Article excerpt


SITTING cross-legged in a jungle clearing in southern Nepal, his eyes tightly shut and his arms resting on his knees, the 16-year-old boy seems lost in silent meditation - and oblivious to the armed police surrounding the remote site.

They are there for a very good reason. Where Ram Bahadur Bomjan goes, tens of thousands of people tend to follow.

Many Buddhists and Hindus throughout Nepal and India think the farmer's son is Buddha reincarnate. They believe he existed for 10 months without food or water, survived the bite of a poisonous snake without treatment, and was left miraculously unscarred after being engulfed by holy fire.

But cynics call Bomjan a fake, whose only gift is in extracting cash from gullible pilgrims, which he passes on to rebel fighters.

The mystery deepened on Christmas Eve when, after a nine-month disappearance, the Boy Buddha suddenly reappeared.

On March 11 he had left his niche among the roots of a pipal tree in the Bara province, about 100 miles south of the capital Kathmandu, and vanished.

A massive search was launched, continuing even when the authorities ruled out foul play, but with no success.

Then on December 24 a group of cattle herders spotted Bomjan in dense jungle, about 10 miles away from the tree where he used to meditate.

The young Buddhist monk seemed bulkier than before but claimed he'd been living on wild herbs. His hair was longer and, bizarrely for a pacifist, he was carrying a scimitar-style sword - justifying it as protection against wild animals.

He said: "Lord Buddha used to arrange his security by himself. So I was forced to do so myself."

Yet it seems his "miraculous" reappearance will do little to unite opinion across the Asian sub-continent about whether Ram Bahadur Bomjan is the new Buddha or a phoney.

His fame stems from a 10-month fast, which began on May 16, 2005, when his followers claim he neither ate nor drank, and was sustained by meditation alone - most humans will only survive a matter of days without water.

This led to unfounded rumours that the motionless Bomjan sitting beneath his pipal tree was either a statue or a corpse.

As word spread about his feat, 10,000 people a day began coming to pay homage to him. None of the many pilgrims who filed past his tree spotted anything amiss but they were allowed no closer than 25 metres away.

And for the entire 10 months of his marathon meditation, every day between 5pm and 5am nobody was allowed to see Bomjan, his closest followers screening him from view with blankets.

Such activities obviously fuelled speculation that he survived by eating, drinking and moving around at night. So the Nepalese government sent a delegation of investigators to get to the bottom of the mystery.

FOR 48 hours they watched as Bomjan neither ate nor drank. But while allowed closer than the pilgrims, they were kept three metres from the boy and were banned from doing medical tests.

A group from the Indian Rationalist Association tried to carry out an independent assessment, but were thwarted by the screens and threatened by Bomjan's supporters.

"This is a typical case of fraud," said their president, Sanal Edamauku. "The boy must be simply eating and drinking at night.

"The claim that he was fasting cannot be taken seriously, unless a fraud-proof blood test confirms that there is no glucose in his blood. …