Buddhism In Russia: The Story Of Itigilov And The Ivolginsky Datsan
Written by 56th Parallel
Ivolginsky Datsan is located in Eastern Siberia, it’s a home to the epicentre of Buddhism in Russia; along with the awe of the elaborately decorated temples is the phenomenon that is the preserved body of Khambo Lama, formally Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov.Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov was born in 1852, he began his religious education at the age of 16. Itigilov studied at a Buddhist university in Buryatia and earned degrees in medicine and philosophy. His education into the Buddhist teachings and conviction enabled Itigilov to pursue the greatest constituent of his faith, becoming Khambo Lama, the head of Buddhism in Russia.
As Khambo Lama, Itigilov was credited with inspiring a Buddhist revival in Russia. Some of the credits include founding in the first Buddhist temple in St. Petersburg, as well as this he founded the “Buryat Brothers”. The organization, “Buryat Brothers” ameliorated the army with meals, medical treatment, money and clothing during WWI. During this time Itigilov received the St. Anna award for setting up hospitals to help wounded soldiers.
Before his death, he announced of his passing and asked the Lamas to join him in meditation where the funeral rights would begin. Itigilov passed whilst meditating in the Lotus position at the age of 75.
In accordance with his will, the Khambo Lama was to be buried and preserved in the lotus position in a wooden box. As well as this, his testament requested that the monks exhume his body after a period of years. Itigilov was exhumed in 1955 and again in 1973. On both occasions, the monk’s body was found in the lotus position in an astonishingly preserved manner.
The phenomenon of the Khambo Lama preserved body was put on display in Ivolginsky Datsan in 2002, 75 years after his death. The embalming of his body has resulted in a near perfectly preservation which has baffled scientist and draws in believers by the thousands.
In 2004, the Federal Centre of the Forensic Medicine examined his body from hair, nail and skin analysis and concluded that Itigilov’s body resembled that of one, who had only been dead for 36 hours. This rare preservation has sustained Buddhist beliefs, leading to the belief that he was the reincarnate. Itigilov has become a source of inspiration to many lamas and people on the spiritual path of the Buddhist faith.
Pilgrims flock to Ivolginsky Datsan because they believe that Itigilov body has healing powers, as such pilgrims flock to press their foreheads to the lamas scarf. The Lama is only on display for 7 days of the year however the pilgrim doesn’t stop there the monastery itself is a magnificent wonder for the eyes.
The temple complex is pleasantly situated in an expansive green valley overlooked by mountain peaks. The elaborately painted tigers protect the main temple and the décor inside. The interior is a riot of colour and painted walls, with various statues of Buddha’s in various incarnations, and a centre for Buddhist learning. In the main temple sits in the lotus position Itigilov’s body, where pilgrims flock to witness and receive the healing powers. Monks usher the masses past the case of the Lama leaving only a small moment to bask in his presence, however, inspiration can still be taken from this magnificent temple complex.
The monastery in Ivolginsky Datsan attracts visitors year-round allowing the public to be enlightened by the Buddhist history, meditation and the Buddhist faith, as well as the surrounding countryside.