A seven-year-old has been rescued from the ashram of a godman in a village in the southern Indian state of Karnataka after spending 20 days trapped in an underground chamber.
The girl was found in the basement dungoen in Chandragiri Mutt, in Zunjarwad village in northern Karnataka, about 180km from Belgaum, which lies about 500km northwest of Bangalore.
She had been kept there after self-styled 'godman' Sadashivappa Nemagouda had staged her death on 2 February. According to reports, his plan was to free her today, during the Shivaratri festival, to prove that he has the power to bring people back to life.
Nemagouda had confined the girl to a nine feet high underground chamber in his ashram at Mutt, according to The New Indian Express.
Nemagouda, who now claims he had adopted the minor, has been arrested following the discovery of the girl.
He claimed that the girl had been kept alive through spiritual power, without any food or liquid. However, doctors who examined the rescued girl dismissed Nemagouda's claims, adding that the girl was stable but traumatised.
The local women and child welfare department have also dismissed Nemagouda's adoption claims, saying no legal procedures of adoption were followed.
The local authority has said that the government will now trace the family of the rescued girl.
Nemagouda stages girl's death
According to The Times of India, the godman kept the girl for performing Yog Samadhi, a ritual he claimed would benefit mankind by bringing the girl back to life after she was burnt alive.
Nemagouda claimed that the girl would come back to life on the day of Shivaratri, a Hindu festival which falls today, on 27 February. He sought donations from the villagers for the ritual and performed the staged burning ceremony in front of hundreds of villagers on 2 February.
"According to plan, ashram authorities placed the girl under logs of wood and burnt the pyre. As hundreds of devotees witnessed the event amid chants, the girl was whisked away and her body smeared with black paint and ash to show that she had been charred to death," the report said.
"Later she was confined in the underground cellar and the modus operandi was to produce her alive on Shivarathri day."
Police recovered food items, water, a lamp and other materials used for the ritual inside the underground cell where the unnamed girl had been held.
Five more children, believed to have been kept for performing similar rituals, were also rescued from the ashram following the incident.
Godman's crime chart
The so-called godman reportedly has a record of previous offences, including a charge of rape made against him in 2013.
According to reports, Nemagouda's reaction over his 2013 rape charges was to drop his clothes in front of accusers saying he was free of sexual desires.
In 2010, he was reportedly accused of attempted suicide after he claimed to have survived only on his spiritual powers while remaining in an underground cell without food and air for 15 days.
Police in India are dealing with the Swami after freeing the seven-year-old girl from the underground chamber in his ashram.