Monk baffles scientists (SA), Dec 24, 2004

Moscow, Russia -- A Siberian Buddhist leader whom followers claim looks and feels just the same as when he died in 1927 is mystifying science.

Seated in the lotus pose in the ceremonial garments of a Buddhist lama, Dasha-Dorjo Itighelov is to undergo examination with modern techniques to find out what keeps him looking so perky.

"This is a phenomenon that science has no name for," said Viktor Zyvagin, a leading expert in forensic medicine.

For the Buddhists of the Buryat republic near Siberia's Lake Baikal, the answer is simple. The lama is not dead, they believe, but in a state of nirvana.

He promised he would re-emerge among the living as soon as Buddhism is reborn in Russia, according to Yanjima Vasilyeva, director of the Itighelov Museum, which was recently set up in Ulan-Ude, the capital of the Buryat republic.

Of course, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin also has managed to achieve a degree of earthly immortality, but only with the help of the best embalming money can buy.

No change in chemical composition

And Zvyagin cited example of bodies recently found in the northern Caucasus that were at first considered to have been dead a few years but later identified as dating back to the 18th century.

However, those remains, like the famous "Iceman" found in the Alps and others discovered in Denmark and China, were mummified in peat, ice or exceptionally dry conditions.

In the case of the Burat lama, there has been no dehydration or any change in chemical composition, according to a preliminary examination that was carried out in 2002.

Russia's current Buddhist chief, lama Ayusheyev, authorised experts to analyse fragments of body tissue, and experts also want to make a scan of the whole body.

Dasha-Dorjo Itighelov, whose name can be translated as "the sun and the diamond of faith", was born in 1852. He enjoyed the respect of Tsar Nicholas II, but was locked up in a monastery in Buryat shortly after the 1917 Communist revolution.

Just before his death, the lama predicted Soviet persecution of Buddhists and asked his followers to exhume his body 30 years after he died.

This was done in 1955 and again in 1973 before the lama was enshrined in a temple in Buryat in 2002, the year he promised to return to his followers.