“The Cherished N. Roerich Sites” and “Meeting with the Altai”

The Sunday of August 21, 2016 was a real feast for the students of the Helena Roerich Academy of Arts for Children, International Roerich Memorial Trust, Naggar. Firstly, the winners of the international children’s painting competition “The Cherished N. Roerich Sites” were awarded prizes and trophies. Secondly, their exposure to the cherished Roerich sites in the Himalayas had a continuation: they were introduced to the Roerichs’ beloved Altai. With the help of the guests from the International Centre of the Roerichs, Moscow, the Indian children were for a while transferred from their native Naggar to the Upper Uimon, saw the peaks and valleys of the Altai and filled in their sublime beauty...

The function started with the prayers to the Hindu deities Sarasvati and Shiva chanted by the students, and by the dance in honour of the great Hindu god and hero Rama performed by the dance teacher of the Academy.

This was followed by the prize distribution ceremony for the winners and participants of the first stage of the International children’s painting competition “The Sound and Colour of Roerich’s Realm” conducted annually by the administration of the Leningrad Region, Russia, with the active support of the St. Petersburg chapter of the International Centre of the Roerichs, Moscow (ICR). In Naggar the competition was only between the students of the Academy. They were given a guided tour of the Roerich memorial sites in the village and the Estate and encouraged to choose a place they would like to paint. Some of the students chose to work en plein air. Their works mostly depicted the Roerich Memorial House, the Samadhi of Nicholas Roerich marked with a rock bearing a Hindi inscription, and the hallmark of Naggar – the temple of Tripura Sundari that Nicholas Roerich depicted more than once in his pictures. For most children it was an exciting exercise and they came up with interesting and personal takes on the Roerich sites. The works of the winners were later handed over to the ICR representatives for transfer to Russia where the second stage of the competition will take place and the ultimate winners will be determined. The prize distribution ceremony was conducted by Mrs. Larisa Surgina and Mr. Ramesh Chander, the Russian and Indian Curators of the IRMT respectively, and by the guests from the ICR.

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The most exciting event of the day was undoubtedly the video presentation by the employee of the Exhibition Department of the ICR Mr. Dmitry Revyakin. The presentation was meant to show the children of Naggar the breathtaking beauty of mountainous Russian region of Altai and to tell them about its Roerich connection. In a popular language the speaker told the young audience about the history and ethnography of this ancient land, the Roerichs’ life and work there and the exhibition of the Himalayan landscapes by Nicholas Roerich from the ICR collection which recently took place in the house where the Roerichs stayed in the village of Upper Uimon in the Altai Region in 1926 during their legendary Central Asian Expedition. Mr. Revyakin also told them about the old dream of Nicholas Roerich to found in the Altai mountains the city of knowledge he called ‘Zvenigorod’.

The children were mesmerized and captivated by the beauty of the Altai with its lush greenery and dazzling snow mantle, the traditional dresses and ornaments of the Altai people and the Russian old believers who for centuries have been residing there side by side in perfect harmony, and the archaic stone monuments and petroglyphs found in abundance across its boundless steppes.

Mr. Revyakin closed his presentation with a short improvised performance on the vargan, the traditional musical instrument the Altai shares with many nomadic peoples of Eurasia. He also expressed hope that one day the young residents of Naggar would travel to Russia and visit the Altai thereby connecting the two regions (the Altai and the Himalayas) that Nicholas Roerich loved and time and again described in his essays and depicted in his pictorial works.

The Academy students had a unique chance to see one of the most beautiful spots of Russia and interact with the scholar of Roerich’s life and heritage.

The speaker also dwelled on the role of the Altai in bringing the people of Russia and India together. According to Nicholas Roerich, the Altai and the Himalayas are two foundations of the future, two magnets that draw the people of these two countries together, two ancient regions that share a close connection and can communicate “from heart to heart”.