Preserving Roe(rich) heritage

Preserving Roe(rich) heritage

Tataguni estate

As the Supreme Court last week delivered the judgment upholding the decision of the government to take over the land belonging to the Roerich couple, artist Svetoslav and cine actress Devika, it was a relief for the State government. For the State, it was a vindication of its decision to take over Tataguni estate measuring 468 acres and 33 guntas on Kanakapura Road, by sidestepping the claims of others on the land.
This was a land acquisition of a different kind. 

After the deaths of the Roerich couple in the early nineties, the State government detected attempts of private developers and individuals to grab the land. To thwart such attempts, the Government passed the Roerich and Devika Rani Roerich Estate (Acquisition and Transfer) Act, 1996. This enabled the government to form a trust called the Roerich and Devika Rani Roerich Estate Board. It put the Government in the  driver’s seat to preserve the estate and legacy of a couple, who made valuable contributions in their respective fields.

The keenness of the government to take over the estate of the couple, who had no heirs, and preserve it for the future, could perhaps be justified by Roerich’s words: “Let us safeguard jealously and lovingly the living records of all great men. These great souls who left us their enduring records, will ever radiate their influence on those who can attune themselves to them. Let us strive and find a worthy purpose in life, not only to improve our material existence. Let us look beyond it, and life will assume a new aspect full of meaning, full of significance.”

And in this spirit now lies the challenge for the government to preserve what has been handed over to them after a long battle. That spirit, however, has to be maintained with an eye on ground realities.

One of the early effo­rts of the Trust was to reclaim land that was encroached upon. The estate lies on both sides of the Kanakapura road. Surprisingly, the tahsildar of Bangalore South, who conducted the survey of the  land, found that only three to four guntas were unwittingly encroached upon and was quickly restored the property. Earlier this year, four eucalyptus trees and a jambul tree were found felled and transported outside.

The Chief Executive Officer of the Roerich Trust H M Mujeeb Ahmed says as long as both the High Court and the Supreme Court have ordered status quo, the only things done regularly were to clean the residence and studio, every month. These were done with the permission of the Central Crime Branch (CCB) which keeps these premises under lock and key. Maintenance of the paintings and artefacts stored at the Venkatappa Art Gallery is done twice a week by cleaning them and allowing fresh air. Even the Chevrolet car has been maintained and could be opened for viewing by the public.

“There was never any public viewing since the status quo by the Court did not allow us to do that. Now our hands are no longer tied and we look forward to implement the plans which were conceived a long time back,” Ahmed says.

While some restoration work on the estate was  carried out during the Roerich centenary celebrations in 2004, the ball game now is completely different. With an entire estate to manage along with art works and artefacts outside the estate, the state has to come up with an elaborate and worthy plan to justify that it has been indeed acquired for public purpose.

For ‘public purpose’ is the umbrella under which the Supreme Court has allowed the state to deprive a person of his or her private property by enacting legislation.

Two plans had been mooted for the preservation of the estate. One involved the collaboration of  National Institute of Design to turn the estate into a haven for artists; established and upcoming. An auditorium, an open air theatre and museum exhibiting the arts of Svetoslav Roerich and contribution of Devika Rani to the film industry, all form a part of this grand plan.

A second plan was also mooted for the estate in the backdrop of a request from the then Prime Minister I K Gujral. During his tenure, Gujral wrote to all the states requesting them to set up  botanical parks. S M Krishna, who took over as the Chief Minister a little later was enthusiastic about  the idea and favoured using the Roerich estate for the site. He commissioned the Department of Horticulture to come up with a cost.

The Horticulture Department then came up with a plan for the a park and put the cost at Rs 70 crore. Sources at the Trust believe that there is no paucity of funds to implement whatever course, the Board will now take to preserve the estate and the works.

As of now, the Regional Conservation Lab in Mysore has been given the responsibility of taking care of and preserving the paintings. The immediate plans of the Board, headed by the Chief Secretary is to review old plans, call for new ones and prepare new estimates.

Ultimately, the government should strive to preserve the pristine surroundings for the future generations. Trust officials say that the Supreme Court heard about the state plans for restoration and preservation of the estate in great detail. The source of inspiration was Dr Roerich himself, who was unrestrained in his appreciation of nature and beauty and how it could elevate souls to transcend the everyday life.

“Pure thoughts are born in pure places, in places unsullied by the lower selfish
passions generated in the struggle for existence and self gratification,” Roerich once said and the state would do well to keep that in mind.

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