Kashmir has many popular myths and legends. Mysterious, intriguing and sometimes controversial. One of the most talked about in recent times is the existence of a tomb at Rozabal, Khanyar that is supposed to be final resting place of Jesus Christ. There are two aspects to this legend. First is about the coming of Jesus Christ to Kashmir after resurrection and then preaching here till his natural death and subsequent burial. The other is the migration and ultimate settlement of some of the lost tribes of Israelites in Kashmir after having travelled through Afghanistan. Prof.Dr.Fida Mohammad Hassnain has written two books, the “Fifth Gospel” and “In search of Historical Jesus” on the subject. The books are result of extensive research conducted by Prof.Hassnain over a period of time. Faber Kaiser published his book “Jesus in Heaven on Earth” in Germany. One of the recent ones is “Jesus lived in India” by Holger Kersten. Apart from these, there are dozens of other books, research papers, documentary films on both the subjects, the Jesus Tomb and the Israeli origin of Kashmiris. All these theories are based on the assumption that Jesus did not die on the cross. This theory has received a tremendous boost after the publication of the novel The “DA VINCI CODE” (the New York Times Bestseller) by Dan Brown.
The Kashmir connection begins from the Hemis Monastery in Leh, Ladakh. In 1887, Russian Historian and Scholar, Nicolai Notovitch visited Ladakh and discovered a manuscript written in Tibetan which described the complete life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Notovitch got the manuscript translated with the help of some friendly lamas. On his return to Europe, he tried to get it published but no one was prepared to do it. Finally, he succeeded in getting it published in Paris in 1894 in the book form under the title “ Unknown life of Saint Issa”. The publication of the book raised a storm in the entire Christian world. It was labelled blasphemy. Many missions were sent to Hemis to verify the existence of the manuscript. Even Vatican got interested. Many attempts were made to totally deny the existence of the manuscript. Notovitch was alleged to be a fraud. Even his visit to Ladakh was refuted. However, there were many other witnesses who had seen these writings before and after Notovitch. Others who had seen or written about the manuscript include Nicolas Roerich, Madame Elisabeth Caspari, Lady Henrietta Merrick and Swami Abhedananda. Lady Henrietta Merrick in her book, “In the World’s Attic”, published in 1931 writes, “In Leh is the legend of Christ who is called “Issa”, and it is said that the monastery at Hemis holds precious documents fifteen hundred years old, which tell of the days he passed in Leh where he was joyously received and where he preached”. The manuscript has never been seen after that. In 1998, I accompanied two friends from London, Peter Montagnon of BBC and John Purdie of Channel 4 to Ladakh. We met all the senior lamas with the intention of having a look on the manuscript in Hemis. We were informed that all important manuscripts and relics are in a sealed chamber and cannot be opened as the head lama is in Tibet. He had gone there for studies. When the Chinese occupied Tibet, he got stuck there. Peter flew to Tibet twice to meet the head lama to persuade him for the opening of the sealed chamber to allow us to verify the existence of the manuscript. But we did not succeed and the most controversial and explosive piece of evidence remains sealed till this day and it is hoped someday it may see the light of the day.
It is said that Jesus had travelled with caravans before the age of 12 to India and Tibet. He preached at Varanasi and then proceeded to Tibet through Kashmir and Ladakh. Christianity is supposed to be influenced by Buddhism to a great extent. There is no record of the life of Jesus between the ages of 12 and 30. It is further said that the tribe of Essenes who were close to Jesus had given him some herbs, which put him in a death like trance on the cross. He was presumed dead and taken off the cross. The Essenes revived him and he travelled with Mary Magdalene to Kashmir where he died a natural death. These are conjectures and theories without any scientific basis. A number of persons including famous fiction writer Von Denikin have visited Rozabal to verify the truth but without any success. No one has succeeded in confirming the truth of these theories due to many local constraints and inhibitions.
The other historical Tomb supposed to exist in Kashmir is that of Moses. The Bible names five landmarks in relation to Moses’ burial site: the Plains of Moab, Mount Nebo, the peak of Pisgah, Beth-peor, and Heshbon. All the five named landmarks are to be found in one well-defined location near Auth Wattu, Bandipore. There are many names of places beginning or ending with Musa (Moses) in different parts of the valley, such as Muqam-i-Musa, Sang-i-Musa, Musa Marg and so on. There is supposed to be a staff of Moses in the cave at Aish Muqam. All these legends seem quite intriguing but lack scientific basis and are without any verification. These depend upon local beliefs and references in ancient books and travelogues. These need to be checked and verified by modern scientific methods as has been done in case of similar historical finds relating to Pharaohs of Egypt.
Next comes the second important Biblical connection of the Kashmiri People to Israelites. This can be easily established through the use of modern scientific research tools. It is said that after the destruction of Third Temple, the twelve tribes of Israelites were dispersed all over the world. Some of these tribes have been traced in different locations. In fact, remnants of one of the tribes were recently confirmed to be in Mizoram by DNA testing. Some of the members of this tribe are now planning to migrate to Israel. There is a theory that one of the tribes came to Kashmir through Afghanistan and settled here. Kashmir was originally inhabited by Nagas and Pisacas who must have been here from the Neolithic age (new stone age). Dwelling Pits from Neolithic age have been discovered at Burz Hom and some other places in the valley. Kalhana mentions these original inhabitants in Raj Tarangni. There is also mention of Mlecchas coming in to Kashmir off and on. These Mlecchas were probably Israelites? It is said that in ancient Kashmir, the inhabitants of the valley did not allow outsiders to enter. The only exception was the Israelites who would be allowed to enter in small numbers.
There are many similarities between Jews and Kashmiris. The Hebrew word Kasher or Kashir or in English, Kosher means approvable, especially in relation to food. Kashmiris still call their country Kashir and its inhabitants Kashur. More than 300 names of geographical features, of towns, regions and estates, and of tribes, clans, families and individuals in the Old Testament can be matched with linguistically related or phonetically similar names in Kashmir and its environs.
Examples are Amal, Bal, Gabba, Gani, Ajas, Aror, Behatpoor, Harwan and so on. The present temple of Shankaracharya was originally known as Takht-i-Suleiman, the “Throne of Solomon”. According to an inscription, the new temple was restored in AD 78 by King Gopadatta (also called Gopananda) on the foundations of an older, ruined building. Tradition has it that Solomon once visited the region. According to Holger Kersten, “the Kashmiris are different in every respect from other peoples in India. Their way of life, their behaviour, their morals, their character, their language, customs and habits are all of a type that might be described as typically Israelite. Like present- day Israelis, the Kashmiris do not use fat for frying and baking; they only use oil. Most Kashmiris eat smoked fish called fari, which is eaten by Israelis in remembrance of the time before their Exodus from Egypt. Butchers’ knives in Kashmir are in half-moon shape typical of the Israelites, and even the rudders and paddles of the boat people (Hanjis) are of the similarly typical heart shape. The men wear distinctive skullcaps on their heads. The clothing of the old women of Kashmir (Pandtanis) is very similar to that of Jewish women, and like them they also wear headscarves and laces. Married Pandit women wear “Deiji Hor”, which is also worn by Jewish women. Like young Jewish girls, the girls of Kashmir dance in two facing columns with linked arms, moving together forwards and backwards to the rhythm. They call their songs rof. After bearing a child, woman of Kashmir observes forty days’ seclusion for purification; this, too, is a Jewish custom. Many of the older graves in Kashmir are aligned in east-west orientation, while as Islamic graves normally point north-south.”
In addition to what has been stated above from the book of Holger Kersten, there are many other similarities. Kashmiri bread, Tsochiwor, is a typical Jewish beagle. In most of the Kashmiri shrines at the entrance there is a round metallic bell with chains that is also seen in Jewish Synagogues. Most of the shrines like in Israel are usually located on hilltops or higher ground. Kashmiri Pheran is a typical Jewish Robe. During last few years, a large number of Israeli tourists have been visiting Kashmir. Once, I asked a Professor from Telaviv University why so many Israelis were coming to Kashmir? He answered that while travelling all over India, the only place were they feel attracted and at home is Kashmir.
All these similarities are very intriguing and definitely merit a full-fledged scientific inquiry. There has been extensive coverage of these legends and fanciful stories through the media but now is the right time to bring out the truth by using modern scientific tools such as Anthropological measurements and DNA testing. It would be an ideal subject for research by the concerned department of the University of Kashmir. Collaboration or assistance from some foreign universities should be easily forthcoming. Let us hope some of our scholars take an early initiative and start such a project. Confirmation of the existence of some of these relics will start a flood of western tourists to Kashmir.