Visiting the Grave of Jesus in Srinagar, Kashmir
By Stephen Knapp
I had visited the place that is called the grave of Jesus in Srinagar, Kashmir in June of 2007. And, actually, unless you know the history and controversy about this little building, there is not much that will give any indications of this being the grave of Jesus. But it is good that I went when I did, because now it is locked and off-limits to foreigners, especially westerners.
This place is also called the Roza bal, or Rauza bol, which means “tomb of the prophet.” This is the burial place of Yuz Asaph (or Asaf), in the center of Srinagar’s old part of town. The name Yuz Asaph is said to relate to Jesus. Some people believe it is the grave of Jesus and others think it is all based on faulty premises, meaning it is merely a rumor or urban legend. However, there is a complete line of logic behind this, so I will only give you the evidence and what people say and you can decide for yourself. That way, if you are ever in Srinagar, you can have some understanding of the significance of this place and check it out yourself.
To visit this grave of Jesus, you will find it in Anzimar next to a small Muslim cemetery in the Khanjar (Khanyar) quarter of Srinagar’s old town. You find Rauza bal Khanyar down a narrow alley in an old, wooden mausoleum. The grave itself is inside the building. The sign in front says that it is the tomb of Ziarati Hazrati Youza Asouph and Syed Nasir-u-Din. Thus, this is a grave of two people, with Nasir-u-Din being a Muslim saint. Some say that Youza Asouph (or Yuz Asaph) means the gatherer, which could be in relation to the idea that Jesus was a gatherer of the lost tribes of Israel, some of whom were known to have come to Kashmir. Others say the name means the leader of the healed, since Jesus was a healer. While still others say the name Youza Asouph means Joseph’s son.
You enter the rectangular building through a small doorway on the side of the structure. This leads into a small hall that allows to you to look through a few windows at the small central room inside with the sarcophagus. If the inner doorway is unlocked, you can go in for a closer view. On your way in you will see an inscription on a board that explains that Yuz Asaph (or Asaf) came to Kashmir many centuries ago and dedicated himself to the search for truth. The single inner chamber has a cheap looking, raised wooden frame in the shape of a sarcophagus for two graves, each covered with heavy, embroidered cloth. The first and smaller grave is for an Islamic saint Syed Nasir-ud-Din, buried here in 1451, a descendent of Imam Moosa Ali Raza, said to be a great devotee of Jesus. The larger grave behind it is for Yuz Asaph. A document signed by five Muslim judges (Muftis) of that time certifies that the tomb contains the remains of the prophet Yuz Asaph. Near this along the side of the inner chamber is a stone with the imprint of two feet showing what seem to be nail wounds (a round wound on the left foot and an arc-shaped wound on the right foot), the scars Jesus would have suffered from his crucifixion. Some people feel this is the sign for the identity of who is buried here. It is the custom for pilgrims to place candles around the gravestones, and when years of wax was removed by Professor Hassnain, not only did he discover the footprints, but he also found a cross and rosary. As typical with Muslim mausoleums, these graves are replicas and the actual graves are in a crypt under the floor in the basement. However, some also say that due to age, the ground gave way years ago and the original grave simply sank into the ground, with the present sarcophagus built over it. A look into the real burial chamber is provided by a small opening. But that window is now covered by a cloth to block the view. The grave which contains the remains of Yuz Asaph also points east to west, according to Jewish tradition.
Previously, several decades ago, the central shrine in the house was surrounded by beautifully carved wooden panels. But these have now been removed and replaced with glass windows. These windows, of course, let you see the fake sarcophagus inside, which is covered with the embroidered cloth, as well as the two feet carved into the stone block at one end. You can also see this from outside through the windows of the house, but the stone with the feet can be seen only as long as the outer doorway is unlocked and you can get in. The house is also now painted green, the color for Islam. Whatever else was once inside, including various relics, scrolls, and information regarding the place, have now been removed.
Suzanne Olsson, while appearing in the video “Jesus in India” by Paul David (2008), mentions that in her research she was told by local authorities that below the main floor, the real graves do not contain any bodies. But behind the wall was a ledge where the body of Yuz Asaph was actually placed, and then the ledge was sealed. That is the actual grave behind the false wall. She at one time had the permission to take DNA samples from the body through a small opening in that wall. This way she could verify the age and possible identity of the person buried there. But Islamic militancy arose before she could accomplish that and kept her from doing it. Thus, possible verification of this may now never be possible.
However, when talking with the local Muslims who live nearby, they will tell you adamantly that it is not the grave of Jesus, but is the tomb of a Muslim prophet, Youza. If you ask too much, or insist on an alternative view, they will tell you that you are committing an offense to Islam and the Koran. Nonetheless, the tomb is built in an east-west direction, the same as the Jewish tradition, in line as a follower of Moses, and is not in the direction facing Mecca. But this is inconsequential to the locals. Therefore, without background information, you would never know the significance of this place.
The locals will also tell you that the grave is that of a messenger of God who liked the Muslim people and settled there. They admit that the grave is ancient, but they forget that the person buried there arrived hundreds of years before Islam was ever an established religion. But they do not think it was Jesus. So even among the local people different versions of the story about the grave circulate. Also, some Muslims feel that in the end, after the crucifixion, Jesus was lifted up to heaven because if he had actually died on the cross, it would be a sign that he had failed in his mission.
The grave has been maintained by attendants since its construction, which is established by ancient records to be as far back as 112 CE. The premise is that Jesus’ Hebrew name was Yuza, similar to Yuz. In Arabic and in the Koran his name was Hazrat Isa or just Isa, and Issa in Tibetan, both of which are similar to the name Isha in Sanskrit. This tradition has been carried down through the Farhang-Asafia, Volume One, which explains how Jesus healed some leper who then became asaf, meaning purified or healed. The word yuz means leader. Thus, Yuz Asaph became a common reference to Jesus as “leader of the healed.”
There are other accounts of how Yuz Asaph preached throughout Persia, present-day Iran, converting many people. Some of these details can be found in Agha Mustafai’s Ahivali Ahaliau-i-Paras which confirms that Jesus and Yuz Asaph are the same person. Even the well-known Emperor Akbar had a court poet who referred to Jesus as Ai Ki Nam-i to: Yuz o Kristo, which means, “Thou whose name is Yuz or Christ.” Also, at Akbar’s city, Fatehpur Sikri, near Agra, as you enter the main gate toward the mosque, there is an inscription which states: “Jesus (Peace be with him) has said: ‘The world is a bridge. Pass over it, but do not settle down on it!’”
Other records and place names that relate to Jesus point to his presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Acts of Thomas describe the journey of Jesus and Thomas in Pakistan (then Taxila) at the court of King Gundafor in the 26th year of his rule, which would be about 47 CE.
Also, when Jesus came to Kashmir he came with a group of followers which included his mother, Mary, who must have been over 70 years old, and was no doubt weakened by the journey. Seventy kilometers east of Taxila, and 170 kilometers west of Srinagar on the border of Kashmir, is a small town called Mari, or Murree in English, near Rawalpindi. In that town is a very old grave called Mai Mari da Asthan, meaning “the final resting place of Mother Mary.” This is a tomb in Jewish style, aligned on the east-west line, while the Muslim tombs are always aligned on the north-south axis. Here is where she must have died before Jesus reached Kashmir, which was considered paradise, or heaven on earth. Even to this day this grave is maintained by Muslims as the resting place of Jesus’ mother because he (Isa) is considered one of the main prophets of Islam. However, the British knocked down the original shrine to Mother Mary to build a fort at that place because of the view over the surrounding area, and because they did not believe in Mary being buried there. Out of respect, the local people gathered the rocks of the grave and put them back near the original site. So, it is not in the same place as where the body was located.
Also near the villages of Naugam and Nilmag, about 40 kilometers south of Srinagar is a large plain called the Yuz Marg, the meadow of Jesus. It is said that from Murree, Jesus proceeded to Srinagar entering Kashmir from the pass now called Yuz Marg, and he rested at Aish Muqam, about 50 miles south of Srinagar, where a sanctuary was erected containing the horns of ‘God’s ram’ and a walking stick that is considered Moses’ stick, later used by Jesus. It is also here that some of the tribes of Israel are supposed to have settled after 722 BCE to live as shepherds, which is still a major occupation in the area today.
More evidence of Jesus in Kashmir is found in an inscription that was carved on the sides of the steps at the threshold on the Throne of Solomon in Srinagar. Behind the Boulevard near Dal Lake is Shankaracharya Hill which rises 1100 feet above the city. At the summit is a Hindu temple for Shiva, but an earlier temple was built here around 200 BCE by Ashoka’s son. One temple that had been built was by King Laltaditya in the 6th century CE known as Gopadri. The road at the base of the hill where the State Government officials are located is still known as Gupkar road in connection with that temple. This is the oldest known site in Srinagar, believed to date back to 2500 BCE when the original sandstone structure had been built by King Sandiman. It is also said that the philosopher Shankaracharya visited Kashmir many centuries ago and had stayed on the hilltop to meditate. The top of the hill also provides a great view over the lake. But due to security reasons cameras are not allowed through the final checkpoint when going to the hilltop Shiva temple. The temple as we find it today is built on a high octagonal plinth, reached by a flight of 270 steps, the side walls of which used to have inscriptions on them. The main interior shrine is a small circular room with a lingam about three feet tall. A new ceiling has inscriptions in Persian which connects its origin to the reign of Shah Jahan.
The hill used to be called Takht-i-Sulaiman, the Throne of Solomon, which definitely represents some of the history of this region, and why some people think that King Solomon had been here. Other factors to consider is that there was an inscription on the remnants of the old building which states that the new temple was restored in 78 CE by King Gopadatta (or Gopananda), who ruled Kashmir from 49-109 CE. According to tradition, Solomon had visited the land of Kashmir. In fact, the local Muslims know Kashmir as “Bagh Suleiman,” the Garden of Solomon. This would go in accord with the theory that some scholars believe that Kashmir was the “Promised Land,” or the “Land of the Fathers” that the “ten lost tribes of Israel” wandered to in northern India where they found peace and tranquility. This was after they had moved eastwards when they had been driven out of Israel by the Assyrians, never to be heard from again. Therefore, it may have indeed been Solomon, as tradition declares, who divided the Barehmooleh Mountain and created an outlet for the water that later formed Dal Lake. He also may have constructed the original building of the Takht-i-Suleiman on top of what is now Shankaracharya Hill.
The meaning of the inscriptions on the Throne of Solomon is described in detail by Mullah Nadiri, a historian during the rule of Sultan Zainul Aabidin, in 1413 in his book on the history of Kashmir, Tarikh-i-Kashmir. He relates that Gopananda, or Gopadatta, ruled Kashmir and had the Temple of Solomon refurbished by a Persian architect. During the renovation four sayings in ancient Persian were set in stone that said, in essence, that Bihishti Zagar is the constructor of these columns in the year of 54. Khwaja Rukun, son of Murjan, had these columns built. In the year 54, Yuz Asaf proclaimed his prophetic calling. He is Jesus, prophet of the sons of Israel.
Unfortunately, these inscriptions are another artifact that has been removed from the premises, so you can no longer find these carvings in the building if you try to look for them. Nonetheless, Mullah Nadiri goes on to relate that during the rule of Gopadatta, Yuz Asaf came from the Holy Land to the Kashmir valley and proclaimed to be a prophet and preached to the people. Gopadatta ruled sixty years and two months before he died. It is calculated that Jesus came to Kashmir nearly 16 years after the crucifixion and lived to be around 80 years old. Even the Koran (23.50 or 52) intimates that Jesus did not die on the cross, but survived the crucifixion and ascended to live in a peaceful hill-side watered by a fresh spring.
All this seems to indicate that not only did Jesus come to India to learn the spiritual knowledge of the Vedic Brahmanas and Buddhists as other records have described, but after returning to his land of Israel to preach and was later crucified, he did not die on the cross but suffered and recovered. After that he ascended to heaven, known as Kashmir, where, after some years, he died and was buried in Srinagar.
According to various records, during his missing years Jesus was supposed to have studied for four years at the temple of Jagannatha Puri. In this regard, the 145th Shankaracharya at Jagannatha Puri was asked if Jesus had come there, and he agreed that Jesus came to Puri. He explained that the truth of Jesus’ visit to India was hidden in order to propagate lies, rather than let it be known that he came to India to study amongst the Brahmanas to acquire his deeper spiritual knowledge. The Shankaracharya mentions that Jesus studied the Vedic code of conduct on being compassionate, merciful, forgiving, etc. But most Christians deny this.
However, the book “The Life of Saint Issa” from the Hemis Monastery in Ladakh explains that he later criticized the Brahmanas and the caste system and later was forced to leave. Then he traveled north to Kapilavastu (present-day Lumbini), the birthplace of Buddha in Nepal, and studied with the Buddhists. This is said to be where he got more of his wisdom. Then he went to Lhasa in Tibet for five years. After that he went homeward and then to Greece for sometime before going on to Egypt. Then at the age of 25 he went to Heliopolis and studied for five more years before returning to his homeland at the age of 30.
The Hemis Monastery in Ladakh, near Leh, is another place that I have been fortunate enough to visit. They have a big festival every year with masked dancers, and people from all over attend. It was here that one of the books that stirred great interest in the idea of Jesus going to India was discovered.
“The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ” by Nicolas Notovitch describes his finding a document on Issa at the Hemis Buddhist Monastery, which took place in 1886. He describes how he was there for several weeks after breaking his leg from a fall from his horse. After becoming acquainted with the monks, one showed him the document on the life of Issa, the name used in India for Jesus. He had the text translated, first into Russian, and then published his book in France in 1894. Though critics such as Max Muller and others attacked Notovitch to debunk his claims, Notovitch in turn said he talked in private to a Catholic priest at the Vatican who told him that the Vatican library had 63 documents of various oriental languages that referred to Jesus traveling in India. These had been brought to the Vatican by missionaries from India, China and Arabia.
Later, there were others who also claimed to have seen that same document or scroll at the Hemis Monastery on “The Life of Saint Issa.” This then helped confirm that Jesus studied amongst the Hindus and Buddhists and valued their teachings and learned from them, setting the example that his followers should also exhibit such respect and value for other religions.
This document at Hemis was later seen by Swami Abhedananda who was able to read and translate it, which he discussed in his book, “Journey into Kashmir and Tibet.” He visited Hemis in 1922 and relates in his book how a monk showed him the manuscript while he was there. The monk told him it was an exact translation of the original that could be found in the Marbour Monastery near Lhasa, which was in the Pali language, while the Hemis one was in Tibetan. Swami Abhedananda lived at an ashrama called the RamaKrishna Vedanta Society in Kolkata, which you can still visit today. His book is also still available today and provides for very interesting reading.
Nicolas Roerich, a Russian born Jew who converted to Christianity, claims to have also seen the Hemis Monastery document in 1926.
Unfortunately, as is so often the case, the document at the Hemis Monastery seems to have since disappeared with present day monks knowing nothing about such a document. Some feel that certain Christian missionaries or agents had gone there to deliberately confiscate it to prevent any such evidence from being available any longer.
The story of Jesus’ crucifixion is also interesting because, generally, most people die on the cross by starvation or suffocation when the ribs press down on the lungs so that the person can no longer breathe. This often takes several days. According to tradition, Jesus was nailed on the cross in the early afternoon of a Friday and taken down as dusk was approaching, after being nailed on the cross for only four or five hours. So it is most unusual that a young and healthy person like Jesus died after only four hours on the cross. Thus, it is more likely that as a yogi he was able to enter an altered state and appear as if dead, only to be revived later. This is not uncommon with some yogis in India. Furthermore, there are modern commemorations of Jesus’ crucifixion wherein people are crucified every year in the Philippines and Mexico and survive quite easily. A person does not die of crucifixion after only four hours. Thus, it is quite likely that he survived the crucifixion and died elsewhere.
Nonetheless, there were no witnesses to any resurrection, and it certainly cannot be investigated historically. So there is plenty of room for speculation about this from all sides, and that is mostly what we have. However, if he had survived the crucifixion, it would make sense that he would want to leave Jerusalem and the area to be free from any threat from the Roman soldiers. Thus, there is the idea he went to Kashmir where some of the lost tribes of Israel are said to have relocated. Thus, even today, one can recognize similarities with the Jewish culture in Kashmir, such as with some of the foods, clothes, butcher knives, heart-shaped boat paddles, etc.
Of course, when talking to most Christians, they are often convinced that Jesus never went to India. They feel that there would be no need for him to learn from any Hindus or Buddhists. Plus, the Bible gives no information about the 18 missing years of his life (between the ages of 12 and 30). It only says that he grew in wisdom. But that is the question, what happened during those 18 years?
Except within certain esoteric circles the shrine itself had not been discussed for some time after Notovitch, Swami Abhedananda, and Nicolas Roerich had brought attention to it. Then it again came into the limelight when a local journalist, Aziz Kashmiri, argued in his 1973 book, Christ in Kashmir, that Jesus survived the crucifixion some 2,000 years ago, migrated to Kashmir and was buried in Srinagar. The modest stone building with traditional multi-tiered roof again slipped into oblivion but came into focus again in 2002 when Suzanne Olsson arrived in Srinagar, claiming to be Christ’s ‘59th descendant’ and seeking DNA testing of the shrine’s remains.
Olsson, though, doesn’t seem to be alone in her conviction. There are some who support her view. Renowned Kashmiri academic Fida Hassnain’s 1994 book, A Search for the Historical Jesus, was about this legend. Later, he co-authored a book on the subject with Olsson, Roza Bal the Tomb of Jesus. The stories of Jesus in India date back to the 19th century and now find mention in a plethora of texts by scholars of varied persuasions — Islamic, Buddhist and Christian.
In the end, even after visiting the Roza Bal, what you think of it or believe about it all depends on your research, what books you read, or who you talk to about it. The conclusion is yours, but if you do look into it, at least you have taken the privilege to ask and to investigate the issue rather than remain in the confines of some dogmatic dictates hammered into you by others. In the end, truth prevails, but sometimes it may take some time for the truth to become clear.
James Deardorff has also done some serious research on this topic, which you can see at his website www.tjresearch.info/legends.htm.
Suzanne Olsson, author of “Roza Bal: The Tomb of Jesus” with Dr. Fida Hassnain, has also done much research, as described in her books and her website at: www.jesus-kashmir-tomb.com.
Arif Khan, editor of the www.tombofjesus.com website, has made an attempt to gather all such knowledge and evidence concerning the issue of Jesus in India. A variety of photos and a few videos of the tomb of the tomb of Jesus in Srinagar can be found on his website, which is especially helpful for those who have not or cannot go there.
Photos of the Roza Bal: http://scriptures.ru/india/kashmir/shrinagar/rozabal_en.htm
[This article and more information at www.stephen-knapp.com]