India gets a taste of Roerich’s Himalayan quest

Portrait of Nicholas Roerich painted by his son Svyatoslav

Portrait of Nicholas Roerich painted by his son Svyatoslav

This March, India has a brush with the genius of Russian artist Nicholas Roerich, the sage-philosopher who made the mighty Himalayas the home of his spirit for much of his later life, when a unique exhibition showcasing 75 of his best paintings were put up for display at the National Gallery of Modern Art in New Delhi.

The sheer magic of Roerich’s paintings had the viewers spellbound. Small wonder, he was revered by his admirers across continents. His contemporaries described him variously as Apostle of Beauty, Messenger of Culture, Mighty Warrior of the Spirit and Master of Himalayas.

Looking deeper, one can’t but recollect the year 1942… the Second World War was still raging, India was struggling for its independence, but the two visionaries – Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Nicholas Roerich — were discussing the future of friendship between India and Russia. Only the mighty Himalayas around them stood silent witnesses to their dreams.

Almost 70 years later, the two countries are witnessing the flowering of those prophetic yearnings. Much has changed since then, but there is a growing realisation that India and Russia are like two pillars on which the peace of the whole world rests. Swami Vivekananda, an Indian philosopher-mystic, has captured the essence of the Indian belief in spirituality and the interconnectedness of the human spirit.

“Political greatness or military power is never the mision of our race, it never was and mark my words, it never will be. But there has been other mission given to us, which is to conserve, to preserve, to accumulate all the spiritual energy of human race...”

Clearly, the strength of India and Russia lies in its people who aspire towards illumination of spirit and the highest knowledge.

“Art is the heart of the people. Knowledge is the brain of the people. Only with heart and wisdom humanity can unite and understand each other.”

Nicholas Roerich, too, was rooted in such knowledge. His mind anchored in the heritage of the past and his hands, heart and mind creating a radiant future. In the name of Beauty, he was mapping out the ascent of mind and soul for posterity. Roerich’s genius amalgamated the past, present and future in one grand synthesis of life. And it is because of it, Roerich will always be relevant.

This gift for synthesis was reflected in everything Roerich did. Synthesis was his method as well as style. This ability to view the world in its unity and interconnectedness, when everything from the tiniest ant upto huge stars has its unique place in the majestic Cosmic Design, allowed Roerich to sense, understand and communicate with the very foundation of Life. He was spiritually attuned to its essence, radiance, thus pulsating fabric that resembled the canvases of the great Master…

It is this psychic affinity of Roerich with the universal truth that strikes a chord with every seeker of truth, cutting across national or religious boundaries. It invites everybody to perceive the underlying harmony and beauty of the creation and teaches one to attune oneself with it. Beauty does not require an interpreter. Consciousness of beauty is an inborn capacity in each one of us and Roerich was convinced that it should be cultivated and manifested on all levels. It is the common ground for all people in their hard evolutionary search and paves the way for the attainment of the higher levels of consciousness.

“The beautiful leads us through all the bridges.
The beautiful opens the gravest locks.
The beautiful weaves the wings of light and unites
the human souls in their aspiration
for the Common Light.”
(N. Roerich)

Roerich’s deep love for world culture was reflected in the signing of the Roerich International Banner of Peace in 1935 in Washington by 21 countries in presence of US President F.D. Roosevelt. The treaty aimed at protecting the lofty monuments of artistic and scientific institutions and collections of the creative spirit of human genius from the havoc of war and acts of barbarity. “We need the Pact for culture memorials protection not only as an official body, but also as an educational law, which will ... bring up younger generation with the noble ideas of preserving cultural values of the universe,” Roerich wrote.

One can hope that more Indians, especially children, can see the exhibition in Delhi to get the feel of Roerich’s works, which may inspire them to widen their consciousness.

The Himalayan paintings of Nicholas Roerich merit a closer look. They were all created by the painter during the time he spent in Naggar – either in Kullu valley, or in neighboring Lahoul, Spiti or Chamba mountainous regions. Like no other painter, Roerich was able to grasp and depict the subtlest shades, hues and tones of the mountains, their ethereal transparency – be it at sun rise, blazing daytime, in the mystical dusk quietness or on starry and translucent nights…

No wonder he was proclaimed the ‘Master of the Mountains’. He could sense the spirit and harmony of the mountains, and saw in them the symbol of the highest aspiration towards the Beauty and Knowledge. ‘Treasure-house of the Spirit’ – this is how Roerich used to call his beloved Himalayas. They nourished Roerich’s heart and soul for over twenty years and he was able to share their gift with other people through his canvases.

“The Himalayas, which for centuries have inspired Hindu and Buddhist thought and art, embrace in their snows some of the most famed sanctuaries of India, worshipped for thousands of years. In the strange and beautiful Kullu valley alone are structures, groves and nooks sacred to 360 gods. Kullu collected all sublime names of the humanity - Manu, Buddha, Arjuna, Pandava heroes, Vyasa, Gessar Khan. And all masters and heroes, who either by sword or in spirit won great battles,” wrote Roerich. The Himalayan paintings bring out Roerich’s belief that spiritual heritage is the most potent binding and uniting force between diverse cultures.

Dr.Alena Adamkova is the Executive Director of the International Roerich Memorial Trust

RIR Dossier
Nicholas Roerich (1874-1947) was an extraordinary personality, a unique individual, having an immense thirst for knowledge and a deep appreciation of beauty in all forms. A trained painter and lawyer, also ethnographer, geographer, poet, philosopher, traveller, fighter for peace, defender of cultural values of all nations, Roerich throughout his life, devoted himself to the ideal of the common good of mankind. Early in his career, Roerich distinguished himself as his generation's best painter of scenes from ancient Russian history. Roerich was associated with several Symbolist literary-artistic journals, directed the School of the Imperial Society for the Encouragement of the Arts. After the October Revolution, Roerich and his family left Russia. As emigres, they lived in Finland, England, and the United States, finally settling in northern India. In 1928, Nicholas Roerich and his wife Elena founded the Institute of the Himalayan Studies "Urusvati".

Roerich remained a prolific painter, but he was engaged in other activities too. He spearheaded an international campaign for the adoption of a treaty — the 'Banner of Peace' Pact — to protect art and architecture in times of war.

The Roerich family was deeply rooted in the philosophic teaching called Agni Yoga, or the Living Ethics.

Roerich abode gets highest patronage

The International Roerich Memorial Trust (IRMT) in the Himalayan Kullu Valley in Himachal Pradesh will now function under the patronage of the Co-Chairmen of the Russian-Indian Inter-Governmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific, Technological and Cultural Cooperation (IGC). This decision was taken at the working session of the Co-Chairs of the IGC - Russia's Vice-Premier Mr. Sergei Sobyanin and the Indian External Affairs Minister, Mr. S.M.Krishna, which took place in February. The Memorial Complex of the Roerichs in the township of Naggar in the serene Kullu Valley comprises the Estate where the illustrious Russian family of the elder Roerichs lived from 1929 to 1947, an Art Gallery and the 'Urusvati' Himalayan Research Institute. Until his death in 1993, it was the abode of Svetoslav Roerich and his legendary film star wife, Devika Rani. The Estate is justly considered one of the unique treasure-houses of world culture.

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