Libmonster ID: KZ-1547
Author(s) of the publication: Olga LAVRENOVA

by Olga LAVRENOVA, Cand. Sc. (Geogr.), International Center-Museum of the Roerichs (Moscow)

In 1924-1928 the well-known Russian painter, thinker, archeologist and pioneer of the movement for protection of cultural monuments Nicholas Roerich made a journey to Central Asia, which became a new stage in the studies of its geography, archeology, linguistics and ethnography. His wife Yelena and elder son Yuri, orientalist, shared a rough road and work with him.

The first half of the route of the expedition ran along the places already visited by Russian travelers Nikolai Przhevalsky (honorary member of the Petersburg Academy of Sciences from 1878), Mikhail Pevtsov, geologist and geographer, Vladimir Obruchev (member of the USSR Academy of Sciences from 1929) and others. It ran across the Kashmir region to the north-west of the Hindustan Peninsula, Karakorum and Kunlun mountains, the Kashgar river, the Chinese town

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of Urumchi and the Dzungaria desert to Lake Zaisan in the east of Kazakhstan.

The Roerichs started with the Himalayas, the highest mountains of our planet, in a small principality of Sikkim in the north of India. At that time Nicholas Roerich made an entry in his diary: "Great anchorites came here as no where else can one climb from tropical vegetation to permanent snow in two crossings. All stages of stress to consciousness are evident here." The Kanchenjunga mountain (8,585 m) towered above the place. According to legend, one of its five peaks conceals an entrance to the holy Shambhala (a mythical country in Tibet or neighboring regions, which is mentioned in several local ancient texts). Roerich depicted the magnificent peak at sunrise and sunset from different angles and weather conditions. He also painted the neighboring Kabra (7,338 m), Pandim (6,691 m) and Chomolungma (or Everest; 8,848 m) mountains.

In Sikkim the Roerichs made ethnographic collections and gathered articles of Tibetan art, in particular,

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thanhkhas (back from the expedition Yuri Roerich published a fundamental monograph Tibetan Painting, which included their description)* and in March of 1925 they reached the historic Kashmir region long since known as a crossing of trade routes. The inaccessible Nanga Parbat mountain (8,125 m) towered above it with almost steep slopes. Roerich painted more than once a powerful silhouette of the mountain visible from a distance across all passes and spurs, a lake near it, covered with legends about nagas, half humans and half dragons, keepers of wisdom.

After that the expedition moved across the Zojila (3,529 m) pass to Ladakh, a region between the Kunlun ridge and the Himalayas. In its capital Leh the travelers stayed in a palace of the former king of Ladakh, visited nearby monasteries and recorded stories about the wanderings of Jesus Christ. Nicholas Roerich painted Buddhist pagodas, fortresses, mountains and also the

Thanhkha is a picture of mainly religious nature, made in paints or on fabric primed beforehand by a mixture of chalk and glue.--Ed.

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Indus river valley, which gave birth to the series of pictures Sanctuaries and Strongholds. Yuri Roerich proceeded with the studies of art, in particular, the Kashmir-Tibetan wooden sculpture.

At the end of September 1925, the Roerichs turned northwards. They covered a devious route, which included five Alpine passes, in 12 days. When they climbed the last, Karakorum (5,575 m), pass, Nicholas Roerich put down in his diary: "It is a pity we had to descend. After all, a desert can never give what the mountains have whispered. At parting the mountains presented us with something unusual. On the very last rock, which we still could touch..., in Chinese Turkestan, on a glossy brown rock massif... in the form of light silhouettes... appeared ibexes with big thick horns..., ritual dances, round dances and processions of streams of people. They are just forerunners of migration of peoples. And there was a peculiar implication of the fact that those outlines were left on the border to the mountain kingdom. Farewell to the mountains!"

In Khotan (China) the expedition was stopped by local powers and remained there till the end of January 1926. Ahead was a difficult and dangerous route across the country's western provinces, the hot Takla Makan, one of the largest sandy deserts in the world, and then along the southern foothills of Tien Shan. Early in the summer of the same year the Roerichs started for Moscow to hand over to the USSR leaders a message of the mahat-mas* of the Orient, who offered spiritual assistance to the young state. But in July-August there was another meeting with mountains, now in the abundant Altai. This second part of the expedition became a new stage in the studies of Central Asia. This time the travelers crossed the Plateau of Tibet from north to south, the Himalayas and reached India. They covered over 25,000 km across two deserts and 35 Alpine passes, most of which were absent on geographical maps at that time.

In Altai the Roerichs made a stop in the Verkhny Uymon village, where they heard again legends about a secret land of the spirit called Belovodye by Old Believers, who tried to find it. The information about this land is based on "a message from the Buddhist world. This center of the theory of life is reinterpreted by Old Believers", as Nicholas Roerich wrote later bearing in mind the above-mentioned Tibetan Shambhala. The Altai holy Mount Belukha, which captivated by purity of untouched snows, appears several times in Roerich's canvases, including the Victory painted almost two decades after completion of this expedition, already in the years of the Great Patriotic War. But the researchers were tempted again by the far-off Himalayas.

The expedition moved to Ulan Bator, capital of Mongolia, where Roerich presented his painting Great Horseman (Rigden Takpa--Master of Shambhala) to the Mongolian government. Here the Roerichs spent the winter of 1926-1927 making preparations for a long journey. Their route ran across the Yum-Baise Monastery, the Anxi Range and the Shara-khulusun natural boundary. Under impression of what he saw, Yuri Roerich

Mahatma is a man, who has acquired a profound spiritual knowledge.--Ed.

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noted: "the island oases... located in the mountain massifs of the Mongolian Gobi are of great interest as centers of the nomadic population settlement in Gobi regions and played a considerable role in the life of nomadic state formations."

At the end of this part of the route, Nicholas Roerich drew the following conclusions: "The region of Mongolia and Central Asia needs explorers and archeologists... The region is so vast, that it needs a great number of expeditions. On our way we met wonderful specimens of "reindeer stones", high menhir-like* granite and are-nated blocks, sometimes ornamented. We came across also a number of big unescavated burial mounds very carefully constructed. The burial mounds were surrounded along their foundation by a systematic line of stones and had stones on top. Small stone projections as if forming a second line were seen near a burial mound. Of peculiar interest were stone figures, similar to those in southern steppes of Russia."

The expedition spent June and July of 1927 on the bank of the Sharagol river and made several short visits to the sandy saline Qaidam desert and collected data on the Mongolian dialects. Then they passed Dabasun-Nor lake and along the Naichjigol river the Roerichs reached the Yangtze river separating Mongolia from Tibet and got across the river. The next stage was crossing of the Tanglha pass (4,993 m), according to legends, an abode of 33 gods and spirits. This pass was painted by Nicholas Roerich many times.

In October of 1927 local officials stopped the expedition on the Alpine Chantang plateau and actually doomed it to failure. The travelers spent long five winter months in unbearable conditions at a height of over 4,000 m, several persons from the attending team and almost all animals were lost. But ignorance of the local officials could not overshadow natural beauty and break the spirit of travelers. The artist painted landscapes, and his son gathered data on nomads of the Horpa tribe. In the Bon-Po monastery, where the travelers spent a part of the winter, they found a collection of writings of the Tibetan pre-Buddhist shamanism. Moreover, they discovered interesting monuments, such as menhirs, cromlechs (several elongated stones in a vertical position forming one or several concentric circles), stone graves and burial mounds, in which they found articles with ornaments in the "animal" style, etc.

* Reindeer stones-monuments of the Late Stone Age in the form of plates and cliffs covered with stylized images of reindeer and also human and other figures; menhir is a rockwork, vertical sizes of which exceed markedly horizontal ones.--Ed.

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After their confinement was over, the travelers were ordered to depart to India bypassing Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. The expedition moved through the region of the Great Tibetan lakes and Transhimalayas. It was a poorly explored region with curious archeological findings. Nicholas Roerich wrote about one of them in the Doring natural boundary, to the south of Pang Gong lake: "Just imagine, how exciting to see these long lines of stones, these stone circles, which carry one instantly over to Karnak, Brittany or the sea shore. After a long journey the prehistoric Druids recollected their far-off native land... In any way, this discovery ended our search for traces of peoples migration."

From the Sangmo-Baptic (7,000 m) pass the Roerichs saw the long-awaited Himalayas. After passing the Tsangpo valley (the upper reaches of the Brahmaputra river), they came to Sikkim in May of 1928, from where they had started their trip. Thus, the grand project was realized, and all its participants contributed to world culture and science. They carried out research in history, archeology, ethnography, history of philosophy, arts and religions, geography (Yuri Roerich, in particular, repeatedly pointed out a discrepancy between the existing maps of the region and actual expedition routes and the location of passes). Besides, they gathered an extensive linguistic material, which made a basis for the unique Tibetan-Russo-English dictionary (M., 1983-1993), scores of works of Tibetan painting and sculpture, several ancient manuscripts, etc. But much attention was focused on specifics of certain ethnoses in the context of the Great Migration of Peoples.

The trip resulted in numerous works by its participants, including the book by Yuri Roerich Exploring the Heart of

Asia (USA, Yale, 1931), which contained a detailed description of their route (nature of locality, lakes, mountain passes and their heights, sometimes versions of geographical names both local and those accepted in European maps, etc.) and undoubtedly presented practical interest for people, who intended to visit that region.

As Lyudmila Shaposhnikova, the writer, orientalist and director general of N. Roerich Museum in Moscow, pointed out: "Perhaps, none of the known expeditions was equipped with such quantity of the first-rate artistic material as the Roerich expedition ...The brush, which painted these canvases, directed not only by the hand of a painter inclined to a free flight of imagination and moods of inspiration, but also by the exact hand of a scientist. As if both of them mingled in one man. The painter presented scientific information in his paintings, and the scientist possessed artistic insight and intuition" (from the book From Altai to the Himalayas, Moscow, 1998).

Finally, of exceptional importance for the studies of the Central Asia are literary sketches by Nicholas Roerich (included in the book Altai-the Himalayas, published in New York in 1929), fine ethnographic and cultural-philosophical essays. The author raised the questions of unity of Oriental and Western cultures, the focus of their spiritual attraction, which had, in his opinion, its place on the map despite so different names as Shambhala, Kingdom of John the Presbyter, Belovodye. Besides, Roerich noted that already in the 1900s-1910s several academic periodicals had published articles about legends on earthly paradise without persecutions, existing up to date, though it had appeared among the Old Believers at the end of the 17th century (when their persecution began). They

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repeatedly tried to find that fairyland and reached even India in search of it.

After analyzing a multitude of local legends, Nicholas Roerich came to the following conclusion: "Relativity of references and numerous misunderstandings about the geographical position of Shambhala have their reasons. In all books about Shambhala and oral legends describing one and the same place, its location is explained in highly symbolic expressions, which is beyond comprehension for the uninitiated. Let us open, for example, the translated version made by Professor

Griinwedel* of the well-known book The Road to Shambhala written by the famous Tashi Lama III. You will be astounded by the abundance of geographical indications obscured and mixed so that only a profound knowledge of the ancient Buddhist places and the local expressions can help you straighten out somehow this complicated matter".

The material collected during the Central-Asian expedition was immense and required profound comprehension. To process this material and determine prospects of * Albert Griinwedel is a German Orientalist of early 20th century.--Ed.

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new studies, the Roerichs set up an Institute of Himalayan Studies "Urusvati" in the Kulu valley in 1928 (Urusvati translated from Sanskrit means "light of the morning star") and named it so after Helena Roerich (she was called so by gurus), who was an inspirer of many grand plans of her husband and sons. The Living Ethics* was a conceptual base of this scientific establishment, which left behind its time and was oriented to a complex scientific approach. It was in keeping with the ideas of Russian cosmists* of early 20th century, i.e. the founder

* The Living Ethics or Agni Yoga is a philosophical teaching suggesting a unified spiritual and power base of the Universe and dealing with spiritual and moral aspects of the objective reality.--Ed.

* Cosmism is a philosophic ideology based on the idea of outer space and man as "a citizen of the world", and microcosmos, similar to macrocosmos. In philosophy it is connected with the ancient Greek theory of the world as a well-ordered whole, in religious systems it is an integral part of theology, and in science it is based on theories of the birth and evolution of the Universe.--Ed.

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Manuscript map of the Central Asian expedition site at the Roerich Museum.

of contemporary cosmonautics Konstantin Tsiolkov-sky*, biophysicist Alexander Chizhevsky, natural scientist Academician (from 1912) Vladimir Vernadsky, theologist and poet Pavel Florensky and others.

On the basis of the Living Ethics Nicholas Roerich built up a concept embodied, first of all, in a document known as the Roerich Pact, the first international treaty on the protection of artistic and scientific institutions and historic monuments. It established an advantage of protection of cultural values over military necessity, and was signed in Washington by representatives of 21 states of the Western Hemisphere on April 15, 1935.

The new institute cooperated with the Indian poet and thinker Rabindranath Tagore*, American physicists Albert Einstein and Robert Millikan, both Nobel Prize Winners, French scientist Louis de Broglie, Swedish traveler, geographer, cartographer, writer, painter, ethnographer and public figure Sven Hedin, Russian geneticist, botanist, selectioner and geographer Academician (from 1929) Nikolai Vavilov** and many others.

The journal of "Urusvati Institute of Himalayan Studies" published the most interesting papers of its staff

See: Ye. Kuzin, "Prophet of Cosmonautics, Citizen of the Universe", Science in Russia, No. 5, 2007.--Ed.

See: Ye. Chelyshev, "India's Great Humanist", in the present issue of our magazine.--Ed.

** See: V. Dragavtsev, "Serving the Common Good", Science in Russia. No. 3, 2003.--Ed.

Science in Russia, No.5, 2011

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members on such subjects as archeology, ethnography, botany, etc., and also reports on expeditions, which were important areas of its activity. For example, one of them was organized in the southern Ladakh under the global program of studies of cosmic rays in 1931-1932: in different latitudes, longitude and height above sea level researchers recorded air ionization and other physical parameters available to science of those days. In the first years of the institute, its staff members gathered rich collections including an entomological collection and a herbarium for Michigan University (USA), collections of seeds and samples of the vegetation world of the Himalayas for the Botanical Gardens in New York and the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, collection of seeds for the US Department of Agriculture, and a zoological collection for the Harvard University (USA).

But at the end of the 1930s, the crisis, which involved economies of many countries, prevented from getting funds for the institute. For some time it functioned due to personal funds of the Roerichs, which they were receiving from the sale of their paintings, but such small sums were insufficient for carrying out the planned research program. As a result, World War II stopped all activities of the institute.

In 1957, Yuri Roerich, by that time already a well-known orientalist, delivered a report on the Central Asian Expedition, partly published in the Voprosy

geografii (Problems of Geography) journal in 1959 at the Geographical Society in Leningrad and its branch in Moscow. However, it is Lyudmila Shaposhnikova, who should be considered a "pioneer" of the above expedition for national science. In 1974, she became a member of the Commission for Studies of Philosophic and Artistic Heritage of the Roerichs and was active in the organization of celebrations connected with the 100th birth anniversary of Nicholas Roerich; besides in 1974-1980 she visited Altai, Mongolia and India, thus actually repeating his route. She prepared a photo album "From Altai to the Himalayas" with an introductory chapter, which enabled a lot of people to understand the importance for science of Roerich's activities in Central Asia, and in the 1990s she wrote the trilogy Great Journey devoted to the same subject. It is just thanks to her efforts that the International Center-Museum of the Roerichs, the biggest museum in the sphere of studies and popularization of the famous family heritage, has been set up.


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