X-ray Scan Reveals 1,000-year-old Mummified Remains of Indian Buddhist Monk in China
The mummified remains of a Buddhist monk who died some 1,000 years ago have been discovered inside a golden seated image at a Buddhist temple in the northern Chinese province of of Hebei. Remarkably well preserved, the remains reportedly include many intact bones and even a complete brain. The find was made in early July after the gilded figure, which has been stored at Ding Hui Temple, underwent an X-ray scan, revealing the hidden remains within.
“Underneath the gold foil and incense ashes of the statue, teeth from the upper jaw, as well as the ribs and the spine were well preserved, including even the joints,” said Wu Yongqing, a senior orthopedic doctor at No.1 People’s Hospital in Wuan City, Hebei. (People’s Daily Online)
Estimated to date to the Liao dynasty (907–1125), also known as the Khitan empire, the sacred remains are believed to be those of a respected Buddhist master named Cixian Sanzang, a monk who traveled from India to northeastern China to promote Buddhism. He is said to have translated 10 major sutras into Chinese and was recognized as a Buddhist master by the Khitan ruler. Some of Cixian Sanzang's translations were engraved onto stone tablets, which can still be seen today.
The Khitans were a union of nomadic tribes that inhabited a large area of northeast Asia from the late 9th century. They spoke the now-extinct Khitan language, which is related to the Mongolic family of languages. A tribal chieftain united the Khitans in a federation, founding the Liao dynasty that flourished for more than two centuries before it was destroyed by the Jurchen people, founders of the Jin dynasty (1115–1234), in the 12th century. At its height, the Khitan empire controlled what is now Hebei, Heilongjiang, Jilin, Liaoning, Inner Mongolia, and Shanxi in China, as well as northern portions of the Korean peninsula, part of the Russian Far East, and much of Mongolia, with an estimated population of 750,000 Khitans and 2–3 million ethnic Chinese.
According to Master Du, a monk from Ding Hui Temple in the town of Huoshui, a Buddhist master was believed to have the ability to sense when his death was imminent and would instruct his disciples to cremate or preserve his body. To preserve the body after death, it would be placed inside a large ceramic jar filled with a compound of chemicals for three years. It was believed that if the master had attained a certain level of spiritual accomplishment, his body would not decompose. The preserved corpse would then be coated in a protective layer of rice-based paste.
Pictures showing the mumified figure before and after gilding
by the monks of Ding Hui Temple. From dailymail.co.uk
After his death, Cixian Sanzang's body was preserved by his disciples. However, the sacred remains were lost until they were eventually rediscovered inside a cave in the 1970s. Since 2011, the golden figure has been kept at Ding Hui Temple, where the monks decided to add a layer of lacquer before coating the figure in gold as a gesture of respect.
The mummified remains have since been donated by Ding Hui Temple to the cultural relics protection institute of Wuan City. “Due to the poor conditions for preservation at the institute, they will be kept in the temple at the moment,” said Wang Wei, head of the institute. (People’s Daily Online)
Remains of ancient buddhist monk donated in north China (People’s Daily Online)
China institute to preserve remains of Indian monk (The Hindu)
The golden mummy: Incredible pictures show the perfectly preserved gilded body of 1,000-year-old Buddhist Master Ci Xian (Mail Online)
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