left residents from the area, especially Muslim religious leaders, shocked as they were united in their opinion that such a harsh practice was against the teachings of Garib Nawaz.
"Chilla Kashi means going into retreat for 40 days. During this period, the believer goes into remembrance of Allah through deep meditation to attain spiritual heights.
However, there are no restrictions on having meals, but a practitioner shouldn't
indulge in any worldly affairs during this period," said Salman Chishty, an Ajmer-based sufi scholar.
He added that the practice is not supposed to be practiced by the common man. "A disciple is never allowed to practice Chilla Kashi until he spends a decade with his Sufi master," he added.