Jesus in Kashmir
The Rozabal Shrine is located in the labyrinthine lanes of Khanyar, in the alleys of downtown Srinagar, a short walk from the revered Dastgeer Sahib shrine, adjacent to Shaheed Mazar.
Rozabal is located on a street corner in a town full of tombs and mausoleums. The structure is a simple stone design with a traditional Kashmiri multi-layered slanted roof and a green hexagonal dome that has not been recolored in years, with green enamel peeling off its surfaces.
It is known as the tomb of Yuz Asaf, which could be of Buddhist origin or could be derived from Yusu or Yehoshua (Jesus).
Roza means grave and Bal means location. Locals believe that a sage named Yuzasaf or Yuz Asaf is buried here, alongside another holy Muslim man named Mir Sayyid Naseeruddin.
Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, was reportedly the first person to claim, in 1899, that Rozabal was Jesus’ burial place.
Until then, the shrine was relatively unknown, with only a few Iranian visitors arriving occasionally to pay their respects at the tomb of Shiite saint Syed Naseer-ud-Din.
From that moment on, Ahmadiyya Muslims believed that Jesus, after being crucified, fled to India via the ancient Silk Road, in order to save his life.
The belief is shared by many Ahmadis today. However, the local Sunni guardians of the Rozabal Shrine believe that the theory that Jesus is buried anywhere on the face of the Earth is disrespectful to Islam.
According to locals, Yuz Asaf arrived in Kashmir from Palestine during the reign of Raja Gopadatta (49-109 AD).
The structure of the sanctuary is rectangular in shape and has an adjoining entrance chamber. The common cemetery is located to the east of the structure. The base of the current building is rectangular and surrounded by walls in brown marble slabs. La cella is a historic building with a green cloth covering the tombstone, with holy names above. This cella would contain the remains of sage Yuz Asaf.
The building also houses the tomb of a Shia Muslim saint, Mir Sayyid Naseeruddin, a descendant of Imam Ali Musa al Raza, the eighth imam of the Shia Muslims, whose shrine is in Mashhad, Iran.
A small door leads inside the shrine, which only opens on the 13th of each Islamic month. An old grilled glass window, with ribbons and thread attached to iron rods, remains open along a narrow alley, giving a glimpse of the interior of the dimly lit sanctuary.
The shrine is first mentioned in Khwaja Muhammad Azam Didamari’s Waqi’at-i-Kashmir (History of Kashmir, published in 1747), also known as Tarikh Azami. According to Muhammed Azam Didamari, the local Sufi author, the tomb is that of a foreign prophet and prince named Yuz Asaf, or Youza Asouph in modern Kashmiri transcription.
It is said that many historical texts in Sanskrit, Buddhist, Arabic and Persian corroborate that Yuz Asaf is another name for Jesus Christ. Indeed, the name Yuz Asaf is mentioned in archaic Urdu literature, where Yuz means chief and Asaf means purified or healed – referring to the “chief of the healed”, as Jesus Christ is said to have healed many people suffering from leprosy during of his life. .
In some books, Yus Asaf is also referred to as âthe son of Josephâ.
In folklore, the name Yuz Asaf is associated with the legend of Balauhar and Yuzasuf, in which Yuzasuf is another nickname of Gotama Buddha.
A large number of historians and theologians refute the idea of ââa crucified man traveling thousands of kilometers to die in a foreign land. But then, the customary history is no less fantastic.
As the legend indicates, Jesus was accompanied by his mother, Mary. She died en route and her grave is in a town called Murree, which was named in her honor and is currently part of Pakistan. The tomb is known as Mai Mari da Astan, which means Mother Mary’s resting place.
According to the myth, Jesus survived the crucifixion and spent his last days in Kashmir. But the locals do not believe this to be true and consider the myth to be secular.
âIt is the tomb of a Muslim saint. It is clearly written in our holy book, the Koran, that Jesus ascended into heaven, to God. However, Qadianis and Mirzais (derogatory terms for members of the Muslim Ahmadiyya sect) who claim it is the tomb of Jesus are false. No Muslim in the world believes that Jesus is buried here or anywhere else on the planet, âsaid Tanveer, a local resident.
The shrine has received a lot of attention over the years, with some fascinating findings: the tomb faces east-west, a traditionally Jewish direction, rather than towards the Qibla, as would be the case with a Muslim tomb.
An imprint carved in stone, an artistic representation of the wounds of the crucifixion, stands beside the grave.
The story dates back to the late 19th century, when Nicholas Notovich, a Russian traveler who visited Kashmir in 1887, published the book The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ.
Theories began to circulate that Jesus lived in India during his so-called lost years when he was between 12 and 30 years old, which is not documented in the Gospels.
Suzanne Marie Olsson, an American historical and biographical author who self-published the books Jesus in Kashmir and The Lost Tomb has spent a lot of time studying the shrine.
She proposed that the Roza Bal Sanctuary be taken over by UNESCO or the Indian government to preserve it, as it is a national heritage site, which should be open to the public.
Olsson claims to be a descendant of the 59th generation of Jesus. She had sought to examine the graves for samples for DNA testing, but this plea was unsuccessful. His attempts met with opposition from local residents who felt it was a desecration of the shrine.
In a series of letters to the shrine keepers, Olsson said she views Rozabal as a “private family tomb.” She further wrote: âMy family has its origins in France, where Jesus and his wife Mary Magdalene lived. There they had two sons and a daughter. We are the descendants of the son. And if you want to know more, I refer you to a book called Bloodline of the Holy Grail by Sir Lawrence Gardner.
Olsson added that she was considering moving the court to assert her claim and gain the right to exhume the grave.
It was clear that Olsson wanted to carry out his plan without wasting a lot of time. Residents around the shrine allege they were forced to padlock the shrine as Olsson attempted to have it dug up.
When Olsson attempted to dig up the shrine to prove Jesus was buried there, it sparked outrage from the community, prompting District Commissioner Parvez Dewan to step in and stop his plans.
Since then, locals have become increasingly wary of visits from curious foreign nationals and have been keeping a close watch on the shrine.
âYim tche ati behurmati karaan,â said Shabir, who lives near the shrine, adding that they do not allow foreign nationals to enter the premises.
A book on this topic was published in 2007 – The Rozabal Line by Ashwin Sanghi. Written in the style of a Da Vinci Code thriller, it has inspired large numbers of tourists to flock to the Rozabal Shrine in Srinagar. While undoubtedly good for tourism in the area, the influx was so large that the tomb had to be temporarily closed to visitors.
In an effort to dispel the myth, locals have set up a notice board that quotes verses from the Quran and the Bible to disprove that Christ is buried at the site.
According to locals, the myth was spread by a couple of traders in the area.
âA teacher in the neighborhood claimed to be a descendant of Jesus. He wrote books about it, and a few local traders believed him and started spreading the word, âsays Ghulam Rasool, who lives near the shrine.
âThe information spread like wildfire. They did it all because they thought it would benefit their businesses after years of turmoil and lockdowns, âadds Rasool, who is in his 50s.
âThis theory is a hoax. The Koran and the Bible say that Jesus ascended to heaven. How can we, as practicing Muslims, believe that this is Jesus’ grave?