"For some, Shambhala is the truth; for others Shambhala is an Utopia. For some, the Lord of Shambhala is a Sage; for others the Lord of Shambhala is the manifestation of abundance. For some, the Lord of Shambhala is an adorned idol; for others the Lord of Shambhala is the guide of all planetary spirits. But we shall say – the Lord of Shambhala is a Fiery Mover of Life and of the Fire of the Mother of the World. His breath glows with flame and his heart burns with the fire of the Silvery Lotus. The Lord of Shambhala lives and breathes in the heart of the Sun!
"All peoples know that the site of the holy men is on the mountains, upon the peaks. From the peaks comes revelation. In caves and upon the summits lived the Rishis. There where the rivers find their sources, where the eternal ice has preserved the purity of whirlwinds, where the dust of meteorites carries a purifying armour from the distant worlds, - there is the rising glow. Thither is directed the striving of the human spirit. In their very difficulty the mountain paths attract one. There the unexpected occurs. There the people’s thought moves towards the ultimate. There each pass promises an unprecedented novelty, gives promise of the hewing of new facets of tremendous outline.
"Over the snowy peaks of the Himalayas burns a bright glow, brighter than stars and the fantastic flashes of lightning. Who has kindled those pillars of light, which march across the heavens? The polar and mid-night regions are not near. The northern lights cannot glimmer in the Himalayas. Not from the Northern scintillations are these pillars of light. They come from Shambhala; from the Tower of the Great Coming One."
1. Shambhala, The Resplendent (Talai-Pho-Brang, 1928).
2. Treasure of the snows (Talai-Pho-Brang, 1928).
3. Buddhism in Tibet (Kampa Dzong, 1928).
4. Tibetan art (Shekar Dzong, 1928).
5. The Veils of death (Nagchu, 1927).
6. Obsession (Ulan Bator Khoto, 1927).
7. Chingiz-Khan (A Song).
8. Lakshmi, the Victorious.
9. The boundaries of the kingdom.
10. Hidden treasures.
11. Jalnik, the site of compassion.
14. The desert cities.
15. Lyut, the giant.
16. Star of the mother of the world (Talai-Pho-Brang, 1924).
17. Praise to the enemies (Kashmir, 1925).
18. A letter (Ulan Bator Khoto, January, 1927).
19. Urusvati (Naggar, 1929).
20. Son of the King (Altai, 1926).
21. Subterranean dwellers (Tangoo, 1928).
22. Light in the desert (Gantok, 1928).
23. Gods of Kuluta (Naggar, 1929).
24. King Solomon (Talai-Pho-Brang, 1928).
25. The great mother (Talai-Pho-Brang, 1928).
26. Joy of creation (New York, 1929).
27. Guru—the teacher.
The Roerichs landed in Bombay in December, 1923, and began a tour of cultural centers and historic sites, meeting Indian scientists, scholars, artists, and writers along the way. By the end of December they were already in Sikkim on the southern slopes of the Himalayas, and it is clear by the speed with which they reached the mountains that the Himalayas were where their interest lay.
They initiated a journey of exploration that would take them into Chinese Turkestan, Altai, Mongolia and Tibet. It was an expedition into untracked regions where they planned to study the religions, languages, customs, and culture of the inhabitants.
Roerich wrote about this first Central Asiatic Expedition in his book Heart of Asia, and he creates for the reader a vivid account of the wonder of the land and its people. However, the images are nowhere as vivid as in the five hundred or so paintings that resulted from the trek. In Kanchenjunga, Sikkim Pass, His Country, The Great Spirit of the Himalayas, and the Banners of the East series, we can see philosophical concepts and ideas giving birth to visual images, and the splendor of Northern India providing the physical setting.
In The Path, the figure of Christ leads the way along a tortuous path through crags and peaks of the Himalayas, a metaphor for the hazardous obstacles confronting the spiritual journeyer. Eastern religious figures and concepts appear in the paintings, important among these being the images of the Lord Maitreya — the Buddhist Messiah, the Kalki-Avatar of the Puranas, Rigden Jyepo of Mongolia, or the White Burkhan of Altai — all of whom are described in legends that link them with the Ruler of Shambhala, who is “destined to appear on earth for the final destruction of the wicked, the renovation of creation and the restoration of purity.”(quoted from The Theosophical Glossary, by H. P. Blavatsky)
The trek was at times arduous. Roerich tells us that thirty-five mountain passes from fourteen to twenty-one thousand feet in elevation were crossed. But these were the challenges he felt born for, believing that the rigor of the mountains helped a man to find courage and develop strength of spirit. And in spite of obstacles, wherever they went the Roerichs' belief in the essential goodness of life and the spirituality of man was reinforced. Roerich's Banners of the East series of nineteen paintings depicting the world's religious teachers, Mohammed, Jesus, Moses, Confucius, and Buddha, and the Indian and Christian saints and sages, was a testimonial to the unity of religious striving and the common roots of man's faith.
At counterpoint to these themes in Roerich's painting is the image of Woman and her destined role in the coming era, and we can assume that what Helena Roerich wrote to a friend in 1937 reflects Nicholas' own point of view: “...woman should realize that she herself contains all forces, and the moment she shakes off the age-old hypnosis of her seemingly lawful subjugation and mental inferiority and occupies herself with a manifold education, she will create in collaboration with man a new and better world... Cosmos affirms the greatness of woman's creative principle. Woman is a personification of nature, and it is nature that teaches man, not man nature. Therefore, may all women realize the grandeur of their origin, and may they strive for knowledge.” (published in Letters of Helena Roerich 1935-1939, vol. II)
Nicholas Roerich depicted the great female deities in such paintings as She Who Leads, Madonna Laboris, and The Mother of the World. This latter conception, equivalent to the Lakshmi and Kali of India, is one of Roerich's most inspiring images, rendered with majesty in deep tones of blue and violet. Helena Roerich's contribution in the life and work of Nicholas cannot be overestimated. Their union could be best described as a lifetime collaboration in fields of mutual endeavor. Her philosophy, comprising a living ethic, was shared by Nicholas and motivated him in his work and his life. At some time in their late years an anniversary approached and he wrote in his diary: “Forty years — no less than forty. On such a long voyage, meeting many storms and dangers from without, together we overcame all obstacles. And obstacles turned into possibilities. I dedicated my books to Helena, my wife, friend, traveling companion, inspirer! Each of these concepts was tested in the fire of life. And in Petersburg, Scandinavia, England, America, and in all Asia we worked, we studied, we broadened our consciousness. Together we created, and not without reason is it said that the work should bear two names — a feminine and a masculine.”
At the end of their major expedition, in 1928, the family settled in the Kullu Valley at an elevation of 6,500 feet in the Himalayan foothills, with a magnificent view of the valley and the surrounding mountains. Here they established their home and the headquarters of the Urusvati Himalayan Research Institute, which was organized to study the results of their expedition, and of those explorations that were yet to come. The Institute's activities included botanical and ethnological-linguistic studies, and the exploration of archeological sites. Under the direction of their father the two Roerich sons, George and Svetoslav, established a collection of medicinal herbs, and made extensive studies in botany and ancient medical lore, as well as in Tibetan and Chinese pharmacopoeia.
In the following year, on a trip back to New York for the opening of the Roerich Museum's new premises, Roerich raised an issue that had been close to his heart for many years. Using the Red Cross as an example, he proposed a treaty for the protection of cultural treasures during times of both war and peace — a proposal he had unsuccessfully tried to promote in 1914. In consultation with lawyers versed in international law, he drafted a Pact, and suggested that a flag would be flown over all places under its protection. This flag he called the Banner of Peace. The design of the Banner shows three spheres surrounded by a circle, in magenta color on a white background. Of the many national and individual interpretations of this symbol, the most usual are perhaps those of Religion, Art and Science as aspects of Culture, which is the surrounding circle; or of past, present, and future achievements of humanity guarded within the circle of Eternity. The symbol can be seen in the seal of Tamerlane, in Tibetan, Caucasian, and Scandinavian jewelry, and on Byzantine and Roman artifacts. The image of the Strasbourg Madonna is adorned with it. It can be seen in many of Roerich's paintings, most notably Madonna Oriflamma, in which Woman is depicted as the carrier and defender of the Banner. In this sign and the motto, Pax Cultura, that accompanies it, is symbolized Roerich's vision for humanity. As he wrote: “Let us be united — you will ask in what way? You will agree with me: in the easiest way, to create a common and sincere language. Perhaps in Beauty and Knowledge.” Roerich's efforts to promulgate such a treaty resulted, finally, on April 15, 1935, in the signing by the nations of the Americas — members of the Pan American Union — of The Roerich Pact, in the White House in Washington. This is a treaty still in force. Many individuals, groups, and associations around the world continue to promote awareness of the Pact, the Banner, and their underlying principles.
It is in his Himalayan paintings that one most easily finds evidence of the loftiness of spirit and sense of mission that led Roerich to attempt the tasks he set for himself. In them can be seen the sense of drama, the urgency of a message to send or receive, a traveler to greet, a mission to perform, a path to travel. The towering mountains stand for the spiritual goals that humanity must set for itself. Roerich urges people on to their spiritual destiny and reminds them of their duty to prepare for the New Era in which Rigden Jyepo will gather his army and under the Banner of Light defeat the host of darkness. Roerich the warrior was already armed and mounted; he sought to muster his army for the battle, and bid that their breastplates bear the word “culture.”
The pursuit of refinement and beauty was sacred for Roerich. He believed that although earthly temples and artifacts may perish, the thought that brings them into existence does not die but is part of an eternal stream of consciousness — man's aspirations nourished by his directed will and by the energy of thought. Finally, he believed that peace on Earth was a prerequisite to planetary survival and the continuing process of spiritual evolution, and he exhorted his fellow man to help achieve that peace by uniting in the common language of Beauty and Knowledge.
Nicholas Roerich died in Kullu on December 13, 1947. His body was cremated and its ashes buried on a slope facing the mountains he loved and portrayed in many of his nearly seven thousand works.