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Home  >  Features  >  Looking Back: Charansar

Looking Back

Friday March 6 2015

Looking Back: A Message from a Thousand Years Ago

Published in March 1935, the mystery of an ancient message found carved into a Tibetan rock.

Charansar - Who was He?

WE are thrilled – when we pause to reflect on the wonder of it – that the voice of a speaker a thousand miles away should sound in our ear as we sit by the fireside. It is surely no less a marvel that a few scratches on a rock in Western Tibet should bring us a message from a traveller dead long centuries ago.

The story has been set by Dr. John Hutchison (formerly a missionary of the Church of Scotland at Chamba in the Himalayas, and still in his retirement living there). It is taken from Moravian Missions.

Since 1853 Moravian missionaries have been working in Ladak or Western Tibet – that part of Tibet which, being under the State of Kashmir, lies within the British Empire.

Bishop Peter, the present head of the mission, tells how, in 1906, when on an extended medical tour, a Dr. Ernest Shawe discovered near Drangtse some crosses carved upon a rock, and an inscription in some unknown character. In 1911 Bishop Peter visited the spot himself and made a copy of the inscription as best he could in his pocket-book. Dr. Francke, a very scholarly member of the mission, then in Germany, got him to send the pages from his book home to him; and for years he heard no more.

In 1927, however, when on furlough, he was taken by Dr. Francke to visit the learned Professor F. M. Müller, of Berlin. The latter had been much interested in the pencil sketch; said the inscription was undoubtedly of Nestorian origin, but that a really good photograph was needed before it could be deciphered.

On his return to Ladak, Bishop Peter asked every European traveller going in that direction to get him a photo of the rock, and eventually a Mr. Bosshard, of Dr. Trinkler’s Central Asian Expedition, procured one for him. Professor Müller, to whom that photograph was sent, declared that the inscription was in “an old Syrian script.” He deciphered it to read as follows:

“One year on 215 halting places: I, the man from Samarkand, Charansar, arrived here to Tübot.”

And the word about the cross is “Ysax” – declared to mean “Jesus.”

“Who was that man Charansar,” writes Bishop Peter, “and what was the purpose of his long and arduous journey? Did he stop at Drangtse, or did he go on towards India? Certainly he was not an ordinary traveller journeying for gain… The name above the cross gives us a clue. It is the same of which Paul writes (2 Cor. v. 14), and which constrained him to travel as far as he could go then. Whoever the man was that cut this inscription, he was the first missionary of Christ to Ladak.

“After a long time he was followed by others, whom it has taken a long time to erect the image of Christ in the hearts of the men and women of Ladak. All glory to Christ who has done this even in distant Ladak, where for more than a thousand years only a cross on a stone was the sign that this country belongs and shall belong to Christ.”

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