A Buddhist monk who died in 1927 has yet to show signs of decay after his body was exhumed for the third time in 2002.
Hoax or Fact:
The message talks about a popular, unbelievable claim that a Buddhist monk who died in 1927 did not show any signs of decay until his body was exhumed for the third time in 2002. The message refers to Buddhist leader Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov, but the claims are not entirely facts.
Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov was a well known spiritual leader of Russian Buddhists, the 12th Pandito Hambo Lama. Back in 1927, at the age of 75, he gathered his students and announced his plans to die. It is said that he instructed them to revisit his dead body in 30 years. Then he crossed his legs into the lotus position, began to meditate, chanting a prayer and died.
As told by their master, it is said that Itigilov's followers exhumed his body from a cemetery in Khukhe-Zurkhen and were supposedly shocked to see his body still in the lotus position -- perfectly intact without decaying. Some versions of the story say that Itigilov's body was exhumed and examined by Buddhist monks like this twice, in 1955 and in 1973. They say that Itigilov's dead body defied nature's imperative to decay. Then it is said that the Buddhists reburied Itigilov in a secret, unmarked grave, packing his wooden coffin with salt.
After 75 years of Itigilov's death, on 11 September 2002, his body was once again exhumed from the earth - this time the event was recorded, with witnesses that also included two forensic experts and a photographer. The official statement about Itigilov's body said that it was "in the condition of someone who had died 36 hours ago", very well preserved, without any signs of decay, with whole muscles and inner tissue, soft joints and skin.
Itigilov's body was kept in a temple, where Buddhist monks approach him as a living person and even shake hands with him. Some devotees claim that Itigilov is still alive, and that he is immersed in a hibernation or nirvana-like state.
This famous case of non-decaying body of Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov is often associated with Incorruptibility, a Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox belief that some human bodies of saints can avoid the normal decomposition process after death because of their holiness and Godly intervention.
The Actual Facts
Firstly, Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov was a well-known Russian Buddhist leader, who, during his time as Hambo Lama, is said to have strengthened the faith, published religious tracts and teachings, and united many of the religion's factions. As explained in the news report in first video, there were many legends about Itigilov, like he could gallop a horse across a stream of water.
From the available pictures and video recording of his dead body exhumation, also shown in second video, Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov looks like a well-preserved mummy, hardly that of someone who died 36 hours before. Unlike what is claimed in the message, slowly but surely, there are some signs of decay in Itigilov’s dead body. Vladislav L. Kozeltsev, an expert at the Center for Biomedical Technologies in Moscow, said that the bromide salts in the Itigilov's coffin might have slowed down the decay process.
The final days of Itigelov were not documented properly, and the claims of incorruptibility before 2002 are also not documented. It is to be noted that Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov actually had a degree in medicine, and had even written a Buddhist encyclopedia on pharmacology. Then there was an ancient tradition of self-mummification by a few Japanese Buddhist monks called Sokushinbutsu. It includes a special diet and rigorous physical activity over a period of time that prepared their bodies to resist the natural decomposition process after death.
It is a fact that the dead body of the Buddhist monk Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov did not show normal decay process, but there are valid reasons to it. The third time when the body was exhumed, it is clear that the body was preserved in Bromide salts inside a wooden coffin. It appears like there was no clear examination of the monk Itigelov’s dead body; it is improbable that today’s monks will allow that. So considering the medical background of Itigilov, his religious fame, and the self-mummification traditions that existed in his times like Sokushinbutsu, it is certainly possible that he prepared his body for preservation - in ways that are not documented.