Fungus preys on ‘meditating monk’s’ mummy (With Images)July 8th, 2010 - 1:39 pm ICT by IANS
By Vishal Gulati
Geu (Himachal Pradesh), July 8 (IANS) The mummified body of a ‘meditating monk’ believed to be 550 years old is wasting away. Fungus has set in and loss of body mass is causing concern among the residents of this village in Lahaul and Spiti district as they worship it.
Villagers believe that the mummified lama was sitting in deep meditation when an avalanche struck and buried him in that very posture.
“The government should initiate steps to preserve the mummy that is facing a threat due to fungal growth. It has even lost some body mass over the years,” local resident Chimit Bodh, 33, told IANS. He is one of the caretakers of the mummy.
Geu, located at an altitude of 10,000 feet, lies on the Indo-Tibet border.
It is some 340 km from state capital Shimla.
Every year a large number of researchers visit this village to study the unique, naturally preserved mummy. “The increase in the arrival of tourists and researchers is also posing a threat to its longevity.”
A researcher noted in the visitors’ book kept at the temple: “It’s an amazing experience…it’s a one of its kind mummy in India and its carbon dating shows it dates back to the 15th century.”
It was found by a team of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) after an earthquake that hit the region in 1975. It was discovered from one of the eight stupas in the village that were badly damaged in the quake. Even the teeth, nails and hair on the skull of the mummy are intact.
Chimit Bodh, whose father too was a caretaker of the mummy, said the body was found in a sitting posture. It is believed to be of a lama who was around 45 years old when attaining nirvana.
Tarkeh Bodh, another caretaker, said: “The practice of nirvana makes the body devoid of fluids; that is why this mummy could sustain for many centuries even without proper preservation.”
He said the practice of meditation was prevalent in Tibet but most mummies were destroyed long ago.
“This is probably the only surviving one. Since the inflow of the tourists has increased in the village, the government should medically embalm it to protect it from fungus attack or weather vagaries,” he added.
Some of the villagers say the deterioration of the mummy started when it was shifted from a mud-and- stone structure to a newly constructed concrete structure. Last year it was shifted to the new temple where it was kept in a glass box that is open from the top.
Octogenarian Tsering Nagpo said: “Since the glass box is closed from three sides, the accumulation of smoke emitting from joss sticks and heat from oil lamps is resulting in the growth of fungus.”
He said the mummy should be shifted back to the mud-and-stone structure.
Prem Sharma, director of the state department of language, art and culture, said he would soon write to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) to extend all possible help in preserving the mummy.
The area is populated mainly by Buddhists. The climatic conditions of the area are harsh as much of the land falls under a cold desert where the mercury drops below minus 20 degrees Celsius during winter.
(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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