Russian painter, philosopher Nicholas Roerich in new book

Russian painter and philosopher over 60 years ago, trekked through the Himalayas journeying through monasteries in India and meeting with Buddhist monks, an experience which resulted in "magnificent" paintings of the great mountains.

The legacy of the man who made India his home settling down in the country in the last days of his life till he died in 1947 and whose life and works significantly influenced modern art and culture is captured in a new anthology of writings "Nicholas Roerich: A Quest and A Legacy" edited by Manju Kak, an art critic and writer.

The collection of 21 scholarly articles on the master painter effectively presenting Roerich's life and multifaceted personality from various perspectives was launched here late last evening in the presence of Russian ambassador Alexander M Kadakin.

Through his body of work, Roerich advocated a return to the ancient roots of human wisdom, which asserted the importance of spiritual life and of peaceful co-existence based on cosmic mentality.

"Living as we are in the metropolis we have lost touch with the mysterious, as one is involved in the daily chores of life, the most subtle dimension of human life often get missed...I hope this book volume will reignite the past in our consciousness an awareness of what the Himalayas mean not only for India but all over the world," said Karan Singh, President, Indian Council of Cultural Relations at the launch.

"Nicholas Roerich was an unusual person. A person in touch with higher powers... his figures of the master, of the lamas and his paintings indicate that. Roerich continues to live in our hearts... his force is there... he wants us to work together to salvage his legacy," said Singh.

According to Singh the massive corpus of Roerich's work presents a unique dimension of spiritual striving and realisation, which will remain a source of inspiration for many years to come.

"It was time now that we should rediscover the genius of Nicholas Roerich and revisit the saga of his amazing life," he said.

Editor Manju Kak said Roerich's body of work has been divided into three periods by some critics.

The first, Russian period is where Roerich dwells largely on Russian peoples' Slavic heritage and their pre-Christian ties with Celtic,Viking and the Mongol tradition. The second is the theatrical period and the third, the 'mountain' phase are the three distinct phases presented in the book.

"There are many admirers of Roerich and this is perhaps the first Indian tribute to the Russian painter who understood the Indian soul," said Kak, who has been particularly drawn to Himalayan ethnography and culture and has researched and curated exhibitions on the subject.

Kak quoted Roerich's own words "India and Russia are old souls where the heart speaks to heart and in the vast wild barren spaces there is a certain cadence and because of this Roerich understood that part of the Indian mind which is perennially embedded in the Himalayas."

Lokesh Chandra, a scholar said he first saw Roerich as a young boy at an exhibition, "I first saw his paintings of the Himalayas as a young boy in Lahore where his exhibition was held. He captured the spirit of the mountains, portraying their ever changing moods and colours."

A 40 minute film titled "Messenger of Beauty" by the Theosophical Society of America, based on the life and paintings of Roerich was also screened.

The film dwelt on the life and work of Roerich, born Russia to a lawyer father. He formally learnt law as well was interested in art architecture and archaeology. He went on to paint thousands of paintings, 7,000 of which have been formally catalogued.

The film shows the mystery and drama characterised in most of Roerich's paintings. Between 1902-1904 he undertook tours inside Russia and started painting monuments, paint crumbling buildings and appealed to the Russian Government to preserve these priceless links to the past.

Between 1906-1909 Roreich received many awards and honours in his country and in 1907 he showed an exhibition of 113 paintings in Paris.

The documentary, says by 1910 he had travelled most of Europe and began a career as a successful stage designer with composer poets of his period. He designed oversized murals for ballets, plays and drama.

He got invited to the United States and toured 29 cities for a year and a half and set up many institutes there.

The film dwelt on the influence of Theosophy, Vedanta, Buddhism, and other mystical strains of thought seen not only in his paintings, but in his poetry and philosophy.
Meanwhile, priced at Rs 1495 the book has been brought out by Niyogi Books.

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