Itigelov several years before death.
(click for larger photo)

The story of story of Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov might be an interesting one, but the story of his body after his death is so much more interesting. Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov (1852-1927) was a Buddhist Lama of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. During his lifetime he was selected to the post of the 12th Pandido Khambo Lama – head of Russian buddhists. He was a guest of the Russian czars and has helped Russian troops during WWI by collecting money and provisions. But the most interesting fact about him is the fact of his death legacy.

At age 75 Itigilov asked other lamas to start meditation ceremonies for the passing, since he was going to die. The lamas did not start since he was still alive. So Itigilov started the rites himself and other lamas joined him later. He was in the lotus posture at the time of his death. His testimony was to bury him just as he was at the time of his death in a pine box and it also included clauses that demanded his body to be exhumed by other monks at later times.

In the years 1955 and 1973 his body was examined by several buddhist monks only to find that it did not decay. They have changed the clothes on the body and put him back in the pine box. In the year 2002, on September 11, after the fall of communist and very atheist Russia, his body was exhumed again and transferred to Ivolginsky datsan (a residence of today’s Khambo Lama). There it was examined both by scientists, pathologists and monks. Professor Viktor Zvyagin of the Federal Center of Forensic Medicine examined the body and concluded that it was in the condition of someone who had died 36 hours ago.

After the exhumation of Itigilov’s body it does not perish. There’s no fungus or other signs of physical decay. It is left in the open for display but no photographs of the dead are allowed according to Buddhist tradition. Yet, there are some photos taken in 2002, when his body was exhumed (see below).

Some verbal evidence is provided by Naj Wikoff from his 2005 visit to the place:

…The body was, and is, kept on the upper floor of the main temple at the Ivolginsky Datsan, sitting in a glass box, that I understand has a refrigeration unit to keep it at the same temperature as it was in the ground and to filter the air from impurities…

…The skin was soft and flexible to the touch, the body firm, the joints movable, the hair soft, the skin light in color and the features easily recognizable as the person once alive as evidenced by a photograph taken some years before he died. In many ways the body appeared asleep sitting in the lotus position in which he was found. His ears stuck out, his nose had not drooped, his hair and eyes and not grown, nor had his body shown any signs of decay – as would be normal and expected, especially of a body that had not received any physical preparation for preservation or burial. Further, his body having been found sitting upright was highly unusual in itself…

Itigelov’s body in 2002

What do think of this rare phenomenon?