Did Jesus Visit India?

The feature film “The Unknown Stories of the Messiah” ignited considerable controversy when it was released in India by claiming Jesus journeyed to the East after the crucifixion, studied Hinduism and Buddhism, and was buried in a tomb in Kashmir.

Responding to attacks from India’s Christian leaders, the film’s producer Subhrajit Mitra pointed out that while “neither the Bible nor the mainstream ‘gospels’ give credence to such theories… there is evidence in Hindu, Muslim, and Buddhist scriptures of Jesus staying in India.”

He said that a “Jesus-like man” finds mention “in the holy books of Jerusalem, Alexandria, Turkey, Persia, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tibet and India.”

The Indian film-maker was inspired by the writings of nineteenth century Russian adventurer Nicolai Notovitch and the German scholar Holga Kersten. Notovitch wrote a book, The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ, after his visit to the Ladakh region in Jammu and Kashmir state in 1887. A century later, intrigued by Notovitch’s account of Jesus traveling to the East, Holga Kersten produced two best-selling books Jesus Lived in India and The Jesus Conspiracy.

Both authors relate popular legends and stories which tell of Jesus visiting Ladakh and the Kashmir valley, as well as Varanasi city, which is in India’s north-central state of Uttar Pradesh.

They allege that Jesus was buried in an ancient tomb built in the Kan Yar area of Kashmir’s Srinagar district. They also suggest that Jesus first came to India as a child to learn from Hindu gurus, and later returned to Palestine to teach what he studied in the East. He survived the crucifixion and returned to India where he died at age 120.

Notovitch asserted that in 1887, while at the secluded Himis monastery in Ladakh, he was shown a manuscript which discussed the “unknown life” of Jesus, or “Issa,” as he was supposedly called in the East. This Issa text, translated for Notovitch from Tibetan by a monk/lama, alleged that during his “lost years” Jesus was educated by yogis in India, Nepal and “the Himalaya Mountains.”

Stating that he felt the manuscript to be “true and genuine,” Notovitch maintained its contents were written “immediately after the Resurrection,” while the manuscript itself purportedly dated from the third century of the Common Era. Notovitch related that the “two manuscripts” he was shown at Himis were “compiled from diverse copies written in the Thibetan tongue, translated from rolls belonging to the Lassa library and brought from India, Nepal, and Maghada 200 years after Christ.”

When Notovitch returned to Europe there was much debate as to the authenticity of the manuscript he claimed to have studied. He was also accused of being an impostor who never visited the places he described. One skeptic was Swami Abhedananda.

Abhedananda journeyed into the arctic region of the Himalayas, determined to find a copy of the Himis manuscript or to expose the fraud. His book of travels, entitled Kashmir O Tibetti, tells of a visit to the Himis gonpa and includes a Bengali translation of two hundred twenty-four verses essentially the same as the Notovitch text. Abhedananda was thereby convinced of the authenticity of the Issa legend.

In 1925, another Russian, Nicolai Roerich arrived at Himis. Roerich was a philosopher, scientist and gifted artist. He apparently saw the same documents as Notovitch and Abhedananda. And he recorded in his own travel diary the same legend of Issa.

While doing research for his film “The Unknown Stories of the Messiah,” Subhrajit Mitra was particularly stunned by a story in the Bhavishya Maha Purana which tells of an encounter between King Shalivahana and a holy man referred to as Issa-Masih (Jesus the Messiah) near Srinagar, long after the crucifixion. It describes Issa’s arrival in the Kashmir region and how King Shalivahana, who ruled the Kushan area (39-50 CE), entertained the visiting holy man as a guest for some time. Compiled in 115 CE, the Bhavishya Maha Purana is one of the 18 holy books of Hinduism.

Author and researcher Holga Kersten says there are more than twenty one historical documents that bear witness to the existence of Jesus in India, where in addition to being known as Issa, he is also called “Yuz Asaf.” In Jesus Lived in India, first published in German in 1983, Kersten offers a thorough, methodical and authoritative examination of the evidence of Christ’s life beyond the Middle East before the crucifixion and in India and elsewhere after it.

According to Kersten, the many stories of Jesus journeying to the East are important because they highlight the “vital importance to find again the path to the sources, to the eternal and central truths of Christ’s message, which has been shaken almost beyond recognition by the profane ambitions of more or less secular institutions arrogating to themselves a religious authority. This is an attempt to open a way to a new future, firmly founded in the true spiritual and religious sources of the past.”

If you appreciated this article, please consider a digital subscription to New Dawn.

The above article appeared in New Dawn No. 101 (March-April 2007).

© New Dawn Magazine and the respective author.

For our reproduction notice, click here.