2002-03-19 00:00:00

Some Indian Church historians have dismissed as "a work of fiction" an American scholar´s claim that Christ was buried in the disputed Kashmir region.

Suzanne Marie Olsson, a New York-based researcher, has claimed that Christ was buried in a tomb now associated with a local Sufi saint in India´s northernmost Jammu and Kashmir state.

She has been seeking state government permission to dig up the Rozabal tomb in the state capital Srinagar, 875 kilometers north of New Delhi, to conduct deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) tests of body samples to prove her claims.

The American woman wants to compare the samples with the DNA samples she has from a shrine in the Pakistani hill station of Murree, where she claims the Blessed Mother was buried.

"This will trace him (Christ) to his origin," Olsson was quoted March 10 in a report in the "Greater Kashmir," a Srinagar-based newspaper.

Together with Pakistani archaeologists Ahmad Hassan Dani and Saida Rahman, Olsson has already dug up the shrine in Murree where people claim Mother Mary was buried. The town of Murree derives its name from Mary, the report said.

According to the researcher and archaeologists, the Blessed Mother died while accompanying Christ and Saint Thomas the Apostle to India after the Crucifixion, during which they claim Jesus did not actually die.

The Kashmir administration´s spokesperson told UCA News March 14 that the state has yet to decide on Olsson´s request, adding, "It was unlikely for the state government to permit any action that could hurt the sentiments of the local people."

Mohammed Amin Ringshawl, chairman of the committee looking after the Rozabal tomb, told UCA News March 14 over the phone that he and his committee members "would not allow any digging." He said that history and popular belief attribute the shrine to Yuza Asif, a Kashmiri Sufi saint.

Father Mathias Mundadan, general editor of "History of Christianity in India," told UCA News March 14 that the entire claim of Christ coming to India "is a work of fiction."

"We don´t have any evidence, nor is there any tradition to prove that Christ ever came to India," said the Carmelite of Mary Immaculate priest, who coordinates an attempt to record the history of Christianity in India in a six-volume inter-denominational study. Four volumes have been published.

The priest wrote the first volume dealing with the history of Christianity from year 52, the year many believe St. Thomas landed in India, to the mid-16th century when missioners from overseas arrived.

He did not find Olsson´s claim "worth even a mention" as no evidence exists to prove Christ ever visited India. "We don´t know anything about the death of Mother Mary, forget about the shrine in Murree," Father Mundadan added.

Jesuit Father Jose Kalapura, an expert on the history of Christianity in northern and northeastern India, also said that no proof exists until now "to prove these claims." However, he noted several claims about Christ´s links with India.

Some historians in the eastern state of Bihar, where Father Kalapura is based, believe that Christ studied in the ancient Indian University of Nalanda and stayed in a village known as "Easapur" (Jesus´ city).

Some tribal groups in northeastern Mizoram state claim that Christ visited a Jewish settlement there during his India visit, said Father Kalapura, co-author of a series on Indian Christian history.

The hypothesis of Christ´s links with India and Kashmir found takers after 1973 when Kashmiri journalist Aziz Kashmiri wrote "Christ in Kashmir."

Kashmiri told UCA News March 14 that he is "crystal clear" that Christ was buried in the Rozabal tomb after his death at the age of 120. He said that the conclusion was reached after "extensive studies over several years."

He said that the first claim about Christ not dying on the cross came in 1890 from Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, founder of the Ahmadiyya sect of Islam.

According to Kashmiri and other researchers, Jesus, Mary and Saint Thomas traveled from Jerusalem through Damascus, Iran, Afghanistan and reached Pakistan. After Mary´s death, they said, Jesus preached in the Kashmir region, while Saint Thomas the Apostle proceeded to southern India.


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