Devika Rani Anniversary Celebrations in IRMT
On March 30, 2018, the International Roerich Memorial Trust (IRMT) celebrated the 110th anniversary of Devika Rani, the cinema star of yesteryear, and the beloved wife of Dr. Svetoslav Roerich.
Festivities opened with the traditional Shanti Puja in her memory conducted in front of the Summer Studio of Svetoslav Roerich which houses a small exhibition on this beautiful couple which includes archival photographs and some of their personal belongings. The ceremony brought together the Indian and Russian staff of the IRMT, and the guests from India and France who gathered around the sacrificial fire near her portrait painted by Svetoslav Roerich to honour the memory of this truly remarkable human being who is also special to Naggar due to her having been actively involved in the foundation of the IRMT.
The programme continued with the inauguration of the photographic exhibition “Devika Rani – The First Lady of Indian Cinema, the Spouse, Associate and Muse of the Renowned Russian Artist Svetoslav Roerich” in the Conference Hall, IRMT. The guests were given a guided tour of the exhibition by Alexander Pereverzev, Assistant Russian Curator, IRMT. The exhibition presented the two avatars of Devika Rani: the actress of high renown on the one hand, and the lifelong companion of Dr. Svetoslav Roerich with whom she spent almost half a century on the other hand.
In his address to the guests of the event, the Indian Curator of the IRMT Mr. Ramesh Chander dwelled on Devika Rani’s contribution to the world of Indian cinema, her role in shaping its history and creating a generation of successful Indian directors and actors. He also focused on the progressive social aspect of some of her roles, for instance in the highly acclaimed film Achhut Kanya (The Untouchable Maiden) which boldly tackled the sensitive subject of intercaste marriage. This made her far ahead of her time.
The Russian Curator of the IRMT Mrs. Larisa Surgina chose to speak on the second part of Devika Rani’s life. She underscored that the Roerich family accepted Devika Rani as her own and highly appreciated her refinement and smooth character. She mentioned that for almost five decades, in India and abroad, in Bangalore and Naggar Devika Rani remained not only the spouse of Dr. Roerich but his lifelong friend and associate actively assisting him in all his cultural and public activities. And finally, it was Devika Rani who made the Russian family of the Roerichs a truly Indo-Russian family.
Seeing the exhibition was like walking down the memory lane. With lively interest the visitors, both Indian and foreign, looked at the vintage photographs depicting stills from Devika Rani’s films, old movie posters, and iconic shots from the Bombay Talkies productions which even now are considered classic. For most of the guests these materials were a discovery. The exhibition also included a number of images of Devika Rani in the company of her husband Dr. Svetoslav Roerich in their Tataguni Estate in Bangalore, and alongside the Roerichs in the Hall Estate in Naggar. One could also see a number of reproductions of the Naggar landscapes by Svetoslav Roerich.
Mrs. Surgina also stressed that Devika Rani and Svetoslav Roerich made a uniquely harmonious couple. Inspired by her unparalleled beauty, Svetoslav Roerich painted a number of her portraits (incidentally, the reproductions of some of them decorated the venue of the event). He often said that she had greatly enriched his life, and she was one of the main reasons why he loved India so much. On her part, Devika Rani considered it her life’s mission to support and help her husband in all matters, big and small. In one of the letters to a family friend K.A.Molchanova she mentioned that in her life she had met a number of outstanding men including Tagore, Gandhi and Einstein, but among all of them Svetoslav Roerich stood out like a shining star due to his multifaceted and unique personality.
The teachers of the Helena Roerich Academy of Arts for Children managed by the IRMT came up with their own surprise for the guests and participants of the celebrations. The teacher of vocal Pushpa Devi performed two songs from different films starring Devika Rani, including the highly popular one, Main ban ki chidiya banke, ban ban doolun re (Being a free little bird I fly everywhere), which was accompanied by a dance recital by the dance teacher Mamta Thakur.
The programme concluded with the screening of Devika Rani’s first film Karma (1933), which has the distinction of being the first Indian talkie and which made Devika Rani a major star overnight. The screening opened a week-long festival of Bombay Talkies films starring Devika Rani organized by the IRMT. The festival will reintroduce Devika Rani to the public by presenting it such classics as Karma, Achhut Kanya, Nirmala, Janmabhoomi, Durga and Izzat.
The participants of the ceremony also laid flowers under the linden trees nearby the Samadhi of Nicholas Roerich, on the rock that bears the name of Devika Rani and where a part of her ashes was interred in 1994 in accordance with her will.