Whenever we listen and imagine mummies, our mind automatically takes us to Egyptian style Pharaohs and pyramids. The stories that we have read and the movies that we have watched create those magical sights about life and the afterlife of ancient Egyptians. But our world is pretty big and there's much more to mummies than just the ancient Egyptian legends. While the ancient Egyptian practice of mummification is famous around the world, there are several other ways in which a body can be mummified. In Egyptian style, the process of body preservation involves treatments with oils and minerals. But the most fascinating and rare one among these mummification techniques is natural self-mummification. And unexpectedly, India is home to an incredibly well-preserved model of this ancient custom, and it survives at a village named Gue in the stunning valley of Spiti.

The mummy of Spiti valley is believed to be over 500 years old, this rare natural mummy belongs to Sangha Tenzin, a Buddhist Monk who started self-mummification while he was alive. This mummy was initially found in 1975 when an earthquake in the Spiti Valley cleared a time-ragged vault in Gue village.

This village is situated in the Spiti and Lahul district of the state of Himachal Pradesh in India and it is about 30 miles away from the famous Tabo Monastery. The mummified body of Sangha Tenzin, with skin unharmed, teeth visible through lips, and hair on his head is a true enigma. And in 2004, the vault of Sangha Tenzin was ultimately cleared, and the mummy was vacated. A small box-shaped concrete gallery was constructed, and it was protected by a thin sheet of glass. The mummy was then positioned inside by the locals with a lot of respect and prestige.

There is an incredible and unusual reason behind the mummy of Sangha Tenzin receiving so much respect from locals. According to local legends, this monk named Sangha Tenzin sacrificed himself for the survival of the village. When countless scorpions attacked the village unexpectedly, Sangha Tenzin instructed his followers to let him mummify himself to protect the village from scorpions. When he mummified himself and left his body, a glorious rainbow emerged on the horizon and the scorpions vanished shortly. Therefore, the honor is given by the villagers to Sangha Tenzin for his sacrifice.

The technique which Sangha Tenzin utilized to mummify himself is a relatively ancient tradition of natural self-mummification. This technique was called Sokushinbutsu, and it was developed by the Nyimgma group of Buddhist monks. This technique is extremely complicated to perform because the body of a person is compelled to respond in such a way that its fats and fluids decrease at a continual rate. At the start, the monk discontinues eating barley, rice, and food items that add fat to the body. This is because fats decompose after death and so removing the fat from the body helps in preserving it better. Moreover, it assists in decreasing the size of the organs to such an extent that the desiccated body prevents decomposition.

The mummified body is kept in a seated stance with a restrainer called ‘Gomtag’ around the neck and the thighs so that the monk can continue to meditate. During this period, slow starvation proceeds with candles moving along his skin to boost it to gradually dry out. Similarly, a special diet of herbs, roots, and multiple tree-fluids which act as an anti-insect solution is provided towards the demise to drain moisture in the body and protect meat on the bone. After the death, the monk is carefully placed in an underground room and allowed to dry out further 3 years, before being treated with candles again. With time, the physical form of monk becomes a statue in meditation posture, and these mummies are then also known as ‘living Buddha’. The high level of residual nitrogen, which reveals the signs of prolonged starvation, and the posture of Sangha Tenzin indicates that he followed this method to mummify himself.

Spiti River

In the entire world, less than thirty of these kinds of self-mummified monks have been found. And most of them have been found in Northern Honshu, an island in Japan whose monks follow this practice of natural mummification. There is no vital evidence about where did this technique was acquired solely by Sangha Tenzin. Currently, his mummy indicates slight erosion, despite having no artificial protection and exposure to the elements. The excellent state of the mummy is probably due to the clean air, cold climate, and low humidity of the surrounding high-altitude territory of Gue.

Gue Monastery in Gue Village

Gue is a tiny hamlet in the Spiti valley and it is almost on the Indo-China border. Buses and other public transport are not available to Gue, and thus it is important to hire a cab. The Hindi language is used locally, and the village has cold and breezy temperatures across the year. The people who visit the museum of Sangha Tenzin's mummy at Gue can observe small and well-preserved body parts of the mummy. The body of Sangha Tenzin sits very firmly with its fist around one leg, chin resting on its knee and he appears to be lost in meditation as he gazes out at the stunning landscapes beyond. Anyone who plans to visit Spiti Valley must not forget to visit this rare enigma of ancient science and culture, and India's only naturally-preserved mummy.



( / / Wikipedia)