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The Post-Soviet Treasure Hunt: Time, Space, and Necropolitics in Siberian Buddhism

  • Anya Bernstein (a1)

In September 2002, Buddhist lamas of the Ivolginsk monastery in the post-Soviet Republic of Buryatia in southern Siberia accompanied by independent forensic experts performed an exhumation of the body of Dashi-Dorzho Itigelov, the last head lama from the time of the Russian empire, who died in 1927. The body of the lama, found in the lotus position, allegedly had not deteriorated, and soon rumors spread that the lama was alive and had returned to Buryatia, as he had promised he would. According to the stories told by senior monks, before his death Itigelov asked to have his body exhumed thirty years after. He was first exhumed in 1955 (a little short of thirty years) by his relatives and lamas, in secret for fear of being discovered by the Soviet authorities. As expected, the body was intact, so they reburied him. It was only after the final exhumation in 2002 that the lamas installed the body in a glass case in the Ivolginsk monastery, which very soon became an international and domestic sensation, with articles appearing in The New York Times, and Russian politicians and oligarchs rubbing shoulders with droves of pilgrims and tourists to catch a glimpse of the lama.

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Patrick Geary . 1986. Sacred Commodities: The Circulation of Medieval Relics. In A Appadurai ed., The Social Life of Things: Commodities in Cultural Perspective. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 169–95.

Charlene Makley . 2007. The Violence of Liberation: Gender and Tibetan Buddhist Revival in Post-Mao China. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Stanley Tambiah . 1984. The Buddhist Saints of the Forest and the Cult of Amulets. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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Comparative Studies in Society and History
  • ISSN: 0010-4175
  • EISSN: 1475-2999
  • URL: /core/journals/comparative-studies-in-society-and-history
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