In 1975 an earthquake in northern India opened an old tomb containing the mummified body of monk Sangha Tenzin. In 2004, the local police excavated the tomb and removed the mummy. The mummy is remarkably well preserved, with skin intact and hair on his head. He died in the seated position, with a rope around the neck and thighs (an esoteric practice recorded in few Buddhist documents). Victor Mair, a consulting scholar at the University of Pennsylvania, Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, was quoted as saying the mummy was at least 500 years old. According to the report, the mummy is remarkably well preserved for its age. Its skin is unbroken and there is hair on the head.
The mummy of Sangha Tenzin is now on display in a temple in Gue, two miles from where he was excavated, in the Himachal Pradesh region of India, bordering Tibet. Controlled by the Indo-Tibetan Border Police and isolated in the Himalayas, the town is very difficult to reach. The temple where the mummy rests is open to the public.
The Mummy vs The Buddhist Mummy
Now you’ve heard of the Egyptian mummies, they usually come embalmed and then wrapped in muslin (the face white cloth that covers the mummy) but the mummy of Sangha Tenzin happens to be a Buddhist mummy, which means it looks very different. Not for the faint hearted, this mummy is well preserved and you can see its dark taut skin, remains of some hair on the head and his teeth gaping through thin lips.
The process of mummification for the Buddhist monks is very different from the ones you’ve usually hear of. The monks would stop eating food that increased body fat. By cutting down fat intake, they were preparing their body for preservation. They’d eat only nuts, roots, herbs. By the time the monks died, the body was devoid of any form of fats and the organs would be shrunken. Hence the body would not decompose and the natural form would be preserved. This is what you can see in the mummy of Sangha Tenzin.
Weird right? Told you this wasn’t a story for the faint hearted.