Nepali Times
On his path


The cult of Ram Bomjon, whom some are calling the 'new Buddha' of Bara district, has spread far beyond the villages of the terai. An internet search on the 15-year-old produces thousands of results from every continent.

In the jungle where the young man has been silently meditating beneath a pipal tree for the last six months, reportedly without food or water, pilgrims still flock to see him.

The CDO's office has tried to discourage visitors with announcements on local radio and in newspapers but for the time being the phenomenon continues. Official disapproval and demands that the young mystic submit to scientific tests to verify the claims being made, mean that it may not continue for much longer.

The best time to visit Ram is at around 10AM. That's when his devotees say strange lights glow in his body. "If you just sit and watch, the light will come," says Prem Lama, the 16-year-old monk who guards the fence around Ram's tree. "Do you see a white light coming from his hands?"

A crowd of pilgrims murmured, squinted and pointed, trying to discern the supernatural glow. "Do you see it? Do you see the blue light from the back of his head?" said one.

Other miracles are attributed to the boy. He is said to have survived two snakebites without medical treatment. The giant roots of his chosen tree are said to be growing faster than usual, slowly enveloping him as he meditates between them.

No one knows how many people have been to see him but the number is certainly great. On the full moon before the Dasain festival, the local committee managing the site counted 296 vehicles in their improvised parking area, ranging from over-crowded buses and tractor-trailers to ox carts.

Last week Amit Bartola, a bus driver from Hetauda, said he had 80 people on his 36-seater bus. "We stop from village to village and people are really keen to come," he said. Suman Bhujel, a driver from Sarlahi district, added, "there's about 10 busloads a day from where I come from."

The bajar that has grown up to service pilgrims sells everything from bicycle inner tubes to sacred threads. Deft salesmen from over the border in Bihar demonstrate haircare products to attentive groups of women. Now the craze seems in danger of becoming a victim of its own success and of the wilder claims made about Ram's special powers.

On 26 October the CDO's office in Kalaya finally received a police report of the large crowds and the wheels of bureaucracy began to grind. CDO Santa Raj Subedi doubted that Ram could survive without eating and sent local doctors to investigate.

Dr Rajdev Prasad Kushvaha says it is medically impossible to live without food for more than 20 days but because his team was only permitted to observe Ram from a distance they could not come to any firm conclusion.

"He is human, and he is alive, that much we can say," says Dr Kushvaha. He says that physical tests are needed to discover more.

The CDO's office was forced to turn to Kathmandu for scientific assistance and to the Lumbini Development Trust for religious advice. They demand that witnesses be allowed to watch Ram through the night, when the attraction is closed to visitors and, they suspect, Ram might break his fast.

Ram's brother, Ganga Jeet Bomjon, 26, rejects any idea his brother is cheating by eating at night. "The investigators say 'you guys are doing something, feeding him batteries' (to give him energy) or something," he jokes. "But try sitting with your legs crossed for three hours, never mind six months."

The committee that runs the site, composed mostly of young people from Ram's village, say they would be happy if experts examined Ram but without touching him and they have not yet granted access at night.

The CDO's office, which now has a bulging file on the case, seems unlikely to give up. "We've told them, either you need to let people see everything that's going on or if this is a fraud you need to close it down," say Hari Har Dahal, an administrative officer.

Officials have also demanded the organising committee submit an account of the money they have raised. According to a fax received by the CDO, it totals over eight lakh in donations and offerings (there is no entrance charge) and about half has been spent on managing the site.

The feeling now is that the group of enthusiastic youngsters who have run this sensation are getting out of their depth. The stakes are high.

"He HAS to eat. He HAS to drink," says the guard outside the District Administration Office in Kalaya. "If we find out he's lying, he and the rest of them are going to jail."

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)