His Shadow (Shadow of the Teacher) 1932. Tempera on canvas. 74,5 x 117,5.
The Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia
As soon as you walk into our apartment, you will see three paintings of Nicholas Roerich. He was widely known as 'A Master of the Mountains,' for many deserved reason. Barely known to mountaineers and modern painters, Nicholas Roerich 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 archaeologist, ethnographer, geographer, poet, historian, philosopher, scientist, traveler, 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. He was also a man of the mountains.
The title 'A Master of the Mountains' comes from countless things he did including his amazing Central Asia Expedition through Sikkim, Kashmir, Ladakh, China (Sintzian), Russia, Siberia, Altai, Mongolia and Tibet.
Climbing over a 20,000 foot pass in Sikkim came naturally to Roerich as he was totally at home in the mountains, and accepted by mountain tribes who were seeing Europeans for the first time. Many things attracted me to Roerich, but what stood out was that he saw the good in Red Cross and decided to form another Pact, not an organisation, called 'The banner of peace."
The Banner of Peace
In the following year, on a trip back to New York, Roerich proposed a treaty for the protection of cultural treasures during times of both war and peace. Using the Red Cross as an example, he drafted a Pact suggesting that a flag, called the Banner of Peace, be flown over all places under its protection. The design of the Banner shows three spheres surrounded by a circle, in magenta color on a white background. Of the many interpretations of this symbol, the most usual are perhaps those of Religion, Art and Science as aspects of culture, which is the surrounding circle; or of past, present and future achievements of humanity guarded within the circle of Eternity
The Roerich Pact was first agreed to by twenty-one nations of the Americas and signed as a treaty in the White House with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, on April 15, 1935. It was later signed by other countries as well. This treaty is still in force.
Roerich believed the challenges of the mountains helped one to find courage and develop strength of spirit. And, in spite of obstacles, wherever they went, the Roerichs' faith in the essential goodness of life and the spirituality of man was reinforced.
Roerich's Banner of the East series of nineteen paintings depicting the world's religious teachers, Mohammed, Jesus, Moses, Confucius and Buddha, and the Indian and Christian saints and sages was a testimonial to the unity of religious striving and the common roots of man's faith.
At the end of their major expedition in 1928, the family settled in the Kullu Valley at an elevation of 6,500 feet in the Himalyan foothills. There they established their home and the headquarters of the Urusvati Himalayan Research Institute, which was organized to study the results of their expedition, and of those explorations that were yet to come. The Institute's activities included botanical and ethnological-linguistic studies, and the exploration of archeological sites. I viisted Naggar in the Kullu Valley and saw his home, his old car still in the garage and inspected the house with utmost reverence and admiration.
The Roerich house in Naggar, Kullu valley, India.
.The pursuit of refinement and beauty was sacred for Roerich. He believed that, although earthly temples and artifacts may perish, the thought that brings them into existence does not die but is part of an eternal stream of consciousness - people's aspirations nourished by their directed will and by the energy of thought. Finally, he believed that peace on Earth is a prerequisite to planetary survival and the continuing process of spiritual evolution, and he exhorted those who would help achieve that peace to unite in the common language of Beauty and Knowledge.
Based on the philosophy of Nicholas Roerich, the mission of The Center for Peace Through Culture, is to promote a psychology of peace that focuses on the identification of belief systems that separate people, and to help transform these belief systems into attitudes of inclusion and acceptance.
Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi Nicholas Roerich, M. Yunus. (Roerich’s estate, Kullu)
But who was this mysterious mountain man ?
Nicholas was born on October 9, 1874, in St. Petersburg, Russia, to the family of a notary, Konstantin F. Roerich.
Nicholas spent his childhood in a house on the bank of the river Neva and at the suburban estate of his father, which was called Izvara. Everything interested the inquisitive boy: complex designs of the ship masts, a small boat ploughing the flat surface of the river, the words of an ancient song of the times about Tsar Peter the Great (which his grandmother would sing to the children).
Path to Shambhala 1933
The interests of the boy were quite diverse. He learned to read very early and was fond of literature, poetry and theater. The boy also painted.Nicholas had many projects during his life which he hoped would help to raise the consciousness of humanity.
Nicholas and Helena Roerich are two of these Russian superheroes. The Roerichs offered an inspiring path for spiritual growth and life similar to what in America is called "global awakening" — a philosophy that encompasses all peoples and faiths. They saw that different religions simply looked at the same Truth in different ways — but that this different way-of-looking was the cause of all war.
It is said that the Roerichs were eminently likable; that they attracted others through their appearance, manners, simplicity, and generosity. Certainly, they were great artists, creating wonderful paintings and writings. They also were known as philosophers, speakers, teachers, scientists, patrons of the arts, public figures, and cultural workers. But it was probably their greatness of Soul, an ineffable Quality that radiated from their every word and gesture, that caused them to be taken so closely to the Russian heart.
In the final analysis, they were conveying, in a beautiful and captivating form — through art, writing, Eastern practices, and even socio-political projects — the thoughts and leadership of the Ascended Masters
Roerich’s outlook of the world was unique, based upon the knowledge of the fundamental laws of existence. He was convinced that by increasing the level of masses’ spiritual culture, one could transform life on earth and defeat ignorance, vulgarity, exploitation and wars. In his own words “Where there is culture, there is peace”. Being convinced of the transforming power of culture, Nicholas Roerich devoted himself not only to artistic, but also to educational activities.
Roerich’s lifetime work comprises around 7000 paintings and sketches, which can be found in famous museums and private collections all around the world. His early works bear strong influences of his Russian heritage. Based on Russian themes and legends, the panoramic Russian landscapes, history and folk art, he travelled extensively, first in Russia, later in Europe and America, before realizing his long cherished dream to come to India.
Central nAsia Expeditions
He and his family arrived in India, which attracted the attention of N. Roerich not only as a painter, but as a scientist interested in a number of problems related to ancient peoples’ world migrations, and search for a common source of Slavic and Indian cultures. From here a path of the expedition in hard-to-reach areas of Central Asia was began. Later N. Roerich written: “Besides artistic tasks of our expedition we have intended to clarify a situation with relics of the past of Central Asia, to observe modern state of religion, customs, and to register the traces of great migration of peoples. This last task was always close to me”. The expedition’s extremely difficult itinerary ran through Sikkim, Kashmir, Ladakh, China (Sintzian), Russia (including Moscow), Siberia, Altai, Mongolia, Tibet, unstudied areas of Trans Himalayas. The expedition was continued from 1924 to 1928. Having realized Przewalski and Kozlov’s dream, Nicholas Roerich’s expedition became a triumph of Russian studies in Central Asia. In terms of its itinerary uniqueness and collected materials, it can justly claim for a special place among major expeditions of the 20th century.
Archeological and ethnographical investigations in unexplored Asian areas were conducted. For the first time, dozens of new mountain peaks and passes were marked on maps, rarest manuscripts were found, richest linguistic materials and folkloric works were collected, descriptions of local customs were made. Also during the expedition the books “Heart of Asia” and “Altai-Himalayas” were written, about five hundred paintings were created, on which the artist portrayed a beauty panorama of the expedition itinerary, a famous painting series “Himalayas” was began, the series “Maytreya”, “Sikkim’s Path”, “His country" “The Teaches of the East” et al.
In India Roerich continued to work at “Himalayas” series which includes more than two thousands paintings. Mountain world was a source of inexhaustible inspiration for the painter. Art critics noted a new direction in Roerich’s creativity and called him “Master of mountains”. In India N. Roerich created the following series: “Shambala”, “Chingis-Khan”, “Kuluta”, “Kullu”, “Saint mountains”, “Tibet”, Ashrams” etc. Artist’s exhibitions were held in many Indian cities and attracted many people.
Roerich always remained a patriot and a Russian citizen only holding one passport – Russian. He never gave up the thought of coming back to his motherland. Right after the end of the war, the artist applied for a visa to enter the Soviet Union. But on December 13, 1947, he died, without knowing that he was denied the visa.
In Kullu valley, at the place of the funeral fire, a big rectangular stone was installed on which the following inscription was carved: “Here, on December 15, 1947, the body of Maharishi Nicholas Roerich – a great Russian friend of India – was committed to fire.
Yu, President of ICR
It has been such a joy and an honour to write about this amazing man and one wonders why is not well known outside of India and Russia. I have only touched on his life and if you are interested in seeing his stunning paintings, go to: http://photo.ecoglobus.com/roerichen.htm
Special thanks to the Nicholas Roerich Museum which I visited in 2004 and they gave me so much assistance in researching his life, and and to Wikipedia for permission to use some photos and text.