Russian daily national newspaper “Rossiyskaya Gazeta” (“The Russian Newspaper”)
Tuesday, October 9, 2012, №232 (5905), www.rg.ru
Specialists from the International Centre of the Roerichs and from India to jointly create a Roerich Museum Complex in Naggar
The Himalayan Light of the Roerichs
Author: Zakhar Alexeev
Last week the Russian International Centre of the Roerichs (ICR, Moscow) and the Indian International Roerich Memorial Trust (IRMT, Naggar) signed a protocol of cooperation. This document states that these two organizations, both founded by Svetoslav Roerich over 20 years ago, will jointly create a Memorial Museum Complex on the basis of the Roerich House in Naggar (India) and revive the activities of the Urusvati Himalayan Research Institute.
This event received almost no attention from the mass-media and went practically unnoticed among the cultural news and the “hot news of the day”, although it is highly important for the culture, history and the strengthening of the friendship between the two peoples. As the Russian President Vladimir Putin noted, the Roerichs’ heritage is of enduring significance both for Russia and India.
Here’s the prehistory of the matter.
In 1928, upon the completion of the Central Asian Expedition that had lasted for over four years, Nicholas Roerich founded the Urusvati Himalayan Research Institute in the city of Darjeeling (India) for the purpose of processing the gathered scientific material. He decided to place the Institute and organize its activities in the Kullu Valley in the Himalayas which is considered to be one of the most beautiful places in India, also called “the valley of the gods”. Roerich bought an estate from a local raja, comprised of an estate house built by an English landowner, and a large piece of land. Here the Roerichs embarked on intensive cultural and scientific activities. By the way, it was here that Nicholas Roerich finalized his idea of the necessity to consolidate international efforts on the protection of cultural property that would in 1935 be crowned with the signing of the first-ever international treaty on Protection of Artistic and Scientific Institutions and Historic Monuments known as the Roerich Pact.
It was here that Nicholas Roerich welcomed the two future heads of India who would later play a key role in establishing friendly relations between our countries, Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi.
The latter would later recall: “In 1942 me and my father spent a few days with the Roerich family. It was a memorable visit to a gifted wonderful family where each of the members was a remarkable personality. <…> I remember Nicholas Roerich especially well, a man of the most extensive knowledge and vast life experience who looked deeply inside everything he contemplated. <…> A man of few words, he radiated discreet power that seemed to fill all the space around him… I was not present in his meeting with my father. However, I do know that they exchanged ideas and thoughts on the development of closer cooperation between India and the USSR. Now, after India conquered independence, these ideas gained realization.”
The Roerichs envisaged the Urusvati Himalayan Research Institute as a prototype for a future scientific institution based on the synthesis of knowledge. The basic idea that pierced through the scientific concepts of the Institute was the idea of the interconnection between the human being and cosmos. According to the Roerichs, the reasons for many earthly phenomena lie in cosmos and in the realms of higher state of the matter.
The Institute cooperated with many of the leading scientific institutions of the world and with prominent scientists, such as Einstein, Vavilov, Millikan and others. Helena Roerich meant that the Urusvati Institute should later transform into a City of Knowledge. But the activities of the Institute were suspended because of the World War II.
At the same time, while living in Kullu, Nicholas Roerich would repeatedly try to come back to his homeland together with his family. But all of these attempts failed. In the mid. 1930s he sent an application to the USSR Minister of Foreign Affairs, but Joseph Stalin appended the instruction “Do not respond” on it. After the Patriotic War the Roerichs addressed the USSR once again with an appeal to be admitted to their homeland and, as in the previous case, did not get any answer. However, they kept living and working with the thoughts of Russia. “Each of us four has gained enough knowledge and experience in his or her own field,” wrote Nicholas Roerich. “But who did we work for? Was it for some strangers? No, it was for our dear Russian nation that we went through the thick and thin. We often managed to bring the true understanding of the Russian strivings and achievements. Not for a second did we deviate from the Russian ways. It was for the Russian people that we worked, bringing them both knowledge and achievements."
Nicholas Roerich passed away in 1947. His spouse, Helena Roerich, died eight years later. Only the elder son, George, a well-known orientalist, managed to come back to his homeland in 1957. On the invitation of Nikita Khrushchev George Roerich moved to Moscow, bringing with him the first part of the heritage that unfortunately was to suffer a tragic fate. He transferred some of the paintings to the Ministry of Culture of the USSR for the purpose of founding a museum. The Ministry accepted them, but the promised museum was not created. The second part of the heritage that was brought to Moscow started to gradually disappear from George Roerich’s flat after his untimely death in 1960. Specialists note that nowadays there is almost nothing left there.
Remembering his parents’ will and his brothers’ bitter experience, Svetoslav Roerich promoted the idea of creating a non-governmental Centre-Museum named after N.K. Roerich in Moscow, and succeeded. In 1990 he transferred to the museum the paintings, the archive and the library of his parents, as well as memorial objects and many of the collections that the Roerichs had been gathering through their whole lives. By now, due to the efforts of Lyudmila Shaposhnikova who was appointed to the post of the Centre-Museum’s director by Svetoslav Roerich himself, and the sponsorship of Boris Bulochnik, the International Centre of the Roerichs and its Museum have become a cultural institution acknowledged both in Russia and abroad.
However, a considerable part of the heritage was left in the Indian estate of the Roerichs in Naggar: paintings, books, personal belongings, and, most importantly, the suspended Urusvati Himalayan Research Institute with its scientific collections, archive, library, expedition documents, and exhibition items. So Svetoslav Roerich decided to preserve the Kullu estate and turn it into a full-fledged Russian-Indian museum and cultural centre. “I keep thinking about the best way to realize the Museum in Kullu,” he wrote to his brother. “This place is indeed so closely connected with the work of Nich(olas) Konst(antinovich) in India and has exceptional advantages in respect of climate, geographical location, and history, not to mention the exceptional scenic attractions…” In 1970s Svetoslav Roerich addressed the Russian Academy of Sciences with a request to arrange the revival of the Urusvati Himalayan Research Institute’s activities in cooperation with Indian scientists. But the RAS administration ignored Roerich’s application.
After the Centre-Museum was founded in Moscow, Svetoslav Roerich created the International Roerich Memorial Trust (IRMT), a Russian-Indian organization aimed at reviving the cultural and scientific activities started by his parents.
Both Russia and India were very enthusiastic about the creation of the IRMT at that time. But after Svetoslav Roerich’s death in January 1993 things went not quite as he had planned. A Memorial Roerich House-Museum has still not been created. Those three rooms of the house that Svetoslav Roerich once adapted for a gallery of paintings by Nicholas Roerich can by no means be called a memorial house-museum. No-one has embarked on the revival of the Institute’s activities yet. Moreover, during the twenty years of the IRMT existence many of the archival and scientific documents and collections have fallen into disrepair.
It is only recently that the hope sprang up that the situation with the preservation of the Roerichs’ heritage in Naggar will start to change for the better, and that the will of Svetoslav Roerich will be nevertheless fulfilled. A new person was appointed to the post of the Russian curator at the Roerich Estate. Her name is Larisa Surgina, she is an ICR employee. Before that, a group of ICR specialists had worked at the Roerich Estate on the invitation of the Indian party for several months, examining the condition of the whole heritage situated in the territory of the Estate.
“They have performed an enormous research work,” says Alexander Stetsenko, First Deputy Director General of the ICR Museum named after N.K. Roerich. “The employees of our museum have conducted a verification of the museum items and collections (comprising over 8000 depository items) pertaining to the Roerichs’ heritage. They have discovered and described over 900 previously unregistered memorial objects and archival documents, and over 7000 books and journals from the scientific library of the Roerichs. Thus, a full inventory and photofixation of the heritage items was conducted for the first time. Moreover, this work showed that in order to create an international scientific and cultural centre in accordance with Svetoslav Roerich’s concept a comprehensive set of actions needs to be taken.”
The Indian delegation that came to Moscow to discuss the further development of the IRMT consisted of four officials: Mr. Sudripta Roy, Chief Secretary of the Himachal Pradesh Government, Mrs. Manisha Nanda, Principal Secretary of the Himachal Pradesh Government, Secretary General of the International Roerich Memorial Trust, and Mr. Rakesh Kanwar, Director of the Department for Language, Art and Culture of the Himachal Pradesh Government. As a result of the talks the ICR and the IRMT signed an agreement. The parties agreed to jointly create a Memorial Museum Complex on the basis of the Roerich House in Naggar and to revive the activities of the Urusvati Institute, using the experience of the ICR in the preservation and popularization of the Roerichs’ heritage.
One of the most important provisions of this agreement is the one about the status and powers of the Russian curator of the IRMT. The parties have firmly set the procedure of his/her appointment, status, rights and obligations. The agreement not only defines the obligations of the parties concerning the rendering of help to the Russian IRMT curator, but also raises his/her responsibility for the undertaken obligations.
During the talks many things were said about the partnership relations, mutual respect of the interests of both parties, and about mutual help, because it is only by joint efforts that the Roerichs’ heritage can be preserved. Every conversational turned was accompanied by the idea that this cooperation will in its turn contribute to the strengthening of cultural bonds between Russia and India.
This is not just plain rhetoric. It has been repeatedly noted by the heads of both Russia and India that the unique artistic and cultural heritage of the Roerich family is of enduring significance for the Russian-Indian friendship. Here is how the first president of Russia, Boris Eltsin, answered to Svetoslav Roerich’s proposal to become an honorary trustee of the IRMT: “The creation of the International Roerich Memorial Trust that you are planning will undoubtedly enhance the indispensable contribution that your illustrious family made to the spiritual rapprochement of Russia and India and to the world culture. This promising project will of course gain full support in Russia. I would like to assure you that I will render all possible assistance to your noble initiative and will participate in it during the organizational development of the Memorial Trust, also in a private capacity.”
Boris Eltsin was not able to fulfill all these promises. But both organizations still hope for the help of the Russian and Indian Governments in the preservation of the cultural and scientific heritage of our great compatriot.
From a conversation with the Indian colleagues:
- What is your view of the position that the Roerichs occupy in the cultural life of India?
- Mr. Sudripta Roy, Head of the Indian delegation, Chief Secretary of the Himachal Pradesh Government: It would be no exaggeration to say that the position of the Roerichs in India is extremely significant. Their unique works are highly appreciated in our country. They have many followers who care about their legacy and develop it. The Roerichs are, in fact, a cultural bridge connecting India and Russia.
- What impressions did you get from the visit to the International Centre of the Roerichs and its Museum named after N.K. Roerich?
- Mr. Sudripta Roy: We were amazed by what we saw here. This is remarkable. If we manage to create at least a part of this in Kullu, it will be a great accomplishment for us.
- Mrs. Manisha Nanda, Principal Secretary of the Himachal Pradesh Government, Secretary General of the International Roerich Memorial Trust: Of course we would like to create a similar museum and scientific complex as the one in Moscow. What we have seen here is basically the body, heart and soul of the Roerichs’ heritage.
Yesterday, a day before the start of the international scientific conference “George Roerich 110th Birth Anniversary”, the Moscow Museum named after N.K. Roerich saw the opening of an exhibition of the works by Nicholas Roerich. These paintings are not on display in any museum - they come from private collections, ranging from those widely known in Russia through reproductions to those that will come as a revelation to the Russian public. Thus, such paintings as “The Doomed City”, “The New Home”, “Leh”, “Lamayuru”, “Pandim”, “Mount Everest”, “The Treasure”, “The Stone Age (The Call of the Sun)”, sketch “Uglich. Monastery of the Resurrection” are exhibited in Russia for the first time. The exhibition contains a total of 60 works which represent almost all the periods of Nicholas Roerich’s creative work.