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Jesus trail in India

Randeep Ramesh

Film to cover the years left out of the New Testament



Coming up in 2009: The Aquarian Gospel

Action adventure account of Jesus’ life



New Delhi: Hollywood is to fill in Jesus’ “missing years” in the Bible with a story about him as a wandering mystic who travelled across India, living in Buddhist monasteries and speaking out against the caste system.

Film producers have delvedinto revisionist scholarship to piece together what they say was Jesus’ life between the ages of 13 and 30, a period untouched by the gospels.

The result is The Aquarian Gospel, a $20-million movie which portrays Jesus as a holy man and teacher inspired by a myriad of eastern religions in India. The movie takes its name from a century-old book that examined Christianity’s eastern roots and is in its 53rd reprint.

Casting begins

The film’s producers say the movie will be shot using actors and computer animation like 300, the retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae, and will follow the travels of Yeshua, believed to be the name for Jesus in Aramaic, from West Asia to India. Casting for Bollywood and Hollywood actors has begun.

“The Bible devotes just seven words to the most formative years of Yeshua’s life saying: ‘The boy grew in wisdom and stature’. The [film] will follow Christ’s journey to the east where he encounters other traditions, and discovers the principles that are the bedrock of all the world’s great religions,” said Drew Heriot, the director, whose credits include the cult hit The Secret.

The film, due for release in 2009, sets out to be a fantasy action adventure account of Jesus’ life with the three wise men as his mentors. Although the producers say the film will feature a “young and beautiful” princess, it is not clear whether Jesus in the movie is to have a love interest.

The producers say they are hoping for commercial and spiritual gains. “We think that Indian religions and Buddhism, especially with the idea of meditation, played a big part in Christ’s thinking. In the film we are looking beyond the canonised gospels to the ‘lost’ gospels,” said William Sees Keenan, the producer, who is currently making Lindsay Lohan’s Poor Things. “We are looking at new themes. In our story Jesus was loyal to the untouchables and he defended them with his life by saying that everyone could read the Vedas,” said Mr. Keenan.

Earlier book

The theory that Jesus’ teachings had roots in Indian traditions has been around for more than a century. In 1894, a Russian doctor, Nicholas Notovitch, published a book The Unknown Life of Christ, in which he claimed that while recovering from a broken leg in a Tibetan monastery in the Ladakh region, close to Kashmir, he had been shown evidence of Christ’s Indian wanderings. He said he was shown a scroll recording a visit by Jesus to India and to the Tibetan region as a young man. Indian experts claim that documentary proof remains of this visit.

“I have seen the scrolls which show Buddhist monks talking about Jesus’ visits. There are also coins from that period which show Yuzu or have the legend Issa on them, referring to Jesus from that period,” said Fida Hassnain, former director of archaeology at the University of Srinagar.

Mr. Hassnain, who has written books on the legend of Jesus in India, says there was extensive traffic between the Mediterranean and India around the time of Jesus’ life. The academic pointed out that in Srinagar a tomb of Issa is still venerated. “It is the Catholic Church which has closed its mind on the subject. Historians have not.”

More dramatic are the claims that Buddhism had prompted the move from the “eye for an eye” ideology of the Old Testament to “love thy neighbour” in the New Testament.

In 1995 a German religious expert, Holger Kersten, claimed that Jesus had been schooled by Buddhist monks to believe in non-violence and to challenge the priesthood. Mr. Kersten’s book is a bestseller in India.

Church’s view

The Catholic Church in India dismisses the film as just “Hollywood filmmakers in search of a new audience rather than the truth.” Aware that religious passions are easily inflamed, after the Da Vinci Code film sparked protests among Indian Christians, its spokesman said that a movie about Jesus in India was “fantasy and fiction.”

“I have personally investigated many of these claims and they remain what they first seem: fiction,” said John Dayal, president of the All India Catholic Union. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2007

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