Life story of Nicholas Roerich – India and Russia

Long long time ago, while still a Uni student, I attended art lectures, presented by local and international experts. One of the lectures was about Nikolay ( Nicholas) Roerich – famous Russian painter, who resided and created his masterpieces in India. I remember sitting in a dark cold theatre and thinking that they are the most fascinating paintings of India I ever seen. (Not like saw too many thought). The mighty mountains, stunning landscapes and beautiful portraits. I was thinking that the painter was very talented. I believe this is a special skill to ignite such curiosity in people. I desperately wanted to see all that beauty with my own eyes.

Much later in life I finally got an opportunity to visit the estate of Roerich family and the museum with his paintings in Kullu Valley, Himachal Pradesh.

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In one of the travel books I found a short listing for a tiny place Naggar (20 km from Manali), which is famous for the haunted Castle, Vishnu temple and a museum of late Russian painter N. Roerich. It came like such a surprise.  I been to Manali a few times already and never knew. So I decided to use any opportunity to get there during my next visit.

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This painting was presented during the lecture in Ukraine.

 

This International Trust was founded more than twenty years ago y Svetoslav Roerich, the younger son of Nicholas. The Roerich’s family lived and worked in Naggar from 1928. Here Nicholas and his wife Elena founded the Urusvati Himalayan Research Institute, met with spiritual leaders and had a few meetings with Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi.

The family estate is on the top of the hill and overlooks the beautiful valley. The house built like summer residency in Russia – “dacha”. Interestingly, but it still has the Russian feel to it. After so many years…. This place was full of tourists. Russian speech was as common as Hindi and English.

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This stunning view can be seen from the balcony and main rooms in the house. Can you imagine waking up every morning to be greeted by this great mountain?

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My heart almost stopped when I recognised this lime tree. This is sooo Russian. We used to dry flowers to make tea in winter. That tea had smell of summer.  Memories, sweet memories…

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And they are beehives. In India the beehives look totally different. One of the guides told me, that bees still produce honey.

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Nicholas was in love with India and Tibet. This portrait in Tibetan attire painted by his son Svetoslav. Doesn’t  he looks Nepalese in this picture?

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Another portrait, another Oriental outfit. But, of course, he did not just wear this clothes. He deeply respected the culture and traditions of Indian people. He could speak perfect Hindi and often conversed with locals even in their dialects.

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This is the place where Nicholas would come to meditate.

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A few paintings from the Art Gallery. Photography is not allowed in this gallery, and in some cases the workers are very vigilant, checking on the visitors. It was not easy to take photos and get away with it.

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Even though Nicholas studied Eastern philosophies and religions extensively (mainly Buddhism, Hinduism and Agni Yoga), but he was brought up as Christian and many of his paintings refer to Christian values.

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Roerich loved snow capped Himalayas and created hundreds of paintings dedicated to their magnificence. Mountain ranges in various shades of blue reach the clouds and disappear into the skies.

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Younger son Svetoslav was born in 1904 in St. Petersburg. But most of his life he spent in India, where his talent as a painter developed and  blossomed. He painted the famous portraits of Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, which are now kept in India Parliament. Svetoslav was also a member of Russian Academy of Art.

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Svetoslav  Roerich married the grandniece of Rabindranath Tagore Devica Rani-Roerich. She was a beautiful, highly educated woman, who was known as the First Lady of Indian cinematography. She was a very successful actress between 1930 to 1940.

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On this wall there is the whole Roerich family excluding only the older son George, who decided to go back to Russia in 1957. Elena Roerich -wife of Nicholas- was a writer, philosopher and orientalist. Her famous work “Agni Yoga” was translated in Russian and became very popular. Elena was a distant relative of world-famous Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky and a granddaughter of Russian Marshal Michail Kutuzov, who defeated Napoleons in 1812.

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In memorial Roerich House there lots of Russian memorabilia. Musical instruments, aprons, dolls are everywhere.

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Here is a collection of dolls dressed up in traditional clothes and handicraft wooden spoons and trays painted Khokhloma style, known for vivid red and gold flowers against black background.

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Russian people can’t live without samovar – this is a traditional tea urn or sort of a kettle. Roerich’s family also got one. It was kept in Elena’s room, as she loved tea.

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These are memorial stones of Naggar Rajas. Open air exhibition contains hundreds of stones, which Nicholas collected over the years and put on display in his garden. It’s a very interesting blend of primitive forms and highly creative work.

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This is a stone memorial to the late Nicholas Roerich. After his death according to his will the body was cremated and the ashes buried in the garden. Actually, cremation is not a normal way of dealing with a dead body in Russian culture. I suppose that his decision was deeply influenced by Indian traditions.

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Below is a copy of the letter from Rabindranath Tagore, very famous Bengali writer, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913. He appreciated the talent of Nicholas Roerich greatly.

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I was following one Russian family while walking to the summer residency, which is high up the hill. Well groomed mother summarised their trip  with her two teenage kids, asking them about the most memorable place they have seen so far. And just suddenly, totally out of the blue,  she said ‘ My God, how much I want a bowl of hot borscht with bread and garlic!’. I was shocked at how strange and out of place this sounded in India.  But guess what –  they serve this red beetroot traditional Russian soup at the museum. Don’t miss the opportunity to try it. Who knows when another chance will come!!!!

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More great professional photos of Nicholas and Svetoslav Roerich paintings can be found using links below:

http://www.roerich.ru

http://www.roerich.ru/index.php?r=768&l=eng

 

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