Disappearance of 'Buddha Boy' alarms his Nepali followers

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The Independent Online

He began his treeside vigil almost two years ago, but the Nepali teenager said to be immune to snake bites and fire, and hailed as a reincarnation of Buddha, has fuelled scepticism about his meditation claims by disappearing - again.

Ram Bahadur Bamjon, 16, who captured the imagination of millions in 2005 when his supporters said he had been meditating for six months without moving, eating or drinking, has not been seen by his devotees for four days.

Police have failed to trace Bamjon, but one of his followers said he was safe and meditating in a new place.

Bamjon previously disappeared almost exactly a year ago, only to reappear months later carrying a sword. "Even Buddha was forced to arrange for his security himself," he said.

The teenager first took up position in the shade of a peepal tree in the dense jungle of south-eastern Nepal in March 2005. Later that year, his devotees alerted the world's media to the boy's vigil. Pictures showed Bamjon sitting cross-legged and motionless, swathed in a white shawl and with a floppy growth of hair concealing his eyes.

His fame was sealed when a venomous snake bit him. A few days later, he is reported to have said: "A snake bit me but I do not need treatment. I need six years of deep meditation."

More than 100,000 pilgrims from across the Himalayas and beyond poured into the jungle to see the "Buddha Boy", with some claiming to have seen a soft glow emanating from the teenager's forehead. Bamjon's devotees insisted he had not eaten or drunk any water for six months and had not moved an inch, even to relieve himself or stretch his limbs.

The case soon drew the attention of scientists, who were concerned for the boy's health and sceptical about his apparent feat of fasting. Most people can survive without food for several weeks, but just days without water. Doctors from Kathmandu had planned to examine Bamjon but his followers denied them access to the boy, saying "it would disturb him".

Locals were quick to recognise the opportunity and formed a committee to deal with the growing hordes of visitors to the makeshift shrine. Devotees paid admission and donated thousands of pounds to the committee. Enterprising traders set up jungle stalls beside the makeshift shrine and did a roaring trade in photographs of the boy, tea, incense sticks and Buddhist flags.

Then, in March last year, the Buddha Boy went missing. Some feared he had been abducted but his followers said he had moved deeper into the jungle looking for a quieter place to meditate. Days later, the Bamjon committee released a video showing its members meeting the boy near his home village.

He resumed his meditation at a new site last December, and, once again, hundreds thronged the jungle to catch a glimpse of the boy. But this time, the cynics were more numerous and local authorities froze the committee's bank account, preventing any further donations by unwitting pilgrims.

The original Lord Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, was born a prince in Lumbini, a dusty village in present-day Nepal, more than 2,600 years ago. He is believed to have attained enlightenment in eastern India while meditating beneath a peepal tree.