IN 1927, THE 75 YEAR old Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov announced it was time for his death. Itigilov, who was the 12th Pandido Khambo Lama, the titular head of the Buddhist faith in Russia, had the other lamas join him in meditation. He died mid-meditation. His sitting body was set upright inside a wooden box and buried. Shortly thereafter Buddhism was all but wiped from newly communist Russia.
In 2002, Itgilov’s body was exhumed (it had been secretly exhumed and checked on twice by the monks during the Soviet era) and transferred to the Ivolginsky Datsan, the most important Buddhist monastery in Russia. Itigilov’s mummified remains are still there, sitting in the exact same lotus position as when he died more than three quarters of a century ago. Though his eyes and nose are now sunken, the body is nonetheless a wonder of preservation.
Itigilov’s body is kept in a glass case, on an upper floor of the main temple. It is exhibited on Buddhist holidays, only seven days of the year.