Jesus Christ in India?

The various myths, legends and lore – an overview

I must admit I was in two minds before starting on this trek. Many years ago, I found the Holger Kersten book staring down at me from one of Gangaram’s top shelves, at their MG Road store. The title ‘Jesus lived in India’ was arresting and I picked it up. Once I finished speed reading it, it became clear that there was little to back up the story of the Himalayan wanderer Nicolas Notovitch. Then there was the Ahmadiyya angle, which was quite intriguing. Who was Yousef Asaf? Was he just another contemporary mendicant? What about the Buddhist contributions?  I got hold of many relevant works listed under references, to checkout how they saw it.

Since I have only a passing interest in the subject, if only to check out the Indian angle, I will go on to just provide a precis of the legends, serving as a quick start for those interested in studying the topic in greater detail. Let me start out by saying that while most of the basic sources have a foundation on which their theories are built, the story structures that sprung up over those were very unstable fabrications. They were systematically taken apart by researchers such as Pappas and Fader, leaving the original base at Jerusalem, undisturbed.

As an outline, the myths allude to Jesus’s travels during the so called ‘missing years’ of his youth, in which period he traveled to India, then to the mountains at Ladakh, spent time at a Buddhist monastery, learning their philosophy. Returning to Israel, he propagated a version of what he learnt as the tenements of Christianity. The second myth is based on the premise that he did not die at the cross, but was brought down, treated with special ointments, recovered and fled to Kashmir where he lived out his last years and died.

There is also another angle which I chanced on, where Cleopatra and/or her son fled from Alexandria, sailing to Malabar. The son Caesarion grew up and somehow ended up at the Buddhist monastery, became Issa and traveled back to the Middle East, while other stories are doing rounds that Jesus was the great grandson of Cleopatra. I did not bother checking that out, though, Other angles cropped up, involving St Thomas and his connections with the story. It was all stimulating, so let’s take a look!

The world was somewhat at peace with the established storyline based on the Epistles of St Paul written 25 years following Jesus’s death and the New testament written 40 years after, as well as the gospels – which state (though there is hardly any archeological or hard evidence, as yet) that Jesus a Jew, with followers, was executed on the orders (aided by the Jewish priests and Caiaphas) of the Roman governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate, during the reign of the Emperor Tiberius, at Nazareth. Apparently following his father’s trade, as a carpenter, and spending a number of unrecorded or missing years, he reappears in his 30’s, gets baptized, starts to preach attracting much public attention and rises to fame and in public esteem. His ministry is a short span of just one to three and a half years and its intensity attracted the attention of the Roman administrators who considering him a trouble maker, arrest him, have him tried and crucified at Jerusalem.

He was hung between two convicted thieves and, according to the Gospel of Mark, died some six hours later. According to the Gospel of John, a soldier pierced his side with a spear to be certain that he had died, when blood and water appeared from the wound. The soldiers did not break Jesus's legs, as they did to the two crucified thieves (breaking the legs hastened the onset of death), as Jesus was dead already. Following Jesus' death, his body was removed from the cross and buried in a rock-hewn tomb. However, there is some confusion about this narrative and some question if he died and got resurrected or if he never died in the first place.

These two unclear aspects in Jesus’s life – firstly Jesus’s travels during his formative years, his deep philosophical education prior to return to Nazareth which formed a base for his preaching and secondly his life after crucifixion form the crux of the two Indian myths. The missing years are the formative years when he worked as a lay carpenter, the ages between12-29. Or, did he go on to travel and acquire much knowledge? A preacher to be acceptable has after all, to be knowledgeable, it does not just come in a flash. The lost years are the years following his resurrection, or life after being brought down from the cross (apparently still alive) instead of ascending to the heavens. None of the scriptures had covered these years well and this narrative vacuum, they say, resulted in much speculation and the creation of myths. So much for background.

The first person who pops to my mind is the 16th century missionary Robert Nobili who called the Bible the 5th Veda. Many years ago, I had introduced this Italian priest, the one who donned the looks of a Brahman in order to preach Christianity as Yesurveda, the lost 5th Veda, on the grounds that for its acceptance, he could not be just a foreign priest, he had to study the existing scriptures and language before he could face the lay man. This he did, calling himself a Roman Brahmin, dressed as a Tamil priest, wearing a sacred thread, his hair as a tuft and speaking in Tamil. He wrote and preached the Yesur Veda calling himself a descendant of Brahma!

The next was the connection between Lord Krishna of Hinduism and Christ. One Louis Jacolliot in 1869 wrote that the entire story of Jesus was a myth woven around the Bhagavatham or Krishna’s strikingly similar life. Jacolliot a French barrister, colonial judge, author and lecturer, studied and translated many Sanskrit and some Tamil scriptures and works to French. During his 2-year (1867-67) tenure at Pondicherry and the following year as chief justice at Chendernagor (in Calcutta), he got interested in Hinduism and wrote the works connecting these religions. He went on to state in his book - The Bible in India: Hindoo Origin of Hebrew and Christian Revelation that Jesus Christ was actually Jezeus Christna or Krishna the pure essence. But one should note that Jacolliot does not connect Jesus or any travel to India, otherwise. Most academics scoff at his writings, seeing them of no merit and term them pure fabrications. I will however leave it here and come back to his life, some other day.

There may have been others, but we now come to Nicolas Notovitch. Shulim or Nikolai Aleksandrovich Notovitch was a Crimean Jewish adventurer living in Paris, who claimed to be a Russian aristocrat, spy and journalist. After breaking his leg in India during a trip in 1887 and while recovering from it at the Hemis monastery in Ladakh, Notovitch learned of the Tibetan manuscript covering the Life of Saint Issa. He went back to write a book in 1894 in which he claimed that during his unknown years, Jesus left Galilee for India and studied with Buddhists and Hindus there, before returning to Judea.

Hemis Monastery
According to his accounts, he was shown two big volumes in cardboard covers, with leaves yellowed by the lapse of time” which was in Tibetan and a translation of an original document written in Pali which detailed the travels and studies of a prophet or messiah called Issa in India, recognizably the Jesus of the Gospels. Notovitch had his Nepali guide make a quick translation of its contents.

Notovitch explains - One day, while visiting a Buddhist convent on my route, I learned from a chief lama, that there existed in the archives of Lhassa, very ancient memoirs relating to the life of Jesus Christ and the occidental nations, and that certain great monasteries possessed old copies and translations of those chronicles. An unfortunate fall, causing the breaking of a leg, furnished me with an absolutely unexpected pretext for returning to the monastery, where I received surgical attention. I took advantage of my short sojourn among the lamas to obtain the consent of their chief that they should bring to me, from their library, the manuscripts relating to Jesus Christ, and, assisted by my interpreter, who translated for me the Thibetan language, transferred carefully to my notebook what the lama read to me.

He continues, stating that he returned to Europe, consulted many experts and the clergy who tried to dissuade him from publishing his fantastic discovery. Eventually he put it all down into a book, but waited till a philosopher consultant M Renan was dead, before publishing. In summary the story as he records it, goes thus…

After a long journey, perhaps through the well frequented spice trails, in caravan to Sindh, Jesus settled in Sindh and began to frequent the temples of the Jains, the link religion between Hinduism and Buddhism and presumed to have originated 7 centuries before Christ. Jesus or Issa as he was known while in India, continues his journeys to Puri Jaganath in Orissa where he spends 6 years studying Sanskrit, and thence many subjects such as Philosophy, medicine and math. While there he observes the caste system and many objectionable ways being followed in India, and started to preach to the lowest classes, the Sudras. He did not quite consider the Vedas divine, and preached that the people should only bow to one god and not the Hindu apparitions. Quoting Notovtich, Issa denied the Trimurti and the incarnation of Para-Brahma in Vishnu, Siva, and other gods; "for," said he: "The eternal Judge, the eternal Spirit, constitutes the only and indivisible soul of the universe, and it is this soul alone which creates, contains and vivifies all… and this tone continues on in many verses.

It appears that the priests of Puri decided to finish Issa off, but warned by the Sudras, he fled to the mountains and having acquired some skill with Pali, started to learn the Sutras for another six years. Thus, after another six years with the Buddhists, where he discovered monotheism, he remembers his fatherland struggling under Roman rule and decides to start back on his long trek back, preaching what he had learnt, along the way. In Persian, the Zoroastrians became upset, and cast him away hoping he would be devoured by wild beasts, but he continued on without incident, to Israel, where things were in a state of despair, for the Romans had subjugated the population.

The records purportedly discovered by Notovitch are supposed to have stated all the above in a verse form, completed by the monks after they learnt about his fate since leaving Tibet and his greatness (See link attached). 

How did that information and details of his preaching in Israel reach the scribes at Nepal? Notovitch mentions that Issa was not a popular figure when he left, but when the monks heard later of his fame in Palestine, they complied the information to create a continuous narrative.

Notovitch’s accounts were quickly rebuffed by theologians and academics, he was accused of being an American atheist, and proved to be a fraud. Notovitch slipped out from public view, but the line has been cast and to date there are many people who perused the tale and its antecedents. Notovitch wrote some other books, was jailed in Siberia for a while and spent out his life and royalties living a rich social life.
N Notovitch

What were the reasons in casting this away as a fraud? A detailed analysis is provided by Fader. The situation itself presents a problem, a very feverish Notovitch with a broken leg and a local guide meet the monks who narrate the verses and the guide loosely translates the verses for Notovitch to jot down. He rearranges them and gets it printed many years later, and centuries later, when Abhedananda visits the same Hemis monastery, comes up with the exact same English translation and wording! When many others including Holger Kersten visited Hemis, they were told no such scrolls existed. So to date nobody has photographed or really seen the volumes of Issa’s story, and so it is a pure fabrication.

Now we come to the second part of the story, which is the story of his second coming to India, this time to Kashmir, after escaping from death at the cross. The sect called the Ahamadis believe that Christ believed dead at the cross, was brought down and nursed back to life with various spices and herbs. In 1890 Ghulam Ahmed published “Jesus in India’. Ahmed who acquired the tale from divine inspiration, that Jesus journeyed again East to India, looking for the ten lost tribes of Israel, to preach to and live amongst them and finally reached Kashmir, where he died at an old age. His tomb and shrine can be found at the Khanyar quarter, the Rozabal shrine.

A later Ahmadiyya scholar, Al-Haj Nazir Ahmed condensed all this in his ‘Jesus in Heaven on Earth’. According to the Ahamadi’s the ten lost tribes settled in the region of Assareth (now the Hazara district) and the present days Afghanis and Kashmiris are descendants of these tribes and haver customs similar to the Jews. Interestingly per the Ahamadis, Jesus had brought along his mother Mary and his twin brother Judas Thomas (Didymus), traveling along to Syria, thence Urfa in Tukey, then Nisbis (Madgonia) which is when one King Gondaphares (Gopadatta)of India requested the king of Nisbis for a builder who could build him a Roman style palace. Jesus deputes his brother Thomas to take care of that since he was a skilled mason and carpenter, and he completed the work in 6 months, at Taxila. All this is dated to 48-49AD.

Jesus by now sporting the alias Yusuf Asaf, leaves Nisbis and travels East, spent some time in Persia, then moved to Afghanistan and preached at Ghazni and Jalalabad. Here Jesus meets his brother Thomas again and they decide to travel farther. At Murree, Mary passes on and is buried at Pindi point, a tomb which was venerated for a long time. Jesus continued on, arriving Kashmir in 60AD and lived there (Yusumarg) as a preacher until his demise around 110AD. is not clear when Yusuf Asaf passed away in Srinagar, but he is recorded as living in 78 (so aged 85 as Jesus was born in 7BC). His last instructions asked Thomas his disciple and brother to continue his missionary work. Now we come to some mentions of Jesus’s travels from Srinagar to visit the Bani Israelites in Malabar and Ceylon! There are mentions of a Solomon temple atop Mt Solomon in Srinagar and at a location called Aishmquam, it appears the Rams of god and Jesus’s staff were preserved.

Thomas (Ba’bad) as instructed, decides to go preaching and goes to Taxila and journeys South East, but could not find any ship to Malabar for there is a war in South India. He therefore sails on to Socotra, and preaches in Abyssinia briefly. From there he finds passage to sails on to Malabar, lands in Cranganore where he pauses (the story well known to the Malayali Christians) to create a new community and establishes the seven churches and a substantial following. He continues on to Mylapore where he preaches, tries to convert a local queen Tertia and gets murdered for doing that.

So much for the second part of the story, but Ghulam Ahmad, the founder of the sect maintains that Jesus came to India only after his crucifixion and that Buddhism was influenced by Christian works and not the other way around. There is also a confusion in these narratives as to who was responsible for his death – Jewish priests or the Roman governor Pilate, and some feel that the Jewish traders cast the blame on Pilate, thus coloring the Buddhist account of Issa.

The tomb of Yusuf Asaf (Shazada Nabi or Hazrat Isa) is called Rozabal or prophet’s tomb where a smell of musk used to emanate from the tomb for many centuries, until an untoward incident stopped it. The descendants or the Mir family are legal owners of this private property. Behind the tomb are footprints on a stone, showing crucifixion wounds. The place is a popular stop for many visitors, religious or otherwise, these days and actually home to multiple tombs, with Yousef Asaf’s tomb being in the lower crypt and aligned East-West in the Jewish tradition.

Faber Kaiser’s supporting work is also taken apart by critics such as Fader, since he refers to obscure witnesses to the scrolls such as Lady Merrick who turned out to be an ordinary traveler who never witnessed anything but only alluded to the existence of some scrolls. Ahmad Shah and A Douglas who visited Hemis in 1894-95 found monks who had never heard of any scrolls or Issa, damming the Notovitch book’s credibility. Holger Kresten visited Hemis in 1979, found no scrolls, but after discussions with one F Hassnain in Kashmir, propounded the double trip to India notion.

Kashmiri informs us (he has used a good bit of reasoning from Kaiser’s book), quoting also many other sources, that Kashmir, where a number of biblical place names and Hebrew words can still be evidenced, is actually Kashir (Hebrew for Halal) and that the Kashmiri pandits, descendants of Kashyapa are the Bani Israel or immigrants from Israel. He also states that the boatmen of Srinagar are descendants of Noah (Noah is buried at Tanda)! He provides more detail on Moses’s tomb located at Booth-Bandipura, and goes on to claim the Aryans were actually the Bani Israel. The Kashmiri language originated not from Sanskrit, but from Hebrew (Ibrani), mixed with Syrian and to lend credence, gives a large number of examples. He also points out that Kashmiri temple architecture is reminiscent of ancient Babylon and Jerusalem. These are the reasons why Kashmir, according to him, was always known as the “Paradise on Earth”.

Nicholas Roerich visited Hemis with his son George in 1925 and stated - In Hemis indeed lies an old Tibetan translation from the manuscript, written in Pali and preserved in a well-known monastery near Lhasa. But no additional proof was provided by him. The books by Elizabeth and Suzanne are mentioned for completeness of available resources, but I could not find the energy to peruse them in detail, especially the latter, to be quite frank, for the story was taking me nowhere.

As expected, there is much debate on if the Ahmadi claims hold any water. The Paul Pappas study goes over it in detail and after debating it, states that the Ahamadis were selective in their use of original scriptures to create a new storyline and points out to the major issue with them is Ahmed’s harping on sex being a carnal sin, right through. There are other issues with Ahmadi claims that King Solomon flew to Kashmir, the construction of the Temple of Solomon, and the issue of Moses being buried at Mt Niltoop (Nebo) in Kashmir, so also his brother Haroon. But these myths and legends continue to be believed by some, right or wrong.
Roza bal tomb

The story of the Ahmadiyya or Ahmadi sect started by Mirza Ghulam Muhammad in 1889, is quite sad. They are considered heretical by orthodox Muslims because they consider Ghulam Muhammad to be their prophet and not Muhammed. The Ahmadis insist that Ahmed was not a "law-giving" prophet and his job was only to propagate the laws enunciated by Islam's Prophet Mohammad. After independence, they moved their headquarters to Pakistan but were a persecuted community and termed officially as non-Muslims following which they moved their HQ to London, now ministering about 10 million Ahmadis worldwide from London.

Now what did the fledgling post-independence Indian government have anything to do with all this? The national archives present an interesting tale. One AK Gupta petitioned Pt Nehru for assistance to obtain copies of the Pali manuscripts at Hemis - Ladakh and asked for the matter to be checked with the Dalia Lama who had arrived in India. When reminded  by the Dept of Education and the PMO, President etc, the ad hoc committee of Indology considered the whole matter to be ‘not serious’ enough for study, but they thought it a good idea to check with Dr Roerich (since his father had visited Hemis to check the matter out). After many failed attempts in eliciting a response from Dr Roerich, the J&K state minister Kushok Bakula confirmed in 1958 that no such manuscripts existed at Leh and Hemis Gumpas. The department of education & scientific affairs opined that a large article in Blitz which triggered all this should be given no credence. Why Svetoslav Roerich remained silent is not known, for his brother George also visited the Hemis monastery with their father in 1925 and had alluded to the existence of the scrolls.

The arguments and counter arguments continue, though infrequently these days, with nothing left at Tibet by way of Issa’s evidence, after the Chinese cleansing. The tomb of Yusus Asaf is still there, but no real evidence connects Yusuf Asaf to Jesus. So, did Jesus wander around the world during the missing years or did he just work on as a carpenter in his own hometown during the missing years? Did he acquire his profound knowledge or was it suddenly revelated to him? Did he die at the cross or many decades later, in Kashmir?

I have briefly retold the myths and legends, but I will offer no opinion as I am in no way qualified to do that. The books listed under references provide all the detail. As the idiom goes, Each to his own.

The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ - Nicolas Notovitch
The Issa tale that will not die – H Louis Fader
Jesus tomb in India – Paul C Pappas
Jesus Lived in India – Holger Kresten
Christ in Kashmir – Aziz Kashmiri
Jesus died in Kashmir – Faber Kaiser
Lost years of Jesus - Elizabeth Clare Prophet
Jesus in Kashmir – Suzanne Olsson
Journey into Kashmir & Tibet – Abhedananda

Pics – Hemis & others – Wikimedia 


Nedyam Raghavan – Unknown to most

Lawyer, Freedom fighter, Statesman from Malabar

We had been studying the lives of people from a past generation, those who fought for Indian independence. We read a lot about the Menon from the West - VKKM, we also perused stories on the VP Menon from the South, who integrated the country, ACN Nambiar who lived in Europe and along the way so many other Menon’s and Nair’s, lesser in no way. But we forgot to pen a detailed story of the illustrious diplomat N Raghavan. He was perhaps the person who led the most interesting of lives, moving from Shoranur to Madras, then through UK, Malaya, Burma, India and eventually various cities across the globe as a diplomat, during the Nehru years. He was even more interesting since he worked under the British Indian administration, the Japanese conquerors in SE Asia, the INA team at Burma and after incarceration by both Japanese and the British, joined the Nehru administration following independence. What a varied life, and I am sure most of you have so far, only a hint of this fascinating person.

I did introduce him briefly in the IIL stories of TP Kumaran Nair and mentioned him in the Japan elephant story. But I am sure you will agree, that he needs a page for himself, since his contributions have been numerous, with the ILL, with Rash Behari Bose, as Netaji’s INA finance Minister and finally as a diplomat for a few decades in the Nehru government representing India at Argentina, France, Indonesia (CG), Czechoslovakia, Switzerland, China and so on. Suja Sugathan did publish a paper about him some years ago, but this covered mainly his work at the helm of the IIL. He had an eventual life after all that, as we will soon see.

Like the illustrious diplomats, the Vellodi’s, Raghavan too has a connection to the Kottakal Zamorin Kovilakom, for he was the son of K C Veerarayan Raja (Neduthralpad) and Nedyamveetil Meenakshi (connected to the Guruvayur Mallissery Illam), born 23rd June 1900. After schooling in Cochin, he did his BA Econ (History & Politics) at Madras Christian College and began a career as journalist at ‘The Daily Express’ Madras.

The 1920’s had many white-collar professionals moving to work at Singapore and Malaya. Penang had a decent Malayalee émigré population and it was PK Nambiyar, who was entrenched at Penang who became instrumental in influencing Raghavan’s later life. P. K. Nambiyar, an inner temple lawyer who initially practiced in Madras during 1894 till 1904, moved to Penang as its pioneer Indian barrister. Nambiyar was a popular man, he founded the Penang Indian Association in 1924 and served as its President till 1927. Upon his passing away in April 1928, N K Menon, his son took over as the 2nd President of the PIA.

Some mentions can be seen that Raghavan first came to Penang in 1920 and assisted P K Nambiar in his law practice and somewhere along the way, he met Nambiyar’s daughter Radha, and they got married in 1924, cementing Raghavan’s ties with the Nambiyar family. Following this, he left for Britain, in order to study law. He completed it at the Council of Legal Education - London and Inner Temple in 1927, something he had to acquire since it was a prerequisite in Malaya to practice law. While in England, he was a member of the British Labor Party and the Fabian society and wrote for several newspapers and was particularly fond of G Bernard Shaw.

Raghavan came back to Malaya after his father-in-law’s death and started to practice as a barrister at law in Penang from August 1928. He proved to be very successful and was equally well respected in the Chinese, Indian and Malay communities. Soon enough, the couple had two sons - Keshub Chandra and Jaidev as well as a daughter Meenakshi. In 1930, Raghavan became the president of the All Malay Indian association, taking over from NK Menon. As the leader of the Penang Indian Association and CIAM between 1930-37 and from 1938-40, his involvement in sorting out various issues of estate labor have been well documented. He was also one of the two prominent lawyers who drafted the Constitution of the Malaysian Indian Chamber of Commerce, Penang and served as the president of the Straits Settlement (Penang) association.

It was in 1930 that Raghavan met Jawaharlal Nehru when the latter came to inaugurate the CIAM (Central Indian Association of Malaya) and after that event, Raghavan maintained contact and close links with Indian Congress leaders. For Indians in Malaya, the CIAM was very important as the only body which would look at the grievances of the Indian laborers in the various mills and estates. In 1936 Raghavan met Rash Behari Bose at Japan while on a holiday. Bose kindled his patriotic fire, by asking what exactly Raghavan was doing personally to further India’s freedom struggle. When Raghavan mentioned cooperation with Congress, Bose seemed to have other ideas and they parted, but only to meet much later, in 1942.

The world war followed, and in 1941, the Japanese first took Singapore, then ran through Malaya and followed on to camp at Burma. The British fled, and with that the administrative machinery at Malaya was in tatters. It was during all this that Raghavan formed and led the All Mayalan National Congress. This was the front organization which discussed the Indian question with the Japanese invaders.

Following the Japanese invasion, Malaya's major ethnic groups, the Indians and Malays, generally escaped the worst ill-treatment while the Chinese bore the brunt of it. The Japanese wanted the support of the Indian community to invade and free India from British rule. As the war progressed all three ethnic communities began to suffer deprivations from increasingly severe rationing, hyper-inflation, and a lack of resources. Both the Malay and Indian communities gradually came into more conflict with the occupying Japanese. Meanwhile, Japanese intelligence officer Major Iwaichi Fujiwara had persuaded Major Mohan Singh of the 14th Punjab to form the INA with defecting and Indian soldiers (POW’s from the battle of Jitra). By 1942, the INA had 40,000 members with Mohan Singh as CInC.

As we saw, Raghavan was the President of CIAM. in 1941, when Rash Behari Bose arrived in Singapore to organize the political and military arms of the INA. The Indian Independence League (IIL) was formed as the political wing of the INA with Rash Behari as its leader. Raghavan was one of the five members of the executive committee of the IIL.

In Singapore, we now see the proclamation of the All-Malayan Indian Independence League. The League was headed by Nedyam Raghavan. Joining him at the board was another Malayali, K.P.Kesava Menon from Singapore and S.C.Goho (head of Indian Passive defense in Singapore and a lawyer himself). Indians flocked to join the IIL and membership was estimated to be around a hundred thousand at the end of August 1942. The IIL card helped them when accosted by a Japanese soldier for the League's membership card identified the holder as Indian (and thus an ally), it was needed to collect rations from Japanese depots. KP Keshava Menon was also from Palghat, hailing from the Tharoor region and a member of the Palghat royalty. He was like Raghavan, a London educated barrister, but had moved to Singapore from Calicut where he used to practice earlier.

Soon the ‘Indian friendly’ Fujiwara was transferred back to Japan and his place was taken by a rigid intelligence officer Hideo Iwakuro who was not too particular about Indians of their independence. He was a spy-maker, and this was the reason why Iwakuro sponsored the school for spies in Penang.

N Raghavan decided to head what is known as the Hind Swaraj Vidyalaya (Indian Swaraj institute) or the Nakano Gakko at the Free school building (now the state museum) on the Green line road in Penang. The school was formed to provide crash courses for people of Indian origin, in espionage, intelligence gathering, photography, use of firearms and surveying. The intention of course was to create a 5th column and send them to India. However, matters started to take a change for the worse in the military circles at Malaysia, mainly due to ego clashes and internal squabbles. Iwakuro had ideas which Raghavan refused to agree with, Mohan Singh had clashes with Iwakuro. Rash Behari did not agree with Mohan and thus, KP Keshava Menon and others resigned from their posts. Mohan Singh moved a large number of soldiers to Burma for menial work. Iwakuro sent out the first set of ill-fated trainees in submarines to Indian shores without Raghavan’s knowledge.

When Raghavan at Penang heard of all this and the fact that Iwakuro was trying to set up an Indian youth league, he was furious and resigned from the ISI (Lebra suggests that Behari Bose forced his hand) without further negotiations. He had enough of the high handed Iwakuro (and it seems, he and his family were threatened of death as well) and was aghast at the Japanese behavior. As Raghavan was to recount later, his instructions to the cadets were, as patriots, to report to the local INC personnel after reaching India, not to do spy work for Japan, but to work for the Azad hind. Anyway, Raghavan was placed into house arrest and he continued with his legal profession. Rash Behari Bose said - Because of all this muddle which could have been avoided, Mr. Raghavan, who was all the time advocating better co-ordination between the Army and the Council, resigned. Mohan Singh was exiled. Rash Behari Bose now decided to bring in a new leader, NSC Bose.

As NSC Bose arrived to take over the reins of the INA, he did not fail to note that the people’s support lay with Raghavan, and so he entreated him to join the INA which Raghavan did after Bose got him released from captivity. Bose told Raghavan - The position has changed, it is like this, If I had to choose between you and the Japanese, I would choose you. Raghavan states – It broke me down, I went with him and joined his government as a minister.

When the INA headquarters was shifted from Singapore to Burma, it was Raghavan who worked hard with the Chettiar’s in Burma and the rest of the South East to marshal support and collect enormous funds for the INA (Roughly 200 million rupees or some 61 million US dollars’ worth from Indians in Malaya and Burma). Raghavan connected better with the wealthy south Indian communities in Malaya and Burma and ensured a steady flow of resources into the INA government’s coffers. The British IB reports however point out that even though Raghavan was the head of the Finance Ministry, he did not enjoy the full control over revenue as the Netaji Fund Committee and the Azad Hind Bank were not in his control.

Records show that Raghavan was a fiercely patriotic and fiery orator, and the British considered him one of Bose’s chief propaganda agents. When Netaji reassembled his civilian administration in Bangkok,  Raghavan brought resources from Singapore, and Ayer negotiated a loan from the Thai government. He was one of the last to see Bose before he flew to Saigon, via Bangkok.

It was Raghavan who complained and forced Bose to take up the plight of the civilian Tamil estate laborers who had been forced by the Japanese to build the death railway. The Japanese admitted to taking 120,000 Tamils for the work of which only a third survived. Raghavan estimated that they took an additional 60,000 of which a mere 20,000 returned. It is perhaps the most horrible event of the war, which has since then been simply glossed over by all concerned. We can see that patriotic fervor and the desire to liberate India from the British kept Raghavan going even in the dark days when the INA lost battles, when Bose departed for Japan and lost his life, and the INA collapsed.

On reoccupying Singapore and Malaya, the British jailed most of the INA soldiers and leaders at Singapore, Raghavan was among them. It has been mentioned that the British were no better than the Japs, in this regard, being arbitrary and revengeful. Eventually in Dec 1945, a deputation from India were able to meet them and soon enough, the wheels in India started to turn. 

SK Chettur who visited Malaya with the team met Radha Raghavan and he wrote - Mrs. Raghavan was a distinguished-looking lady who greeted me with a sad face. She had learnt that two days before I arrived her husband had been transferred to Singapore jail for interrogation. She was bearing up bravely under the strain as did all the other wives.  Nehru took it upon himself (supported by GF Hutheesing) to sort matters out and obtain his release in 1946, even when the British tried to trump up charges on Raghavan about INA fund management. Hutheesing quickly proved that the evidence, a letter, had been forged. Nehru later appointed Raghavan next as the vice-chairman and the acting chairman of an Indian relief committee in Malaya.

Nehru stated formally in his report dated 16th April 1946 - Certain allegations were made specially against Mr. N. Raghavan, the Finance Minister of the Azad Hind Government. None of these were substantiated and indeed a document produced in support of these allegations was found by Hutheesing to be forged. Both Hutheesing and I are clearly of the opinion that Raghavan is completely free of any taint in this matter or in any other. He is undoubtedly one of the leading and most popular Indians in Malaya though he has a number of enemies especially among those who have recently returned from India. It was because I had full faith in Raghavan and his capacity that I appointed him the vice-chairman and acting chairman of the relief committee I have formed there. I might add that all the I.N.A. officers here whom I have consulted have also expressed their full faith in Raghavan.

In June 1946, Raghavan went back to India with his wife and children to settle down in Madras. With war out of the way, and his path into the foreign service paved, Raghavan took over as consul general at Dutch Batavia (35,000 Indians lived there, those days) to handle Batavia and set up a diplomatic link with the newborn state of  Indonesia. He served there until 1948. Although Raghavan was representing India in Dutch Batavia, he was also instructed to be in contact with Sukarno and his new Government in Djakarta. From 1948 to 1950 he was the Indian ambassador to Czechoslovakia, moving on to Brussels and as an envoy to Luxembourg until 1951.

He was by then a somewhat changed man, the years of rough life had hardened him, and he took his position and its pomp perhaps a bit too seriously. Jagat Mehta mentions in his memoirs that he was a strict father to his children and that the ambassador was a stickler for rules at the embassy, enforcing full compliance in all matters. MO Mathai adds that Raghavan once set a telegram to India, conveying exact details of somebody (perhaps an embassy employee) smuggling some precious stones (?) and suggested he be administered castor oil on arrival to get the precious contents out of his posterior, which as you can imagine, the customs officials gleefully executed!!

From 1951 to 1952 he was an ambassador in Bern and accredited to the Holy See and the Allied Commission for Austria in Vienna. After flitting around Europe, it was time to move back East, and he took on the critical post in China as India’s Ambassador, as KM Panikkar headed back home, due to his wife’s illness. Thus, he was the second Indian Ambassador in Peking during the 1952-56 period. During this tenure, the governments of India and China agreed on the much talked about Panchsheel Treaty of peaceful coexistence.

An interesting vignette which I chanced on, relates to his embassy team serving South Indian Sambar to the Chinese (a total of 520 servings) plus other Indian food such as jalebis when Nehru visited Peking during Diwali 1954. Mao said after the dinner – Indian diplomacy is something we should copy; all the service is praiseworthy. China thanks you!

Raghavan had a unique advantage compared to Panikkar, he had lived for many years among the Chinese at Malaya and understood their mindset and behavior. Without doubt, his days at Beijing were trying and Raghavan with his astute people skills, correctly judged that the Chinese could not always be taken for face value. His report to Nehru is telling. He mentions to Nehru that the Chinese, unlike warm-hearted Indians, are not emotional by nature, and while the Indian people often displayed an emotional approach towards China, the Chinese themselves have none such towards India. He added that “Any friendship [in China] is evaluated from the standpoint of its usefulness to China.” For more details check out the article - On China, when shall we learn the lessons – Claude Arpi.

Raghavan left China well before the cauldron boiled over and was soon headed for the Southern hemisphere. From 1956 to 1959 he was ambassador at Buenos Aires and was accredited to the government in Santiago de Chile. Moving back to Europe he served as the Indian ambassador to Paris 1959-61. Raghavan hung up his boots, to retire at long last, in 1963 after which he did a lecture tour through Malaysia and Ceylon. From 1964 to 1965 he traveled around and made lectures in the United States, Japan and Southeast Asia.

We can see from various sources that he led a varied and interesting life, for a while he was even a senior hospital assistant, and at Penang was active in the art scene, writing and directing stage plays (acting as Jesus) for the Kerala Samajam. He wrote two slim books, one about Malaya and another on Burma. On the sporting side, we find a mention of his playing tennis whenever opportune. His son Keshub Chandra worked as an executive for Gillanders Arbuthnot. His daughter Meenakshi married PS Menon. I was not able to determine any details of his second son Jaidev. His sister Ammalu Amma lived out her life with her family in Singapore.

Raghavan passed away in Dec 1977, unheralded, for I could not find a single obituary (maybe it is my fault entirely in not searching even harder!) and this was a man who did so much for India, at such huge personal hardships. But then again, life is like that, forgetfulness comes easily, I guess!

Selected works of  Jawaharlal Nehru Vol 15
N Raghavan – A Malayali freedom fighter in SE Asia – Suja Sugathan JOKS , Vol 32, 2005
Rash Behari Basu, his struggle for India’s independence – Radhanath Rath
The INA and Japan – Joyce Chapman Lebra
India and Malaya – Nedyam Raghavan
His Majesty’s opponent Subhas Chandra Bose and India’s struggle against empire - Sugata Bose
When Nehru Looked East: Origins of India-US Suspicion and India-China Rivalry - Francine Frankel
From Malabaris to Malaysians: The Untold Story of Malayalees in Penang – Suresh Narayanan
Class, Race and Colonialism in West Malaysia: The Indian Case - Michael R Stenson
Indian Diplomats abroad – Nilkan Perumal
Witness to History – J Victor Morais
Maddy’s Ramblings - T P Kumaran Nair’s story Part 1 and Part2

Note - Dec 2022 - I am of the opinion that the Stenson photo of Raghavan is perhaps not his likeness, so am replacing the photo with another.

Raghavan Photo courtesy - Class, Race and Colonialism in West Malaysia, Stenson

  •  It is from Raghavan’s book on Malaya that I gleaned an interesting fact - In those days all South Indian laborers landing in Malay were called ‘Ramaswamy’s by English supervisors in the Rubber estates!
  • One Lt Col JP Cross who wrote a book titled Operation Black Rose, describes Raghavan with a racist undertone as ‘a round faced Penang Lawyer who had eyebrows like hairy caterpillars, was small bodied and  hirsute as a man-eating spider’! What a snobbish pom!
  • It was while perusing this story that I came across Dr Anitha Devi Pillai, author of “From Kerala to Singapore, yet again. Many years ago, she was searching for details on Raghavan, but at that time, I had only some. I went through her book recently while researching further for this article and would recommend the book as a good resource for anybody who wants to know more about the many people who sailed to Singapore and Malaya in those days from Kerala, as well as their varied lives and times.  The book traces the lives of Malayalees in Singapore through conversations covering their memories and experiences of moving from Kerala to Singapore and how their families subsequently built their lives here, slowly sinking their roots and becoming Singapore Malayalees. Anitha currently teaches writing pedagogy and writing at the National Institute of Education (Nanyang Technological University, Singapore) and is currently working on a book of short stories and a historic novel.