Jungle boy's Buddha: by Pallavi Aiyar, The Hindu, June 1, 2006
The meditating boy must be simply eating and drinking at night, says Sanal Edamaruku
In a clearing of a deep jungle in central south Nepal, a boy is sitting motionless in a niche between the huge roots of a peepal tree. Wrapped in a white shawl, his eyes closed, his legs crossed and his hands in typical position, fifteen-year-old Ram Bahadur Bamjon looks exactly like a classical Buddha statue. And in fact, his managers are trying to sell him for a 2500 years belated reincarnation of Prince Siddartha Gautam, who was born in Lumbini village, some 250 km west from here, in 560 B C E.
Sitting in deep meditation since 17th May, the Buddha boy did not eat any food and did not drink a drop of water for more than six months now, claim his supporters. Since their PR campaign took off in the beginning of November, thousands of villagers are thronging the jungle clearing every day, offering prayers and donations. In the bank of the nearby Ratanapuri village, his managers have started depositing amounts of several hundred thousand Rupees, witnessed a government official.
"This is a typical case of fraud", said Sanal Edamaruku, president of the Indian Rationalist Association (IRA), in an interview with the Indian TV channel Aajtak telecasted across the sub-continent. "The boy must be simply eating and drinking at night. The claim that he was fasting since six months cannot be taken seriously, unless a fraud-proof blood test confirms that there is no glucose in his blood". Last week, three physicians from Kathmandu visited the spot on behalf of the IRA and approached the boy's guardians politely for permission to take a blood sample from him. They were strictly denied access to him. Goons threatened them with dire consequences if they did not leave the area immediately. The meditation place is cordoned off, and nobody except Bamjon's supporter team is allowed to come closer than 50 meters to his holy tree. His supporters claim that the Buddha boy's meditation is holy and he cannot be disturbed at any cost. So far no outsider had an opportunity to talk to the boy. Even police officers, who had tried to interrogate all parties of the strange setting in order to find out what was going on, had to leave without achieving their goal.
Observing the boy with a binocular, the rationalist physicians found his breath regular and healthy. He did not look as motionless as from the distance, as his adam's apple would often move up and down and his eyes would slightly open for a second. Compared with a photo, allegedly taken at the beginning of his fast, they found that his face had become rounder and fuller instead of growing lean. They could not observe him eating or drinking during the day. But every evening, the tree is being covered with blankets hiding Bamjon's niche between the roots, so that nobody can see what is happening there between dusk and dawn.
Meanwhile the jungle clearing has transformed into a pilgrimage place with red banners advertising the reborn Buddha and make shift shops catering to the needs of the never-ending stream of visitors. The meditation place is filled with the smoke of incense sticks and decorated with pieces of colorful cloth, flowers and garlands. Among the visitors, mainly consisting of village folk and groups of Buddhist monks, are some rationalists. Talking to people, they succeeded in raising some doubts about the claim of Bamjon's fast. Some Buddhist monks agree with them: Buddha himself advised not to fast during meditation, but to eat well, they confirm.
Under pressure by the increasing number of doubters, the local administration of Bara district has agreed to conduct a scientific examination on the case. They have allegedly asked the Royal Academy for Science and Technology, to send a team of physicians, and they are expected to arrive soon. Rumors tell that they are mulling over the question how to investigate the claim of fasting without disturbing the holy meditation or by touching the Buddha boy.
"That is very suspicious", said Sanal Edamaruku. "We have to consider the possibility that those who may come to 'investigate' the case are part of the plot. They may not be physicians at all or they may be corrupt physicians, out to give scientific 'blessings' to a fraud. We would like to see that our physicians conduct the investigation or are at least part of it."
So far, no Royal Academy scientist arrived on the spot. The rationalist physicians, who approached the district authorities and asked for protection and assistance to conduct a medical investigation on Bamjon, did not receive an official answer till now.