That Jesus survived crucifixion, travelled to Kashmir, eventually died there and is buried in Srinagar is an urban legend which has found many takers over the years. Every season hundreds of tourists visit the Rozabal shrine of Sufi saint Yuz Asaf in downtown Srinagar, believed by many to be the final resting place of Christ. But there’s a new twist to the tale — the medieval shrine was recently closed down after an enthusiastic ‘believer’ , New York-based writer Suzanne Olsson, allegedly tried to exhume it.
The shrine itself, at the edge of a winding alley in the backstreets of old Srinagar, first came into the limelight when a local journalist, Aziz Kashmiri, argued in his 1973 book, Christ in Kashmir, that Jesus survived crucifixion some 2,000 years ago, migrated to Kashmir and was buried in Srinagar. The modest stone building with traditional multi-tiered roof slipped into oblivion but came into focus again in 2002 when Olsson arrived in Srinagar, claiming to be Christ’s ‘59th descendant’ and seeking DNA testing of the shrine’s remains.
In a series of letters to the shrine’s caretakers , Olsson said she considers Rozabal a “private family tomb” . She further wrote: “My family has it (sic) origins in France, where Jesus and his wife Mary Magdalene lived for 30 years after the crucifixion. There they had two sons and one daughter. We’re descendants of the son. And if you wish to know more, I refer you to a book called Bloodline of the Holy Grail by Sir Lawrence Gardner.” Olsson went on to add that she was considering moving court to press her claim and secure the right to exhume the tomb. “We feel any claims you make about the sanctity of the grave are invalid … we would prefer to move our grandfather (out of Srinagar).’’
It was quite clear Olsson wanted to put her plan into action without wasting much time. One of the caretakers of the tomb, Mohammad Amin, alleged that they were forced to padlock the shrine as Olsson tried to dig it up and in doing so, insulted Islam. “She tried to raid the holy tomb,” he complains . He believed that the theory that Jesus is buried anywhere on the face of the earth is blasphemous to Islam.
The Quran, where Jesus is called Messiah — the Messenger, maintains that Christ was returned to God alive and not crucified.
Amin said in light of Quranic teachings no Muslim can accept Olsson’s theory. The caretaker even filed an FIR against her and got her visa cancelled. “Despite this we used to allow tourists to enter the shrine but we became suspicious when she tried to get curfew imposed in the locality and plant something at the shrine to authenticate her claim.”
Olsson, though, doesn’t seem to be alone in her conviction. There are some who support her view. Renowned Kashmiri academic Fida Hassnain’s 1994 book, A Search for the Historical Jesus, was about this legend. Later, he co-authored a book on the subject with Olsson, Roza Bal the Tomb of Jesus.
The shrine is called by Lonely Planet, as the “Jesus Tomb” . There are some caveats about blasphemy, but is marked as a must-visit tourist spot in the Valley.
Caretaker Amin said some local traders circulated these “lies” thinking it would be good for business. “They thought it could become a tourist hub after all these years of violence.” He said after the shrine made it to the Lonely Planet, too many people, often rowdy, started coming in. One of the tourists damaged the tomb and took the broken piece home as a souvenir.
Rozabal is not the only story linking Jesus to Kashmir. It is said that he also visited a Buddhist monastery, the ruins of which are near Srinagar. The stories of Jesus in India date back to the 19th century and find mention in a plethora of texts by scholars of varied persuasions — Islamic, Buddhist and Christian. In fact, it is believed that during his missing years (between 12 and 30), unmentioned in the Gospels, Jesus was in India and picked up Buddhist ideas.
Amin said the Caretakers’ Committee has decided to convene a religious leaders’ meeting to discuss the issue. But Olsson insists that there’s nothing sacrilegious about her DNA project. “It’s routinely done around the world. From Egyptian mummies to the Christian Saint Luke, people are using this scientific tool to help study ancient history,’’ she said in an email interview to TOI-Crest from New York. “The DNA from Rozabal will tell us a lot about history,” she went on to say. “First, who is Yuz(a) Asaf? We’ll never know until archaeologists are allowed to examine the artefacts and the tomb.”
Olsson refuted allegations that she had attempted to remove anything from the tomb, or dug it up. “I can’t imagine who started those rumours or why,” she said and maintained that the belief that there is a Muslim saint in the same tomb is untrue. “The tomb predates Islam and could never be a Muslim tomb.”