From Jerusalem to Kashmir- Treading along the path of the Saviour
Rozabal, Khanyaar district, Kashmir-2015
Even as the nail biting chill of January forces everyone to stay amidst the vicinity of Kangri and Kahwa, pilgrims continue to flow in to pay reverence to the shrine of the local saint, Yuz Asouph. The word Rozabal is derived from the Kashmiri term Rauza-Bal meaning “Tomb of the Prophet”. Local traditions affirm that Yuz Asouph was a devout and pious Muslim, who’d given up on material and earthly pursuits and engaged himself persistently in prayers and meditation. According to Muslim custom, the gravestone was placed along the Qibla, in the north-south axis. However, a closer, succinct look into the inner burial chamber reveals, that the gravestone of Yuz Asouph has been placed along the east-west axis as per the Jewish customs.
The single inner chamber inside the shrine comprises of raised wooden frames in the shape of a sarcophagus for two graves, each covered with heavy embroidered cloth. Nothing else was out of the ordinary here – except for the carved imprint of a pair of feet near the sarcophagus. They were normal human feet, except for the fact that the feet bore marks on them; marks which coincided with the puncture wounds inflicted in crucifixion.
Crucifixion was never practiced in Asia, so it was quite obvious that the resident of the tomb had undergone this ordeal in some other, distant land.
Written in Sanskrit and attributed to Vyasa, the Bhavishya Purana is one of the eighteen major Hindu Puranas. As the title suggests, it consists of prophecies and foresights into the future. Although, most of its original text has been lost, one single prophecy is present in each of its versions with slight variations:
“Once upon a time, the subduer of the Sakas (King Salivahana) went towards Himatunga and in the middle of the Huna country. The powerful king saw a saintly person 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 Isha Putra, the son of God and I am born of a virgin,’ he replied blissfully. ‘I am the expounder of the religion of the Mlecchas (non Aryan, foreigner) and I strictly adhere to the absolute truth.”
Medina, 650 AD
Prophet Muhammad was feeling fatigued, as he moved towards the mosque. In a span of twenty three years, he’d managed to unify the impertinent and raucous Arabs into a well civilized society under the banner of Islam. The Qur’an, comprising of over six thousand verses was the cornerstone of this society, thereby defining its political, social and moral principles. One of its verse states:
“They said (in boast), ‘We killed Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, the Messenger of God’. And neither did they kill him, nor did they crucify him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who doubt therein are full of doubts with no (certain) knowledge. For a surety they did not kill him. But God raised him up unto himself. God is majestic and all wise.”
Muree, Punjab, Pakistan-2015
As we drive along the Islamabad-Muree expressway, one can just sense the slight drop in temperature. The viewer stands spellbound by the scenic splendor of the place; the magnificent specter over forest clad hills into deep valleys, studded with villages and cultivated fields, with the snow covered peaks of Kashmir in the background and overlooking the plains of Punjab, the place is endowed with an almost hypnotic appeal to it. Amidst the mesmerizing passes of exquisite highlands, a solitary grave is located on top of a plateau. Locals believe that the grave belongs to a saintly and pious woman. The interesting point is that the gravestone has been placed in the east-west direction as per Jewish customs. Local residents have reported occasional sightings of unexplained lights in the vicinity of the grave at night. Others describe rare encounters with a ball of light condensing into a fuzzy apparition of a veiled female form. The place is called “Mai Mari Da Asthan”- The resting place of Mother Mary.
The Quran says in its twenty third chapter: “And we made the son of Maryam and his mother a sign, and we gave them shelter on a lofty ground having meadows and springs.”
As is often the case with history, women have always been the focal point around which society has managed to shred its existential mantle and built anew on the edifice of its vestiges. The woman in this case is Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, venerated and adored by two of the largest religious communities in the world, and honored with titles such as- The perpetual virgin and The Mother of God. However, couple of millenniums ago, sitting in the temple of Jerusalem, she was completely oblivious of the authority that she’d eventually stamp on the face of history, thereby altering its very course.
Jerusalem, Somewhere between 6 and 4 BC
Mary was sitting in the temple, lost, as if she’d been contemplating over some issue of profound importance. It was evident that the common en masse were dissatisfied with the policies of King Herod. His reign was marked by bestial acts of brutality. Upon ascending the throne, he massacred nearly every member of the Sanhedrin and replaced the temple priests with a group of fawning admirers. The Judeans, Galileans, Nazarenes and the whole of Jerusalem loathed the Romans. How could it be possible that a group of uncouth gentiles lord over the Jews, who boasted of inheriting the legacy of a succession of prophets- Joseph, Moses, Aaron, Joshua, Daniel, Job, Elijah, Jonah, David and Solomon. Surely, the hour for the promised Messiah was nigh!
The quietude and serenity of the sanatorium was suddenly disrupted by a strange presence, satanic or angelic-she couldn’t gauge its origins.
“I seek refuge in the most beneficent from you. Fear God,” said Mary.
“O Mary! Verily God has chosen you, purified you and chosen you over all the women of the world. God gives you glad tidings of a word from him. His name shall be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honor in this world and the hereafter and he’ll be among those who are near to God,” the angel replied.
“How can I have a son when no man has touched me, nor am I unchaste?” enquired Mary.
“God creates what he wills. When he decrees a matter, he just says be-and it is,” replied the angel and vanished away.
Mary was absolutely petrified by the proceedings. Why would an angel come to meet a woman? Why would God choose her of all the people in the world? Why this shame, this indignity? How on earth would she convince her people of her chastity and her son’s legitimacy? What would Joseph, the person she’d been betrothed to, think about it?
In a society where woman were incessantly struggling to redeem themselves of the indictment of being the primary cause for the expulsion of mankind from heaven, God, in his infinite wisdom had chosen a woman to undertake the monumental task of ushering the society into a new age. The wait for the promised messiah was over.
A typical Jew in Jesus’ time had only one name, sometime supplemented with his father’s name or the individual’s hometown. Hence Jesus was referred as “the carpenter’s son”, “the son of Joseph”, “Jesus of Nazareth” and “the brother of James and Joses”. The patriarchal society had accepted Jesus as belonging to Joseph’s loins, on the latter’s insistence. Jesus grew up in Nazareth, intently trying to comprehend the rationale behind the impassiveness and callous state of the society. However, it wasn’t until he’d meet another similar seeker, that he’d realize the magnitude of the responsibility he’d been endowed with.
John the Baptist came out of the desert like an apparition, preaching a simple, but profound message- the end is near. To the wealthy who came to him seeking counsel, John said, “The one with two tunics must share with he who has none”. To the tax collector who came to him seeking the path of salvation, he said, “Do not exact more than that has been prescribed for you.” He’d hold people by their hands and immerse them in the water, thereby signifying a break from the past and a symbolic rebirth, as a person with a clear conscience. When Jesus was baptized by John, a voice rose over the horizon proclaiming, “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased”.
The ritualistic baptism had elicited an immense transformation: Jesus the Nazarene was now Jesus Christ-The promised Messiah.
What concerned Jesus most was the unsympathetic and tactless outlook of the society wherein the rich and powerful preyed upon the powerless, exploiting the latter by all means at their disposal. The priests in the high temple were busy filling their coffers, in lieu of acting as intermediaries between God and the common en masse. The first followers of Jesus were poor men, ostracized and detested by the priestly class, who sensed liberation and deliverance from the tyranny of the upper class in Jesus’ message. Jesus healed those born blind and lepers, as the priestly class sought ways to discredit him by labeling him as a sorcerer and a person of obscure parentage. To further irk the temper of the affluent class, Jesus said:
“Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
“Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Jesus roamed around in the streets, imparting the merits of helping one another through parables and anecdotes. Jesus asserted that instead of delving in ritualistic observations, people should realize the greatness of the one true lord and serve him by serving his fellow beings. He said:
“Sell your possessions and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.”
Jesus emphasized on the need of moral uprightness in the society. The society should comprise of people with a living conscience, and that people should guard themselves from falling for devilish temptations. He said:
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery’. But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
“For what shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and suffers the loss of his soul?”
Jesus wanted people to turn back in sincere repentance towards the one true God, discarding all egoistical pursuits and material aspirations. Sincerity of faith was an indispensable entity, failing which salvation was unattainable. He said:
“I tell you, keep asking and it’ll be given to you. Keep seeking and you’ll find. Keep knocking and it’ll be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives. He who seeks finds”.
“For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
The people were confused. The priests told them that they had the best knowledge of the scriptures and anyone who acts contrary to their commandments was a heretic, doomed in this world as well as in the hereafter. In clear contravention, Jesus promulgated a different way to God, one that involved rigorous striving towards the path of self righteousness. They asked Jesus:
“O wise master, Which way shall we follow?”
“I am the way, and the truth and the life. No man comes unto God but through me.”
“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
As Jesus sat down for his final meal with his twelve apostles, he sensed that his end was nigh. The Sanhedrin would take all possible measures to check his movements. His message was like wildfire, which, if uninhibited, would spread swiftly across Jerusalem, thereby striking a decisive blow to the clout and supremacy of the priestly class.
“My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders,” said Jesus, to the Roman governor Pontius Pilate during his trial, emphasizing the point that he did not crave for worldly adulations and riches. His sole concern was the overall benefit of humankind.
Irrespective of whether Jesus died on the cross for our sins or somehow managed to escape the gruesome crucifixion, to be taken up alive into heaven or settle in Kashmir, as believed by some, the point is, that as we stand on the brink a global conflict, with nations competing with each other in the arms race, how can we use Jesus’ message to take a small step towards the establishment of global peace. Perhaps, reading Jesus’ Sermon of the Mount might help:
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God…..”
Some people might consider this writeup as an outright heresy, while others may label it as blasphemous. This is a meek endeavour to understand the life of Jesus, the man- flesh and bones. This is but a humble attempt to decipher the enigma surrounding Jesus, the Nazarene- May the peace, mercy and blessings of God be upon him.
- The Rozabal Line: Ashwin Sanghi
- Zealot-The life of Jesus of Nazareth: Reza Aslan
- Bhavishya Purana: Chapter 19, Verse 17-24
- Quran- 4:157-158, 23:50, 3:42, 3:45, 3:47, 19:20
- Bible (New International Version) Gospel of Matthew 19:23-24, 5:3, 5:7-9, 5:27-28; Gospel of Luke 11:9-10, 12:33-34, 18:9-14; Gospel of Mark 8:36; Gospel of John 14:6, 6:32-35, 18:36.
Image Source: Pixabay