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“Russia – India: the Art, Philosophy and Culture”: the 2nd Session of the International Academic Interdisciplinary Conference “Russia and the East: the Art, Philosophy and Culture” took place in the International Roerich Memorial Trust


On October, 23–34, during the 115th Svetoslav Roerich Birth Anniversary celebration in the Roerich estate in Kullu valley the second Session of the International Academic Interdisciplinary Conference “Russia and the East: the Art, Philosophy and Culture” took place and it was devoted to the subject of deep historical ties between Russia and India.

The Conference organizers were: The Russian Academy of Arts and the International Centre of the Roerichs (ICR), Moscow, Russia. Co-organizers of the Session in India were: The International Roerich Memorial Trust (Naggar, India), University of Delhi (India), Bharat Institute (Chennai, India), Institute of Scientific Information on Social Sciences of the Russian Academy of Sciences (Moscow, Russia), International Committee for the Preservation of the Roerichs’ Heritage (Moscow, Russia), Charitable Foundation by name of Helena Roerich (Moscow, Russia), Himachal State Museum (Shimla, India), Kullu District Administration (HP, India), Russian Centre of Science and Culture (New-Delhi, India).

Mr Ramesh Chander, the Indian Curator of the IRMT, and Mrs Larisa Surgina, the Russian Curator working in the IRMT on deputation from the ICR, welcomed the conference participants. It is logical that the Indian session of the Conference has taken part in the IRMT, Naggar, the Curators noted. The Roerich Trust was founded by Svetoslav Roerich and Devika Rani, his wife, as an Indian-Russian organization to jointly preserve and promote the Roerichs Heritage in Naggar. Since then, the IRMT has steadily followed the Roerich covenant to strengthen cooperation between the Indian and Russian peoples, what is evidenced by the joint work, cultural events and research programs, as well as by holidays in the sanctuary Roerich Estate.

Prof. Maurya Abhai, the writer, ex-rector of the English and Foreign Languages University (Hyderabad, India), ex-dean of the Delhi University, honorary Professor of the Russian State Specialized Academy of Arts, made a report Russia and India: Literary Relations. In the report the author studied cultural relationship between Russia and India, and compared the British and the Russian attitude to the Indian culture.

Since the occupation of India, the “high” purpose of the Great Britain was to socialize the Hindus, to make them be like the English. An arrogant attitude towards the Indian culture was common, it was expressed in the statement of an English official: “One shelf of English books is worth more than all the native literature of India and Africa put together”. As for Russia since ancient times India seemed to be a country famous for its treasures. “The Story of the Igor’s Campaign” did already mention India; “Bhagavad Gita” was translated into Russian in the end of the XVIII century in Russia; Indian ideas one can find in the works by A.Fet, V.Brusov, K.Balmont and other poets. Since the end of the XIX century one can see the Russian influence to India: Leo Tolstoy’s correspondence with Mahatma Gandhi, and response in India to the revolutionary events in Russia; and the fact that several Indian writers borrowed a lot from the soviet literature, for example, Gorky’s works were of great importance and significance for them.

Olga Lavrenova,, candidate of Geographical Sciences, doctor of Philosophy, leading researcher of the Institute of Scientific Information of the Russian Academy of Sciences, President of IASSp, Deputy Director for scientific work of the non-governmental Museum named after Nicholas Roerich, ICR (Moscow, Russia), made a report “India of Spirit”: Culture and Space in Nicholas Roerich’s and Luidmila Shaposhnikova’s Creative Work. For almost two centuries India has been a pole of spiritual attraction for Russian culture, a space in which one can escape from the apocalyptic properties of time. In the Himalayas, which colors are in tune with the color combinations of the higher worlds, there are secret Ashrams of the wise men of the East. The Roerichs and L.Shaposhnikova brought spiritual and earthly images of India into Russian culture. In their works the mysterious country of Shambhala is shown as a spiritual and geographical reality. N. Roerich places milestones in his work, and L.Shaposhnikova combines them into a holistic concept of metahistory, where India plays a fundamental role. It is a locus which gives, or radiates, into the geocultural space of the planet the special properties of space and time through people – Messengers of cosmic evolution.

Dr. Neelakshi Suryanarayan, Associate Professor and Head of the Department of Slavonic and Finno-Ugrian Studies of Delhi University (New Delhi), presented the report India in the Light of the Existential Theory of Cultural Studies propounded by Georgy Gachev, prepared jointly with Alfiya Smirnova, doctor of Philology, Professor, head of the Department of Russian literature of Moscow City University (Moscow). Existential culturology is a study of Cosmo-Psycho-Logos, or nature, character and logic (type of thinking) in various national cultures. Some of the characteristic features of existential culturology of Georgy Gachev, the Soviet and Russian philosopher and culturologist, are: a wide range of the considered problems, attention to details, freedom of style, an assessment of a phenomenon through a prism of “Attracted thinking” of the scientist. Georgy Gachev studied dozens of Cosmo-Psycho-Logos and the great culture of India among them. In “Images of India”, his monograph on the Indian culture, he considered various images of the country: the Hellenic one (on the Strabon’s work), the Germanic one (according to Fr. Schlegel), the French one (according to Montesquiou) and the Russian image (by Afanasy Nikitin). Studying the “Walking for Three Seas”, G.Gachev reveals similarities and differences in the attitude of the Russians and Indians to a body, food, clothing, animals, plants, God. He writes that God is not only reflected in our soul as conscience, but he is in all nature, with which a man, as a microcosm, as “a system and warehouse consonant with being”, is connected by cosmic threads.

Several reports were devoted to art and painting in the context of Russian-Indian cultural relations. Is Artistic Inspiration Contagious? The answer to this question was given by Professor Him Chatterjee, artist, Head of the Department of Fine Arts of the Himachal University (Shimla, India). Russian artist Nicholas Roerich sang the sacred Himalayas, and they have been and remain a source of inspiration for many creators, who are connected by a thread of personal and ideological continuity. Meeting with Nicholas Roerich had a decisive influence on the Indian artist Bereshwar Sen (1897–1960): like Roerich, B.Sen admired the beauty of the Himalayas in his creative work. At the Lahnau art school B.Sen collaborated and communicated with the artist Kumar Haldar (1890–1964), who brought up a very talented boy. When the boy grew up, his teacher sent him to the Himalayas, to the path of the Wise men to comprehend the majestic beauty of the sacred mountains. Later the boy created a lot of beautiful paintings; he is still alive today, and his name is Sanat Kumar Chatterjee. He is the father of Him Chatterjee, who in turn has several young disciples, who continue the Nicholas Roerich tradition.

Candidate of Philology Lina Sarin made a report Travel to India of Mr and Mrs Vereshchagin in 1874–1876. The first trip to India of the Russian artist Vasily Vereshchagin took place in 1874–1876, and he went on the journey not alone, but with his young wife, Elizabeth Maria Fisher. On this hard, full of surprises route, she kept a diary, which later formed the basis of the book “Sketches of Travel to the Himalayas by Mr and Mrs Vereshchagin”. The couple visited Madras, Ajanta temples, Agra, and Sikkim and Darjeeling as well. The couple attempted to climb one of the Himalayan ranges in winter. It was extremely dangerous, but the artist decided to paint the winter peaks of the Himalayas to show this beauty to the world. Vereshchagin’s paintings and travel notes brought knowledge of the distant and mysterious India to Russia and to the West.

O.A.Lavrenova added that at the Moscow Conference plenary session they raised the question to restore and exhibit V.V.Vereshchagin’s painting “the Entry of the Prince of Wales to Jaipur in 1976”.

Aakshat Sinha, the artist, curator of exhibition projects, a RUDN (Russian Unversiry of Peoples Friendship) graduate, living in Delhi, made a report Russian and Indian Art in the Modern World. The Roerich’s heritage is more than thousands of beautiful paintings. He, who in himself united the East and the West, gave the Russians and Europeans the keys to understand the Eastern wisdom; his contribution to science, culture and peacemaking is phenomenal. It seems today that everything that can be done in art has been done, though people still seek ways to express themselves and put questions to themselves. What does it mean: To be an Indian or a Russian artist? How can one combine art and science, loyalty to tradition and modernity? The Roerichs philosophy of creativity provides answers to these and a lot of other problems; and it serves as an inexhaustible source for inspiration.

Lida Sherafatmand, an artist, M.A. International Relations (Malta), presented a video presentation Beauty defined by Nicholas Roerich in the 21st Century International Art Scene and Society. Nicholas Roerich believed that Beauty is a Cosmos phenomenon, that it is the highest realities that are invisible to the physical eye. Basing on the Roerich’s ideas and on the neurological principles of aesthetics of the Indian neuroscientist Prof. Ramachandran Lida Sherafatmand developed her creative style, which she refers to as florescence syntax. Reflecting the beauty and eternity in her paintings, she seeks to inspire the viewer to “bloom”, to cause in the heart desire to strive for this beauty, thus the heart is healed from suffering and ignorance. The artist thinks that such an approach is especially relevant in modern art and society, where beauty is rejected; and where the first task is to reflect acute and cruel social issues. On the contrary, it is Beauty that can bring a person closer to the gates of infinity and creativity, opening up for him opportunities to solve various matters, including social problems. If every man strives to attain beauty of his existence, it will advance all mankind.

Several reports were devoted to various aspects of the Living Ethics philosophy, created by the outstanding thinker Helena Roerich in cooperation with Spiritual Teachers of the East.

In her speech The Living Ethics in Harmony of Science and Philosophical Ideas of Russia and India Dr. G.B.Svyatokhina, candidate of philosophy, Ufa State Petroleum Technological University (Ufa, Russia), confirming Helena Roerich’s foresight about the future synthesis of scientific achievements and religious and philosophical searches of mankind, showed that this phenomenon already is taking pace in modern research. It is the philosophy of Living Ethics, as a worldview basis for synthetic thinking, that in harmony accommodates the Buddha’s teachings ideas and the Russian philosophers’ reflections on the Being integrity, and shows inseparable connection of their conclusions with the modern science achievements, in particular, with the provisions of the theory of systems and cosmology.

Saurabh Naik, a Delhi University post-graduate student, a Russian language teacher of Zakir Husain Delhi College made a presentation on Living Ethics and Its Relevance in the Modern World.

“Living Ethics” – these two words carry the whole Universe, give a new vision to our traditions, values, faith, feelings, especially the feeling of love and our connections with other people. Life gives us a lot of challenges and problems, and only true knowledge will help us cope with them. When we read the scriptures of the great, we understand that there is always a mantra or a symbolic formula filled with deep meaning for us. It allows you to decipher any situation and come out of it as a winner – and this formula is given to us in the “Living Ethics”, which, like the Bhagavad Gita, brings the transformation of life to us.

Peter Abramov, candidate of Philosophy, Associate Professor of the Philosophy Department of the Pirogov National Medical University (Russia, Moscow) studied the Concept of Spirit Matter and the Evolutionary Role of the Female Principle in the Oriental Philosophy and the Living Ethics. Rationally justified arguments testify to the relationship and the existence of a single element of spirit-matter. At the same time, such knowledge was originally contained in religion, for example, Purusha, Prakriti and Shakti are united in the Ardhanarishvara deity. In Hindu philosophy, Shakti is both the universe-sustaining universal energy and the deity. Helena Roerich wrote that all great principles have their personifications in High Spirits, such as the Mother of the World. Spiritualized matter during differentiation produces its denser forms. The task of a man is to accumulate new experience, the transformation of dense forms. Nicholas Roerich’s paintings “Sophia – Wisdom”, “Nagarjuna – the Conqueror of the Serpent” and “the Doomed City” were considered in the light of the evolutionary struggle between the higher and the lower.

Helena Roerich’s Theses on Yoga were analyzed in the Light of the Yoga Teaching Experience in Russia by Yulia Migunova and Veena Acharya, co-founders and curators of the yoga center “Yoga Dham Ashram” in the Himalayas. It should be noted that Veena Acharya comes from a family of yogis and Hindu priests. Before she became a yoga master, she studied Sanskrit, Vedas and other Hindu Scriptures for a long time, and she graduated from the Bihar school of Yoga and the Jain Vishva Bharati Institute in Laduna, Rajasthan. Yoga is designed to connect man with the higher aspects of being; and to bring to harmony the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual principles of man. However, in Helena Roerich’s Letters there are theses about the dangers of Hatha yoga practice and of pranayama, warnings that through physical exercises it is impossible to advance along the path of spiritual and moral improvement.

Veena Acharya on the basis of her teaching experience in Russia stated that, unfortunately, a lot of people understand yoga wrongly, only as physical exercises, and are not going to work on their moral qualities. However in the classical Yoga sutras by Patanjali the asanas should be taught after the upbringing in oneself such qualities as non-violence, chastity, honesty, generosity, compassion, the ability to live for others and think about the common good. The speakers finished their speech with a demonstration of musical relaxation with the use of folk and author’s musical instruments that reproduce various sounds of nature.

Buddhologist, researcher and writer Tsering Dorjee (Lahul Kullu, India) introduced in his report George Roerich’s archaeological finds in Lahul and Spiti, which were underestimated by science. He stressed that the Roerichs were actually the founders of archaeology in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. According to the scientist, studies of graves in Chandra and Bhaga rivers valley, made by George Roerich, are of great scientific interest. Tsering Dorjee mentioned three types of graves in the areas of Lahul and Spiti that were excavated, investigated and described by George Roerich. According to George Roerich, the third type of burials, which is a group of several mounds (tumuli), is associated with the history of the conquest of Ladakh by the Mongolian-Tibetan army. These mounds can be identified as the graves of warlords, while the other two types of burial, which are more ancient, can bring light on the history of the Tibetan state – Shang Shung. Thanks to the findings, one can confidently say that this state was created by nomads who professed the Bon religion; the state had its own language, which belonged to the Tibeto-Burmese family of languages. The influence of this language can be traced up to the modern languages of Kinnaur district in the North-East of Himachal Pradesh.

Ramesh Chander, the Indian curator of IRMT, spoke about the role of the Roerich Pact for Preservation of Culture. He noted that the Roerichs seriously studied the history, archaeology and culture of the Himalayan regions; he stressed the necessity to continue these studies and conduct archaeological excavations in Himachal Pradesh.

In her report The Roerichs and Eurasianism Olga Karaseva, a graduate student of Jawaharlal Nehru University (Delhi), research worker of the United scientific center for cosmic thinking problems of the International Centre of the Roerichs (Moscow), briefly presented the features of the era, which was the peak of Roerich’s creativity and the development of Eurasianism. The flowering of Eurasianism in Europe and Russia occurred during the preparation and implementation of the Roerichs Central Asian expedition, which, in its essence, is also close to the spirit of Eurasianism. The Roerichs, like the Eurasians, saw deep cultural ties between Russia and the East. Both, as modern Eurasians say, were searching for “civilizational constants of Eurasia”, for similar elements peculiar to the entire Eurasian space. In forming cultural unity of Asia the Roerichs gave special importance to Buddhism as they saw in Buddhism the same cultural component that is characteristic to the entire Eurasian space. It is a quality of community that can potentially serve to unite the Eurasian territories. Unlike the Eurasians, the Roerichs were not interested in geopolitics; their goals were concentrated in the sphere of culture as the fundamental basis of being.

Joint poster presentation Gerasim Lebedev’s Long Journey Back to his Hometown was prepared by Professor Valentina Chernovskaya, doctor of Historical Sciences, (Yaroslavl, Russia), Sergey Skorodumov, Vice-President of the International Centre of the Roerichs, Head of the Interregional Information-Analytical Centre (Yaroslavl, Russia), Smita Sengupta, chief of the Cataloging Oriental Centre, Russian State Library (Moscow, Russia). The report is dedicated to the first Russian scientist-Indologist, citizen of Yaroslavl – Gerasim Stepanovich Lebedev (1749–1817). A traveler and musician, Lebedev spent 12 years in India, studying its languages, mythology, religion and astronomy, literature and music, social order and geography, economy and trade. He founded Indian theatre of the European type in Calcutta. He was convinced of the similarity of Russian and Indian cultures and considered the territory of India to be the cradle of mankind. The result of many years of research was a number of scientific works published by him on his return to Russia. For a long time Lebedev’s name was almost forgotten. But recently in Russia and India there have been several scientific meetings dedicated to the first Russian Indologist. The Yaroslavl Museum of History created an exhibition complex dedicated to his life and scientific activities.

Nadezhda Surnina, Professor, doctor of Economics, representing the Ural Centre of Spiritual Culture (Yekaterinburg, Russia), in her poster report Far Close India: Specificity of Mutual Attraction with Russia drew attention to the spiritual and ethical foundations on which relations between our countries are historically based, and expressed confidence that in the XXI century priority will be given to cooperation in the field of science, culture and spirituality.

The two-day Conference was held in an atmosphere of mutual interest and informal communication; it has made new ties of friendship between Indian and Russian scientists, and put another brick in the foundation of the revival of “Urusvati” – the Roerich-founded Institute of Himalayan Scientific Research. As Dr. Om Kumar Sharma, Founder and M.D., Sri Vyas Sanskrit College, Kullu, noted in his speech, this conference is of a great importance because it unites art with science. According to the Indian philosophy, knowledge-consciousness (jnana, chit) is always united with a radiance of Beauty – bliss (ananda).

It should be added that on October 29, at the Department of Slavonic and Finno-Ugrian Studies of Delhi University, Peter Abramov gave a speech on the Main Features of the Philosophy of Cosmism. Man and the Cosmos in Russian Literature. The lecture and the discussion were attended by students of philosophy of the Department and it’s Head – Professor Balaganapathy Devarakonda.

And another good news: on November 4, 2019, Russian President Vladimir Putin awarded the conference participant Professor Neelakshi Suryanarayan with the Pushkin medal for her great contribution to the study and preservation of Russian cultural heritage. We cordially congratulate Professor Nilakshee Suryanarayan on the high award!

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