Adventures on an Indian Visa (week 21): The Indian Jesus
Last night there were mosquitoes on the prowl, & I barely slept at all donn’d in full clothes armour, while the post-bite itchiness kept me wide awake. By morning, Victor’s hands & arm were covered in red blotches, & so not in the best of nicks we set off again, intending to catch a train to Amritsar & its Golden Temple. Unfortunately, match-day travel-sharpness hasn’t quite kicked in yet, & we missed the train, or rather let it come in & out again without boarding it.
There are not many English speakers in the highly-agricultural state of Haryana & I got muddled up at the station – it won’t happen again. Not keen to wait another day in Kurukshetra, I swiftly came up with another plan. Before we arriv’d, I had read about the city of Patiala, not too far away, so after buying a train ticket from Patiala to Amritsar for the Sunday, we set off on a rickety bus.
The first part of the journey was pleasant enough, but it was at the transit town of Pehawar that things got decidedly squashed. As our new bus came in, to the roar of its bleeping horn, people literally sprinted across the station at the the rough commencement of a mad free-for-all for all the seats on the bus. Me & VP were too slow with our bulky bags, & were forced to stand up for an hour in a highly overcrowded bus, which is OK for a one-off but I wouldn’t like to repeat it again all that soon.
En route to Patiala, we crossed the Saraswathi River herself, & were soon enough in the state of Punjab, a predominantly Sikh state, illuminated by men wearing these bright & often garishly colour’d turbans. The city of Patiala has a much warmer feel than Kurukshetra; with cages full of birds, & traders at every turn all placed into sections, such as the one which sold guns, a relic of the fighting nature of the Sikhs so successfully utilised by the British empire.
Being back on the road so soon after my salmonella dose, & last night’s non-sleep, had left me tired, & I convinced VP to have a night in mosquito-free comfort, which led us to a lovely four-star hotel with room service, laundry & air-conditioning (priceless) for only £15 a night. Its mad really, a decent enough room in India can cost about 3 or 4 quid, & a delux one about a tenner more – whereas in the West the difference in prices can be hundreds, if not thousands of pounds.
We finish’d the day by taking a rickshaw to see the decaying palace of a Maharahjah, known as the Sheesh Mahal, which has three statues of Queen Victoria in the grounds. I completely love wandering about the faded, jaded ruins of the Raj – the weight of history in such places is fascinatingly oppressive. Then, checking my emails found one from our new Swiss friend, Manuel, who we presumed had headed up to Srinagar in Kashmir, where we were gonna meet him. Instead, he went to Rajahastan, from where he e-mailed us this warning…
I got myself the ticket to srinagar from trek & travel. After i met the guy we met on our first day and we had a lassi with. I told him about my plans and after he heard the price he was like: are you crazy? That must be some kind of rip-off. We went to an official travel agency and i showed them my voucher. The guy there confirmed that there’s probably something wrong with the deal. He told me that it’s quite common that if you stay on a houseboat in srinagar they’ll drug your food and drinks so you get sick and unable to leave. They advised me to change the hotel I’m staying in to stay out of trouble when they realize that i’m not doing the trip
Well… that’s not gonna be putting me off going to Srinigar – that’s where Jesus is buried, & those House Boats do sound cool – so maybe just shying away from eating boat-cook’d food might be a prudentially wise course of action.
After crashing early last night I was up at 5AM; reading, writing & waving away these little flies that congregated round the lights in a mad ecstasy-fuelled rave. Then, just as the sun was rising, they all fell out of the sky & died in droves, to be swept away by a little Indian boy cleaning the floor with a brush.
So we left Patiala, rolling the rails north through 5 & a half hours of yet more monotonous flatlands. One wonders at the mental state of the British troops as they marched up & down these unpunctuated northern plains throughout the early days of the Raj – it is no wonder that they implemented the building of one of the best & most extensive rail networks on the planet, which is run with a rigour & vigour to this day.
Our destination was Amritsar, & I urge anyone who finds themselves in this part of Asia to visit the city on account of the majestic Golden Temple of the Sikhs. This is a gleaming holy house set in a vast ‘lotus pool’ which reflects the temple in its silky waters, creating a wonderful aesthetic effect, especially at night. Surrounding the square lotus pool, on all sides rise white marble buildings, & behind them yet more buildings, all contributing to the capital complex of Sikhism. In one section, up to 100,000 daily devotees are fed for free, squatting on rugs in great chambers while rice, curry, desert, chutney & water are placed in their metal pans. The sound of these, as they reach the washing area at the end of each meal, reminded me of blasting rain as it hit an aluminium roof.
It was in the nerve centre of the temple that I felt a wonderful spirituality, garnered by the holy songs played & sung by devout Sikh musicians, while other practitioners of the faith were channell’d around them, kissing the floor or flinging rupees into their presence. Comparatively speaking, Sikhism is a new religion, founded in the 16th century by Guru Nanak. Monotheistic in nature, its rise as a major world religion proves how faith is really just about one’s personal interpretation of god, & spirituality a method of connecting with that interpretation. Many are indoctrined into a particular belief system from an early age, from which springs from an almost tribal loyalty to its tenets. Instead, the truth cannot be all that far away from there being just a single god who is worshiped differently from land to land all across the earth. Even the polytheistic Hindoos believe that all members of their divine Pantheon are actually different aspects of the same omniscient essence.
That night we slept in the cheap enough westerner’s section of the complex, a couple of smallish rooms, which unfortunately was a bit bedbuggy for me. Itchy as fuck!
Moving out of the Temple complex, but not quite done with Amritsar, we took a hotel for the night & hit the sights. First up was a visit to the Jallianwalla Bagh, a peace garden on the site of the brutal & tyrannous massacre of unarmed innocents ordered by General Dyer in 1919. Out of 1650 bullets fired that day, 1550 hit their mark, killing over 300 & wounding the rest. 160 bodies were recovered from a well alone, the only cover at that time, shot as they tried to scramble over the sides & into safety. In response to such a tragedy, the Nobelprize winning poet Tagore gave Britain back his knighthood in protest & disgust.
Indian independence was now only 28 years away, but when it came it came at a cost. The Muslims had been angling furiously for a separate Islamic state, & the British simply drew a line through the Punjab & created Pakistan. Cue all hell breaking loose, beheadings in the street etc, & the greatest movement of humanity the world has ever seen. In all 13 million people died on both sides for their religion in only a few months as they tried to get the touchdown of safety into their respective national end-zones. During this period, the King of Kashmir was also angling for a separate state, but was overwhelmed by Pakistan & India, who both tried to grab as much land as they can & came to an unofficial de facto border known as the LOC (Line of Control) that even as I write has seen an ongoing two-week skirmish between Pakistani militants & the Indian Army only a few kilometres from Sringar, a future destination of ours.
It is ironic, then, that while there is real shooting to the north of Amritsar, to the west of the city plays out the daily, riotous flag ceremony at the Pakistani border crossing, where both sides contemptuously march, stamp & gesture at each other, while behind them two football-style crowds cheer & sing their national songs. When we visited, the Indians heavily outnumbered the ‘away’ fans, like when Exeter City used to come to Turf Moor when we were in the old Fourth Division. The Pakistanis did their best, however, & we left the border thinking it was all rather good fun, & the hatred behind these two nuclear powers shouldn’t ever plunge the world into atomic darkness.
Setting off north towards Srinagar, I had noticed that our route was to take us fairly close to Qadian, the birthplace of Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835 – 1908) himself, & felt compelled to pay his ghost a visit. A rapid 20-mile bus journey took us north to busy little Batala, half of which town seemed to be only half-built, from where a further bus brought us to Qadian. A town of 40,000 souls, there is a distinct relaxed attitude & atmosphere to the place, perhaps due to the narrow Italian-style streets the constitute the core of the town. Just on the fringes of these lies the spiritual home of the Amhiddaya movement, of which the author of Jesus in India is the spiritual head, the self-proclaimed ‘Promised Messiah’ who claimed that certain prophecies predicting the appearance of a divine teacher were fulfilled in his person.
Whether this is true or not, the movement is thriving, from just a few followers in 1889, when Hazrat proclaimed his messiahship, to today’s many millions spread throughout 204 nations across the globe. The Ahmadiyya are actually practicing Muslims, but have been ostracized by the majority of other muslims, & denied permission from the Saudi authorities to visit Mecca, while in Pakistan there are not even allowed to publicly pray to Allah, being forced to worship in a secretive silence. One cannot help but think of the early Christians, who were also persecuted by stalwarts of the old religion for proclaiming the promised messiah had come. Just like Christianity, the Ahmadiyya have their own martyrs, their faces hung up upon the walls of a museum/gallery space in Qadian. By them, like statues of the early popes that ring St Peter’s Square in Rome, Hazrat & his first five successors proudly stare down upon us, testament to the strength of their growing movement. Each of these khalifs have also added to the literature of the Ahmaadiyya, a process reminiscent of the growth of the New Testament corpus.
The hospitality of the movement is boundless, & we were put up & fed for free in a wonderful guest house – the rooms are normally used for visiting diplomats – near the impressive mosque & birth-place of Hazrat; not as visitors to the movement, but as, ‘guests of the promised messiah.’ himself. I found myself engaging in theological debate with various members of the movement, my hands placed behind my back as we gently strolled around the area. I was also shown the impressive modern library, which is a testament to the academic nature of Hazrat, without whose efforts I may never have taken up the challenge of finding the historical Jesus. I was also given access to many books written by Hazrat & his disciples, & ss I sat down to read through Hazrat’s Jesus in India in particular, I spared a thought for myself, sat in that library of Bhubaneswar, flicking through the same book for the first time. I would never have dreamt of visiting the author’s home, but there I was, tuck’d into a comfortable state of mind by our highly genial hosts, pouring through his texts to the sounds of minaret calling the faithful to prayer.
Parts of Hazrat’s book highlights the Islamic view of Jesus, including reports in the Hadith – a book of sayings attributed to Mohammed – that state Jesus reached 125 years of age. This, of course is indirect evidence that Jesus survived his crucifixion, when he was 33 years-old. Elsewhere in Islamic writings, Hazrat tells us, ‘The Kanz-ul-Ummal states both; ‘God directed Jesus (on whom be peace) ’0 Jesus! Move from one place to another’ — go from one country to another lest thou shouldst be recognised and persecuted.’ There were also other books on Jesus in India, written by a certain Professor Hassnain. For example, in his, ‘A Search for the Historical Jesus,’ Hassnain writes;
I was ordered, in the 1960s, to proceed to Leh, the capital of the former kingdom of Ladakh, to examine the historical records and maps relevant to the border dispute between China and India. I had visited Ladakh earlier, and had established the first State Archive Repository there. But my new assignment led me to make many more journeys to the region, and during one such visit I came by chance upon a document relating to Jesus Christ. This was the event which aroused my curiosity and led me to embark on a quest for the historical Jesus.
In the first of Hassnain’s books, the Fifth Gospel (1988), the professor reflects upon the course of his personal quest for the historical Jesus, stating, ‘ It took me many years to locate and examine oriental sources, in Sanskrit, Tibetan, Arabic, Persian and Urdu dealing, with the lost years of Jesus. The material was rich and, unlike much of the historical material to which the church had access, on the whole, untouched since ancient times. These ancient documents, recording as they did a little-known connection between Christianity and the East, were of immense fascination to me – each new discovery further fuelling my passion for the quest.’
After a few googles later I found Professor Hassnain was still alive & living in Srinigar. Reyt near the tomb of Jesus. I’m gonna have to go & meet the guy, for sure!
After a tasty free breakfast courtesy of the Amhiddaya, we finally began to spend some actual money & hit the busses north. 6 hours later we pulled into Jammu, the city of Temples, & some lovely hills beckoning us into the Himalayas! We got a room in a hotel which also runs a taxi service up to Srinagar in Kashmir in the morning – 300 k away – & it’s costing us a tenner each, including the room. Meanwhile, the internet cafe I’m in right now has a room full of playstation 2s – so that’s keeping Victor happy for a few hours.
CUDDLEGATE: I’m adding this footnote at a later date. Apparently, after watching the possibly homoerotic 300 film, & sleeping in undies & sharing a sizeable double bed, & with my muscle memory thinking I was sharing a bed with Sally Cinnamon, & not Victor Pope – I tried to snuggle up to VP in my sleep. After beating me away I then went in for seconds. It took several says for VP to confront me with the situation, having realised I’d not follow’d up on my pass, & in fact was completely oblivious to it. ‘Had I invited him to India to seduce him,’ were his turbulent thoughts. ‘No, definitely not,’ was my reply, & ‘Cuddlegate’ went down in annals as the gay night that got away.
We departed Jammu at 7.30 AM, sharing a taxi with a pleasant Indian family for the 300 K to Srinagar, Kashmir. We began on a steady rise, climbing out of the smog-like mist that had descended on the Punjab a few days previously & steadfastly refused to budge an inch. The sight that greeted us was lovely, full of forest & slopes that were getting higher & steeper with every turn. The roads were busy & often slow, our driver doing his best to overtake every tractor & truck that blocked our swift passage. then often as we tried to overtake, there would often be in our way one of the vast convoy of trucks heading south filled with apples for all of India.
This state of affairs has led the Indian government to build a great double-carriageway between Srinagar & Jammu, which was under construction as I write. Thus this portion of the massif is practically one gigantic building site, the residue of grand ambition & a feat of engineering that should marvel the world – when it is finish’d of course. Until then, I, & every body else on the planet making the journey by road, must struggle & shuffle forward in a stop-start fashion. We also past numerous road-safety signs such as ‘After Whiskey, Driving Risky,’ & braving treacherous corners where one false move sees a vehicle & its occupants tumbling hundreds of meters to their inevitable dooms. Personally, my vertigo & I were petrified, but we both survived the journey to the Kashmir border & its ‘Titanic Viewpoint.’
We had arriv’d at the famous vale at the end of the harvest season, where the paddy fields are shorn of their rice & have browned in the summer sun. Two months ago, were were told, all was green & surely contained the magical quality that makes the Vale of Kashmir so special. Another 80 k later we had arrived in Srinagar, the region’s capital, & swiftly took rooms in a decent enough hotel – the marathon 12-hour journey from Jammu having taken its toll.
Srinagar itself was a marked change from the cities of the Gangeatic plane. Despite its million inhabitants, the city was less busy, & cleaner, & in certain places had a quite European feel. Flat rooves were few & far between, with most houses having steep metal rooves to let the rains flow freely to earth. I bore witness to a great Kashmiri storm, which exploded in violent fury & raged for half an hour or so of torrential rain & booming thunder, after which it dissapear’d leaving a cool freshness & finally blowing away the mists that had been all prevailing for days – in the distance I could now see the mountains which had stepped out of the haze like handsome young soldiers on parade.
Today was a great day all round. It began by transferring digs to a hotel boat on the tranquil oasis of the splendid Dal Lake. Victor had found us a nice, non-poison, family-run houseboat, & what a joy it was to be there. A village on water, one must travel to & from the ‘mainland’ on the oar-drawn shakaras, a watery oasis of calm away from the sheer incessancy of India.
An hour later I embarked upon my research mission. The tomb of Jesus could wait, but what was more enticing was a chance of meeting the esteemed Kashmiri scholar, Fida Hassnain, who more than any man has unearthed genuine historical references that support the existence of an Indian Jesus. His own interest in the subject began in 1965, when he first heard of Nicolas Notovich in the archives of the Moravian Mission in Leh, Ladakh. He was well placed to do this, being the one-time Director of Archives, Archaeology, Research and Museums for Kashmir, which gave him an intimate access to ancient documents. He also acknowledged his own place in this new academic tradition by stating, ‘a research work entitled Messiah Hindustan Mein (Jesus in India) by Hazrat Mirz Ghulam Ahmad opened new vistas of research for me.’ It was fascinating – I was in the Hazrat’s very home town that I had read those very lines! Since Hassnain’s arrival on the world stage in the seventies, a series of interested parties have travelled to Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir, in order to discuss the Indian Jesus. Each visitor has been greeted warmly, and given free access to all the documents and information uncovered by the Professor. Hoping very much to be the next, me & VP set off thro Srinigar to try & track him down.
We got his address from a smart looking guy in the street, & one short rickshaw ride later Victor & I found ourselves in the Parray Pura district of Srinagar, knocking on the gate of a pleasant & large detached house. To my joy, Fida Hassnain came to see who we were, & I was amazed how sprightly he was on his feet, given he had passed his ninetieth year. After greeting him as auspiciously as I could, we passed an amiable hour in his garden discussing ideas & sharing theories. and I happily told the Professor how much I respected his work. On one occasion, he spoke excitedly about how he suspected that Jesus had met Mary Magdelane while they were both students in the ancient Indian kingdom of Magadha, with her name originally being Mary of Magadha. This idea definitely has some merit, for the ‘Life of Issa’ describes how Jesus studied in Radjagriha, the capital of the Magadha kingdom. The conversion of Magadha to Magdalene is a fascinating possibility, and propelled me to show the professor my own ideas as to who the Indian Jesus really was.
I began by telling him how much I respected his work on the matter of Jesus in Kashmir, & then asked him if he had ever heard of Philostratus. He had not. It was a sublime moment, & I seized my chance. I asked Fida for a pen & paper, & sketched for him a brief outline of my burgeoning theory, of how a certain Appolonius of Tyana had travelled to India to meet Iarchus, & where to find the appropriate information on the web. As I explained that very much I believed I had discover’d new evidence for Jesus’ time in India, his eyes lit up with a youthful excitement & I surged with pride. I had travelled many miles to show him my work on Jesus, which were built, of course, upon his own fifty years of study. His magnum opus on the field had been published only the previous year, & he gave both Victor & I a copy to take away. The book is called Jesus in Kashmir, & became a new companion for my stay in the area, & contained more than half a century of research, whose quantity & quality of textual references I found quite remarkable.
Back at the hotel boat, food was cooked by mother & served by a 17-year old ‘servant’ from a village 60 k away. A few meters across the water resided a family who loved on the lake, not for tourism but for life, a half-carved shakara testament to a world that spent its humanity amidst these gentle settings. It proved a perfect place to pour through the pages of Fida Hassnain’s latest book, underlining passages & filling them with scholia for the days ahead. There was one passage in particular that really struck home, which places Jesus in the Himalayas, AFTER the crucifixion.
A text known as the Bhavisya Mahapurana reads;
Once upon a time the subduer of the Sakas went towards Himatunga and in the middle of the Huna country the powerful king saw an auspicious man who was living on a mountain. The man’s complexion was golden and his clothes were white.
“The king asked, ‘Who are you sir?’
“You should know that I am Ishavara Puturam, the Son of God’, he replied blissfully, and am born of a virgin. I am the expounder of the religion of the mlecchas and I strictly adhere to the Absolute Truth.’
Hearing this the king enquired, ‘What are the religious principles according to your opinion?
Hearing this questions of Shalivahana, Isha putra said, ‘O king, I hail from a land far away. When the destruction of the truth occurred, –I, Masiha the prophet, came to this country of degraded people where there are no rules and regulations. Finding that fearful irreligious condition of the barbarians spreading from Mleccha-Desha, I have taken to prophethood.
Please hear, Oh king, which religious principles I have established among the mlecchas. The living entity is subject to good and bad contaminations. The mind should be purified by taking recourse of proper conduct and performance of japa. By chanting the holy names one attains the highest purity. Just as the immovable sun at-tracts, from all directions, the elements of all living beings, the Lord of the Surya Mandala who is fixed and all-attractive, and attracts the hearts of all living creatures. Thus by following rules, speaking truthful words, by mental harmony and by meditation, Oh descendant of Manu, one should worship that immovable Lord’.”
“Having placed the eternally pure and auspicious form of the Supreme Lord in my heart, O protector of the earth planet, I preached these principles through the mlecchas’ own faith and thus my name became ‘isa-masiha’.”
We see here that the ‘Bhavisya Suta,’ mentions a certain Ishvara Puturam. That he is Jesus is made clear by the Suta’s Ishavara being the self-styled ‘Son of God’ who most conspicuously, declares himself as ‘born of a Virgin,’ while the term ‘Masiha’ is an obvious deviation of the Greek Messiah. It is through this avatar that we shall transport Jesus from the Govhardan Hill to a region of the Himalayas known as the ‘Huna Country,’ an ancient kingdom known as Hunadesh straddling the modern-day borders of Nepal, Tibet and India. The Suta’s mention of Shalivahana, a sub-king of the Kushan empire, dates the sighting to his reign–span, as somewhere between 39 & 50 AD – which means Jesus came to India after the Crucifixion!