Author: Saadut
•9:21 AM

In the narrow inter woven lanes of down town Khanyar, Srinagar in Kashmir is a small non- descript shrine of a medieval Muslim saint Youza Asaf also called the Rosabal shrine, the name of the locality also being Rosabal. This shrine is in the close vicinity of one of most revered shrines in Kashmir that of “Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jeelani” also known locally as “Dastageer Sahab”. The Rosabal shrine of Youza Asaf could pass as just another of the hundreds of shrines dotting Kashmir with its Kashmiri architectural roof, typical to most shrines in its choice of green and white, central rising dome with multi tier slopes; had it not been for the renewed interest generated in this shrine by global media and foreign visitors. In the Rosabal shrine the graves of the two saints exist, enclosed within a wooden chamber and the grave stones covered with a green cloth. 

According to the care takers of the tomb, both graves of the Rosabal shrine belong to Muslim saints, one of who is a medieval Muslim saint Syed Nasserudin and the other is Saint Youza Asaf. Saint Youza Asaf is reported to have arrived in Kashmir in 30AD, and of late it is this tomb of Saint Youza Asaf that has become a must visit on the travel itinerary of many foreign tourists to Kashmir, many of them believing that Jesus Christ survived the crucifixion, travelled to Kashmir and lies buried at the Rosabal Shrine under his adopted name of Youza Asaf.  However in Kashmir the locals have rejected these theories, maintaining that the site has two famous Muslim saints buried there.

Are these rumors new founded? The idea of Jesus in Kashmir has been making rounds for more than a century. Russian war correspondent Nicolas Notovitch claims to have visited Leh (in north Kashmir) and learnt about the “Life of Saint Issa” (Issa is the name of Jesus Christ), a text which was later published in French as “La vie inconnue de Jesus Christ” (1894). According to Nicholai Notovich during his travels to Leh (North part of Kashmir) he met Lamas in the monastery who in exchange for an alarm clock and a thermometer, was shown a manuscript which had references about the story of "Issa a traveler from Israel", who had visited this part about 2000 years ago. However the claims of Nicolas Notovitch were contradicted by Archibald Douglas (then a teacher at the Agra Government College in British India) who visited Hemis monastery at Leh in 1895 and claimed that there was no evidence that Notovitch had even been there. Swami Abhedananda a disciple of Swami Ramakrishna travelled to Leh (north Kashmir) in 1922, claimed to have been shown the manuscript having references to “Life of Saint Issa” by the lama, and translated that part of the manuscript, reference for which is found in the book “Journey into Kashmir and Tibet” by Swami Abhedananda. 

According to the propagators of the Rosabal legend, Jesus travelled with his mother Mary, who after being weakened by the tough travel in her old age died in Murre (name of the town resembling Mary) in Pakistan. Murre is 170 kilometers west of Srinagar and close to Rawalpindi. As per the same legend Jesus is said to have entered Kashmir from passes over the meadows of Yusmarg (or Yuzmarg, marg meaning meadow)  which is about 40 kilometers south of Srinagar. 

Ahmadiya sect, a controversial minority sect of a few hundred followers claims that Jesus died a natural death and is buried in Kashmir. The book “Jesus in Heaven on Earth” by a leading member of the Ahmadiya sect, Khawaja Nazir Ahmad in 1952 writes about the 'journey of Jesus Christ to Kashmir' to preach to the lost tribes of Israel (the Kashmiri’s) and about 'his death and burial in Kashmir’.

In 1973 a local journalist Aziz Kashmiri in his book “Christ in Kashmir” claimed that Jesus was buried in Kashmir and died here at the age of 120. The writer has since passed away but his book continues to rekindle the legend. 

Professor Fida Hassnain a former director of Archives, Archaeology, Research and Museums for Jammu and Kashmir claims Kashmiri’s originate from the "10 missing tribes of Israel" and that was the reason Jesus chose Kashmir as his destination, to preach among his own people. Prof Hassnain claims that Kashmiri’s were driven out of Israel by the Assyrians in around 720 BC and came to settle here (in the new countries) after that. Incidentally Prof Fida Hassnain has also co-authored a book “Roza Bal, Beyond the Da Vinci Code” with Suzanne Olsson. Olsson also claims that the connection between Kashmir and Jewish traditions is strengthened by the presence of graves of the Prophet Moses and his brother Aaron at Bandipora and Harwan in Kashmir.

Sir Francis Younghusband who was the then representative of the British crown to the Dogra king of Kashmir, in his writings ‘Kashmir’ (published in London 1909) wrote (page 112): “Here may be seen fine old patriarchal types, just as we picture to ourselves the Israelitish heroes of old. Some, indeed, say… that these Kashmiri’s are the lost tribes of Israel and certainly, as I have already said, there are real Biblical types to be seen everywhere in Kashmir and especially among the upland villages. Here the Israelites Shepherd tending his flocks and herds may any day be seen.”

According to some reports Kashmiri or Kashahmiri are Hebrew words and an attributive name of the Israelites. The root is Kas(h)ah, similar to the Arabic kashiya. Famous Arab traveler and historian El Bironi in the 12th century wrote, "In the past, permission to enter Kashmir was given only to Jews." There is yet another legend which speaks of King Solomon having reached Kashmir Valley and aided the people of Kashmir in successfully regulating the main river of Kashmir (Jehlum). In fact according to same legend the name of Shankracharya hill located in central Srinagar is Takht-e-Sulieman (the mount or throne of Solomon), locals still prefer to call the hill by that name. Of course there is a majority who disagree with the legend of ‘King Solomon’ and believe that the name “Takht-e-Sulieman” was actually given by Shah-e-Hamadan (Amire Kabir).

(A late 1800's photograph of Shankracharya Hill, then captioned 'Solomons Throne' proves that the hill was called such centuries ago also.)

Mullah Nadiri in “Tarikh-i-Kashmir” (History of Kashmir written in 1420) writes about how the existing Hindu structure on Takht-e-Sulieman (now Shankracharya hill) was restored by a Persian architect during the reign of Raja Gopadatta (79-109 AD) and during the renovation, the following was found inscribed on the steps in old Persian: “Dar-een wagt YuzAsaf dawa-i-paighambar-imikunad.  Sal panjah wa chahar”. This translates into “At this time, Yuz Asaf announced his prophetic mission.  In the year 54." And also was found inscribed “Aishan Yuzu paighambar-i-bani israil ast” which again translates into "He is Yuzu, the Prophet of the Children of Israel." The inscriptions of the temple stand since destroyed but may have been recorded by other historians as well. A pillar next to the temple was torn down in the later part of the last century after the temple had already been renovated, and a TV transmission tower was erected in later years.

Locals at Rosabal, Khanyar in Srinagar claim that in 2002 American Suzzane Marie attempted to desecrate the shrine by wanting to start digging and exhume the remains of the saints, which was not allowed by the locals as it is considered UnIslamic. Following strong protests from the locals for hurting their religious sentiments, she had to leave Kashmir. Since then the sanctum sanctorum of the Rosabal shrine has been closed and is opened for locals only on rare occasions.

According to Sam Miller (BBC correspondent) if legend is to be believed Jesus attended a famous Buddhist meeting held at a Buddhist Monastery, at Chandapora near Harwan, in the north of Srinagar city (site is also called ‘the Buddha site’) in 80AD. The site is known as a historical place of Buddhist learning and also for its Buddhist artifacts and terracotta.

In its edition for Indian subcontinent Lonely Planet made a mention of the Rosabal shrine and the legend associated with it, however with a disclaimer. The disclaimer not withstanding, this entry in ‘Lonely Planet’ has had a cascading effect with foreign tourists flocking to the area at downtown Srinagar in search of the tomb. Pertinently in the Bible there is no record of Jesus Christ’s life from the age of 12 to 30, a period also known as “the missing years”, most Christians believing that Jesus lived in Nazareth during that period. It is during this “the missing years” period that the propagators of the legend of ‘Jesus at Rosabal’ claim that Jesus had travelled to Kashmir.

In fact the historical pointers or references available, including the reported Buddhist manuscript at Leh, the inscriptions found at Takht-e-Sulieman, similarity of Jewish words in Kashmiri, do not prove his burial legend at Rosabal : they could  however at the most  just come close to the legend of his visiting Kashmir and then going back to Nazareth.

And if you still are trying to make an opinion about the claims of Jesus in Kashmir remember there have been other claims of Jesus visiting parts of world including England, for which famous poet William Blake had said "And did those feet in ancient time, walk upon England's mountains green? And was the holy Lamb of God on England's pleasant pastures seen?"

In his film “And Did Those Feet“ Dr Gordon Strachan (Church of Scotland minister) claims that it is "plausible" that Jesus came to England for his studies 2,000 years ago and may have visited  Penzance, Falmouth, St-Just-in-Roseland and Looe, (in Cornwall) and also Glastonbury (in Somerset) where legends of Jesus do exist. But all of these fables and assumptions of Jesus visiting Kashmir and / or England have not been backed by any concrete evidence hence remain as just stories.

Both Muslims and Christians dismiss the rumors of Jesus buried at Rosabal shrine and claim them to be blasphemous, Christians believing that Jesus was crucified and Muslims believing that Jesus was taken to God: both religions also believing in the second coming of Jesus Christ. Some locals claim this rumor was started by local businessmen and shopkeepers to attract foreign tourists and the rumor got a flip after being mentioned in Lonely Planet. Even professional historians dismiss the rumors as baseless, but then the legend has already found its way into tourist guides, numerous documentaries and books. The Rosabal legend has already inspired a fiction thriller “Rozabal line” by Ashwin Sanghi, a sort of sequel to Dan Brown's “Da Vinci Code”.

Fact or fiction, but the legend around the shrine has aroused renewed interest in this place that has long been hot bed of insurgency, turmoil and been befit of any major economic activity. The legend of Rosabal could have far reaching results for the tourist traffic in Kashmir. If the legend continues to grow the foreign tourist traffic could register a steep growth. However the interest in the tomb has to be separated and segregated from efforts to desecrate it, which could inflame religious passions locally. Science can surely find alternate ways of establishing the truth related to the legend of Rosabal, without disturbing the peace of the saints buried there. 

The claims and the legend regarding Jesus in Kashmir have not been based on any concrete evidence till now and any linking the Jesus legend to Kashmir will need concrete scientific basis than mere books, documentaries and hearsay.  Till that time the legend of Jesus in Kashmir will continue to lure travelers to the Rosabal shrine in Srinagar, Kashmir, and writers will continue to weave stories around the fable. 

May 23rd, 2011) 

My Personal belief is:

"That they said (in boast), "We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah";- but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not:-
Nay, Allah raised him up unto Himself; and Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise;-
—Holy Qur'an, (An Nisa 157-158)

Author: Saadut
•11:39 AM

The paradisiacal beauty of Kashmir has been attracting travelers, tourists across centuries and  of the main attractions of Kashmir, its water bodies have stood out for their charm. The Dal and Nigeen (twin lakes of Srinagar) were described by Sir Walter Lawrence as ‘Lake Par Excellence’ being the jewels in the crown of the Kashmir. Dal and Nigeen lakes had always had their fair share of the tourism economy of the valley, also being used for navigational and water channeling proposes. The sparkling waters, huge expanses of the lake and the canopied shikaras travelling in the lake would mesmerize any body. Once these lakes were main attraction of tourists and film makers, but now they are being quietly buried by human greed, state indifference and bureaucratic corruption. Beatles guitarist George Harrison and Sitar maestro Ravi Shankar once created music on these shores. British actor Michael Palin, actress Joan Fontaine and former United States Vice President Nelson A Rockefeller all spend their holidays by the waters of this lake. But now the lakes are losing out against human invasion and could soon become legends of the past. 

Some geologists believe the origins of Dal & Nigeen Lakes lie in the Pleistocene Oligotrophic Lake that once covered the whole Kashmir valley. The open area of Dal Lake was reported to have been 75sqkm in 1200AD. While driving around the boulevard road that runs along one side of the lake, the front waters with picturesque houseboats seem just frame perfect, but there is a major part of the lake hidden being these house boats, a picture uglier than any. Dal Lake is dying a human driven death, with rampant encroachments, massive pollution and the waste disposal of almost all habitations in and around the lakes coming directly into these lakes. Adding to the woes is the blockage of fresh water inlets to the lake and the natural springs that once fed the lake.

The lake having shrunk from 25 sq kms to 10.56 sq km, its depth having decreased by four meters, has seen imminent death staring it while the state and concerned departments have shown continued apathy. Thousands of tones of sewage spew directly into the lake, resulting in excessively high levels of toxic metals and choking the lake, its aquatic life of oxygen and accelerating its demise. Water samples from the lake have shown arsenic levels almost 1,000 times above permissible levels.
Once described as "the most beautiful lake in India" and a must see tourist destination in Asia, the Dal lake now figures among the 100 most polluted lakes in the world. 

Who is responsible? 

Encroachments, pollution, nepotism & corruption all have contributed to the present crisis in the lake. According to the reports at least 3350 encroachments were recorded in Dal Lake just during 1991-1993, since then the number of encroachments has increased manifold. These encroachers are not only refilling the lake for converting into massive farming tracts, but huge residential and hotel constructions have come up on encroached water converted into land mass within and around the lake. In many cases automobile workshops and machine shops have come up on encroached and refilled lake, disposing their refuse and hazardous waste directly into the lakes. While all these years small habitations within the lake grew and encroachments intensified, the state looked the other way. A full fledged authority ‘Lakes & Waterways Development Authority’ was formed by the state government to rescue these lakes from extinction. Instead of making substantial progress in saving the lakes the authority has been continuously accused of misappropriation of Lake funds and massive corruption. On September 9, 2000, state vigilance registered a case (33/2000-VOK) against sixteen officials including a director of LAWDA. Registration of more cases followed against many other LAWDA officials over the years but all these had no impact in stopping the accelerating decay of the lake. Lack of any punishment or conviction by the state against the accused has ensured that the allegations of negligence, nepotism and massive corruption continue against the Lake development Authority while the condition of the Dal & Nigeen lakes is getting from bad to worse. 

Concerned by the pathetic condition of the lake in 2003 public internet litigation was filed in the state High Court by a law student. This public internet litigation ensured that many land mark decisions were passed by the Honorable Court for restoration of the lakes. The court directions instructed the state on removing encroachments, removing illegal trees planted to reclaim lake, directing establishment of proper sewage treatment plants, de-weeding and cleaning of the lake among many other decisions. After the many follow-ups by the honorable court and court directives in the past few years, LAWDA felled almost 400,000 trees within the lake because environmentalists believed they were constricting Dal waters. But since last year thousands of more trees have been planted by the encroachers and the trunks left from the old trees have grown since again, bringing all these halfhearted restoration efforts and exercise to a naught.

The state drafted plans to spend nearly $80 million of central funds for relocation of 58 habitations with 65,000 people within and around the lake. 5000 families were planned to be moved to 7600 kanals of land at Rakh-e Arath, Bemina in Srinagar some years back. Even though deadlines after deadlines have passed, this relocation of settlers from the lake to Rakh-e-Arth has not started yet and keeping in view the track record of the lake conservation authority LAWDA, it is unlikely to start any time soon. Meanwhile encroachers ignoring court directions have started replanting trees, refilling large areas of the water body and are busy constructing within and around the lake, the conservation authority having become an alibi in their crime.  The ineffectiveness of the LAWDA and encouragement given to criminal elements and encroachers has now ensured that all such criminal acts are performed openly during day light, all legislation and law enforcement conveniently forgotten and ignored. Even though the state government banned construction in and around the lake as early as 1978-79, encroachments on the lake continued unabated and the speed of these constructions is faster than anywhere else.

In its report (May 2007) the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) criticized LAWDA on its lake conservation methods and sewage treatment projects.. CAG of India pulled up the Lakes and Waterways Development Authority (LAWDA) for going ahead with the construction of these inefficient Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs) around the periphery of Dal Lake despite central government's serious reservations about these and also pointed out that the Lake has been used as a receptacle for large quantities of waste water and untreated human wastes from the adjoining areas by the countless sewage and waste drains emptying directly into the lake : in simple lexicon ‘a massive sewage dump’. Did the LAWDA take a cue from such observations? Certainly not, the present condition speaks volumes about their ‘give a damn attitude’. What everybody in Kashmir can notice happening inside and around the lake in terms of illegal constructions and encroachments right during day time, the government prefers to turn a blind eye. For what consideration is the state mum? 

The huge influx of nutrients with human and household sewage invading the lake has resulted in massive growth of unwanted and floating weeds that have engulfed the lake no end. The latest Truxor Machines procured at a cost of 32.5 million rupees from Switzterland, have been rendered virtually non-operational and the LAWDA has seemingly no answers for this debacle, watching as a mute spectator. Add to this the use of chemical fertilizers by lake vegetable growers who have extended their floating vegetable gardens within the lake, the fertilizer residue getting washed away into the lake thus contaminating the lake to epidemic proportions. The lake waters that were once so pure and clean that dwellers would drink directly from it now contain liberal portions of deadly elements such as arsenic, cadmium, manganese, copper, lead, nickel. The water of the lake thus becoming extremely contaminated, aquatic life of the lake has been affected with ever dwindling numbers of fish in the lake while some important species have either declined or completely disappeared. 

Another angle to the decay of the lake is the problem of siltation, which according to reports Dal receives 80,000 tonnes of flow annually. The red algae bloom in the lake which was first noticed in 1993 is as a result. Since then the obnoxious algae and weeds have taken over the remaining lake.

Overwhelming growth of obnoxious weeds and Azolla, a deadly water fern which if left unattended has the potential to kill the water bodies

Accelerating the demise

The real faces of Dal & Nigeen are not the ornate house boats that line up the front of the lake channels, nor the idyllic shikaras that wade through the limited front waters of the lake. The reality is hidden at the backside of these house boats, in the crammed interiors of the lake, in the expanding expanses of the refilled land tracts. And even within these front lined house boats the rising obnoxious smell from the lake and the pollute wading around these once picture prefect tourist attractions has already threatened their economic sustenance and survival. Numerous appeals made to the state, politicians and bureaucrats via newspapers and social media has not been able to wake them up. Seems the state government has made up its mind in private to let the water bodies die while conservation authorities and lake encroachers split the spoils to this tragedy between them. The Chief Minister who is active on twitter has been frequently reminded of the pathetic condition of the lakes, even informing him of the open encroachments happening in the lake with place and date details: unfortunately none of these have evoked any response from him or the state. What could be the reason for this silence and inaction?

The land is invading this lake faster than we can comprehend, the habitations are extended into the very interior of the lake and we may soon seen the two ends of the illegal habitations meet up in the middle of the lake, leaving no space for any water body in between. These jewels of Kashmir are dying due to state apathy and greed of a few individuals. According to experts the lake may completely die within 30 years and till then the stink of this decay will fill the once pure and refreshing air of Kashmir making it pungent and foul.
Very soon the water bodies will be extinct and nature’s bounties will have fallen to human greed. Billions of rupees have been siphoned off in the name of saving the lakes efforts but fact remains that the lakes are running faster than before towards a human driven destruction.

 Will our posterity ever believe that such jewels of nature existed?

May 09, 2011)