Natural mummification occurs very rarely. It requires a combination of extreme temperatures and dry air in order for the body to be preserved. Most mummies people know about, like the famous Egyptian mummies, are mummified through embalming and then wrapped in linen.
But in some cultures natural mummification is the preferred method. Monks of Japan and Tibet are masters of this method. When a monk feels he is going to die soon, he stops eating food that adds body fats. Monks also run candles along their bodies, so their skin dries out a bit. Then, the monk dies from starvation in seated position. After his death, he is put in an underground chamber for three years in order to dry out completely before being treated with candles again.
Actually, less than 30 naturally mummified monks have been found around the world, mainly on the island of Honshu, Japan.
In 1975, northern India was struck by an earthquake which opened an ancient tomb containing the naturally mummified body of monk Sangha Tenzin. Thirty years later, the tomb was excavated and the mummy was removed. Scientists were amazed when they discovered that the mummy was incredibly well preserved – the monk’s skin was still intact and he still had hair on his head. According to Victor Mair, a consulting scholar at the University of Pennsylvania, Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, believes the mummy is at least 500 years old.
According to local legends, he asked his followers to mummify him during a scorpion infestation in the area he lived. When his soul left his body, a rainbow appeared in the sky and the scorpions mysteriously vanished.
This perfectly preserved natural mummy is on display in a temple in the town of Gue, located about 3.7 km (2 miles) from the tomb where the monk was found. The temple is open to the public but it is very hard to reach, since the isolated area is controlled by the Indo-Tibetan Border Police.