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Rozabal Shrine - One of the Unsolved Mysteries of India

By Sayan Lodh

India the confluence of diverse cultures contains many mysteries. One such mystery is present in Jammu and Kashmir ‘the Heaven on Earth.’ Located in the narrow alleys of Khanyar of Downtown (old city) Srinagar, the Rozabal shrine’s door opens for the devotees only on the 13 th day of every lunar month.

The term Rozabal is derived from the Kashmiri Rauza-bal meaning “The Honoured/Holy shrine” or “Tomb of the Prophet.” The building is rectangular shaped, and covered with brown marble slabs. It contains the tombs of Sufi saints Hazrat Yuz Asaf (Youza Asouph), and Syed Naseeruddin. The tombs are covered with a green cloth, and can be viewed through the old grilled glass window. While Naseeruddin’s history is well documented- him being a direct descendant of Imam Ali Musa al Raza (the Eighth Imam of Shia Muslims); that of Yuz Asaf is shrouded in mystery leading to many speculative theories. (Riza) Basharat Saleem, a former caretaker of the Rozabal shrine claimed descent from Yuz Asaf based on a family tree that he possessed.

The controversies regarding the shrine are centred around the tomb of Yuz Asaf. It is first mentioned in Khwaja Muhammad Azam Didamari’s Waqi’at-i Kashmir (The story of Kashmir) as the tomb of a foreign Prophet Prince Yuz Asaf who cured many persons suffering from leprosy, and hence was alluded to as “Leader of the healed.” In old Urdu, yuz means leader, and asaf means healed. Although the characteristics link Asaf to both Buddha (prince who later propagated religion), and Jesus (healing people) Didamari did not directly give any reference. Gautama Buddha is also referred to as Yuzasuf in the Buddhist legend of Baluhar and Yuzasuf.

The books La Bible dans l'Inde, ou la Vie deIezeus Christna (The Bible in India, or the Life of Jesus Christ) (1869) by French barrister Louis Jacolliot, and The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ (1890) by Russian traveller Nicolas Notovitch (who visited Kashmir in 1880s) mentioned that Jesus spent time in India during his “missing years” (between ages 12-30, which are not recorded in contemporary sources). (Mirani) Kashmiri oral traditions narrate that Jesus arrived in Kashmir from the Holy Land (Levante) during the reign of Raja Gopadatta (49-109 CE), to preach among the descendants of Lost Tribes. Some locals become his followers, recognising his Prophethood. (Anonymous, Jesus Son of Mary - Islamic Beliefs) Ten out of the Twelve tribes of Ancient Israel fled their homeland during Assyrian conquest in 720 BCE, and got scattered around the neighbouring regions. They came to be known as the Lost Tribes.

Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (founder of Ahmadiya sect of Muslims) for the first time asserted that Yuz Asaf was Jesus Christ (founder of Christianity) who died a natural death (rejecting the prevalent Christian and Islamic beliefs of Jesus’ ascension to Heaven) at the ripe old age of 120 in Kashmir and was entombed at Rozabal, in his 1890s pamphlet Razz-i Haqqiyat (The Truth). He asserted that Jesus survived crucifixion, and travelled to Kashmir through the Silk Route alongside his mother Mary/Miriam to save their lives from the Romans. En-route, Mary died in Murree (named in her honour) in Punjab region (currently in modern Pakistan) and was entombed there. Her tomb is locally known as Mai Mari da Asthan, or “Resting Place of Mother Mary.” (Anonymous, Roza Bal Shrine in Kashmir: Tomb of Jesus or a Myth?)

In Massiah Hindustan Mein (Messiah ‘Jesus’ in India)(1894), Ghulam Ahmad further developedhis theory that Jesus came to Kashmir to proselytize among the remnants of the 10 lost tribes of Ancient Israel whose descendants are still found among many groups in India such as Pashtuns/Pathans, Kashmiri Muslims, Syrian Orthodox Christians of Kerala, among others. Ahmad received the information regarding Jesus from a politician-cum-physician in Kashmir, Maulvi Abdullah Hakim Nooruddin Vakil (an opponent of Sheikh Abdullah of National Conference party). (Rather 57-59) However, Vakil later disassociated himself from the claim terming it as mere ‘speculation and conjecture’, and countered Ahmad in pamphlet Shola-e Naer aur Maqbar-e-Khanyar. (DNA) Till early-20 th century, the shrine received few visitors, who came to pay respect to the saints; but after this proclamation by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the number of visitors increased greatly. However, the visitors were primarily foreign researchers, and tourists, with Ahmadiyas rarely visiting the site as Ahmad disapproved of Saint worship.

J. D. Shams, the Ahmadiya Imam of London mosque wrote a book Where did Jesus die (1945) exploring Jesus’ crucifixion and contradictions in New Testament. Based on German studies of the “shroud,” and local Kashmiri traditions he asserted that Isa (Jesus) survived crucifixion, travelled to Kashmir, and was interred at Rozabal. Khwaja Nazir Ahmad’s (a lawyer by profession) book Jesus in Heaven on Earth (1952) repeated the previous theories regarding Jesus’ time in Kashmir, his death in Kashmir, the presence of Lost Tribes in the subcontinent; and the cultural resemblance between the Jewish people and Kashmiris. Nazir Ahmad gave a new angle asserting that Yuz Asaf was not Jesus Christ, but was an Egyptian ambassador who visited Kashmir during Sultan Zain-ul Abidin’s (1420-1470) reign. (Rather 59) This cultural resemblance between Jewish people and Kashmiris was also noted by foreign travellers. Alberuni’s Taqiq-i Hind further mentioned that the only foreigners being allowed in Kashmir under Islamic rulers were Jewish people. (Kak 7) Gultibagh (about 50 km from Srinagar), contains a small Afghan community which still speaks a version of Pashto language, that is quite similar to Hebrew. Some residents even refer to themselves as ‘Lost sheep of Israel,’ and ‘Bani Israel’ (Children of Israel). Experts claim that this is due to their descent from the lost tribes. Their physical features, customs, folklore, names, festivals as well as historical evidence further attest this fact. (Anonymous, Jesus Son of Mary - Islamic Beliefs) Local tourist guides even stated that Jesus lived in Yus Marg (the meadow of Jesus), a beautiful valley for a few days.

Muzaffar Ahmad Khan commented that the theory of Jesus’ burial in Kashmir aided the Ahmediyas in defeating the European missionaries in debates, and converting many Christians into Ahmediya Islam. This was further evident in Mirza Ghulam Ahmad declaring himself the Mujaddid or the Renewer of the Faith, and the Messiah (second coming of Jesus) for the Christians. Hence, Ghulam Ahmad used the legend of Jesus and his shrine at Rozabal to increase self-identification with Jesus to further attract Christians towards his faith. (Rather 66) Amidst the charged communal atmosphere in the aftermath of the 1965 Indo-Pak war, some miscreants dug up a grave in the Rozabal shrine leading to increased tensions between the Hindus and Muslims throughout the sub-continent. Indian columnist Praveen Swami referred to the culprits as ‘stay-back cell of Pakistan.’ (Rather 66)

Suzanne Marie Olsson, an American historical-biographer authored books Jesus in Kashmir and The Lost Tomb which rekindled interest in Rozabal shrine. Olsson claimed herself to be the 59 th generation descendant of Jesus Christ. Citing evidence from Sir Lawrence Gardner’s Bloodline of the Holy Grail she asserted that her family originally hailed from France where Jesus and Mary Magdalene (although most scholars have dismissed Jesus’ marriage to Mary Magdalene as a later fabrication) lived along with their two sons and a daughter. Claiming descent from one of the sons, she referred to the tomb as her “private family tomb” in letters to the shrine’s caretakers. She remarked that the site should be taken up by UNESCO or the Government of India and protected as a heritage site being accessible to the public. (Riza)

“The tomb's history was recorded from 112 AD, much earlier than the advent of Islam and around the same time Jesus Christ lived…. There is no question of the tomb containing any Muslim saint.” – asserts Suzanne Olsson. (Mirani) She supported her argument by studying the stone prints of Yuz Asaf’s feet kept at the shrine, which displayed some peculiar signs of injury from nails being pierced into them. She further asserted as there was no history of crucifixion in Asia, the person must have been crucified in Roman Empire (which also ruled Ancient Israel). The pre-Islamic origins of Yuz Asaf is evident in his tomb being placed in an East-West direction in conformation with Jewish rituals, and not like Islamic ones that are placed in North-South (towards Qibla) direction. Olsson went to the extent of saying that the tombs of Jewish prophets Moses and Aaron (lined in East-West direction) are at Bandipoora and Hawan respectively. (Mirani) But, this seems to be a far-fetched idea.

Olsson embarked on a daring yet dangerous task of getting DNA samples from the tomb of Yuz Asaf in the 1990s. Given the sensitive nature of the case, she was denied permission by the authorities. However, she tried to illegally dig the grave, which led the local government to stall the event and take necessary legal actions against her for hurting the feelings of local Sunni Muslims. The DNA testing of Yuz Asaf’s tomb was to be a part of a larger project named “The DNA of God” aimed at obtaining DNA samples from 7 graves in Pakistan, India, and Tibet. But it is unlikely that Olsson would be granted permission to dig the graves. (Mirani)

After Olsson’s incident, the locals grew extremely suspicious of foreigners, and visitors in general shutting off the shrine premises for everyone except on the 13 th of every lunar month. Boards have been installed outside the premises to testify that Jesus is not buried there citing verses from both the Bible and Quran to assert Jesus’ ascension to heaven in the Holy Land. Some locals even educate the visitors about the history of the shrine to quell the rumours. Ashwin Sanghi’s Rozabal Line has generated further interest in the area leading to an influx of tourists, boosting the tourism industry.

The belief that Jesus Christ is buried anywhere on Earth is blasphemous for both Christians and Muslims. While it is almost impossible to establish that Yuz Asaf was Jesus Christ, it can be firmly stated that the tomb has pre-Islamic Jewish origins as evident from its East-West orientation. The person had some injuries on his feet (likely from crucifixion) as seen in their stone prints. Currently, the tomb is looked after by a committee of Sunni Muslims, whose main purpose besides maintaining the property is to filter the entry of foreign scholars, researchers, and tourists (who are only granted entry after thorough scrutiny). After the Covid-19 lockdown was lifted, some local shopkeepers began spreading rumours about knowing a descendant of Jesus leading to increasing footfall in their stores for listening to their concocted stories, ultimately boosting their business in the post-Covid world. Like so many unsolved mysteries of the world, this one is also unlikely to get solved anytime soon. However, the curious case of Rozabal shrine may act as a plot for a thrilling documentary or feature film on Kashmir.


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