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 



Haddock said...

Wonder if George is around or is he dead and gone.....

Maddy said...

Hi Haddock, Nicholas Roerich had two sons George and Svetoslav. While Nicholas was quite convinced about the travels, George (Yuri) was not quite convinced and made no mention of Issa or Notovitch in his own travel diary. George passed away in 1960. The younger Svetoslav is well known to Indians, and lived in Bangalore (the priceless Tataguni estate, replete with art treasures and antiques) with Devika Rani, passing on in 1993. I think the Roerich family was well known to the Nehru's as well.

Brahmanyan said...

There is one more place north of Rishikesh,on the bank's of Ganga,called Vashishista Gufa, where it is said Jesus had stayed and meditated. I have seen this Cave above Vashishta Gufa. There is an Ashram here.

Maddy said...

thanks Brahmanyan,
that's interesting, i have to check that out.

Anyway i was thinking about the potential distances Jesus had to walk in these two fictional trips..It would have totaled to about 15,000 miles including the walks within the Indian kingdoms. Then I thought, well, not that large for a human with an average lifespan of 80 walks 120,000 miles in his life!!

For those interested in the Silk road, check this article of mine

Satchidekam108 said...

His very existence is in doubt let alone him being in India.

Jen1980 said...

Myth? You us this word as if this is a menial subject. This is not a throw-away subject. This is a Holy Man whom is closest to Brahman. Our Lord Jesus was/is capable of doing anything. If a man can walk on water, he can go to India. Lord Jesus is the most Holy and sits with Brahman. We have many Holy people in the Universe.Why doubt his travels? Why doubt any possiblity that He went to India or elsewhere? He can do whatever He chooses.