I was seven when I first visited the Himalayas. I vividly remember the feel of the frigid mountain air, as the aquamarine peaks morphed into a stunning shade of fuchsia as the sky touched dawn. Safe to say my younger self had never witnessed such a breathtaking sight before.
Over the past two years, while navigating the many confinements from the confines of my home, I have found myself revisiting the mountains, but this time through the paintings by the late Nicholas Roerich that adorn our New Delhi home. My family’s connection to Roerich dates back to the early 20and century, when my great-great-grandfather, Dewan Dinanath, was Prime Minister of Mandi and Holkar States. He forms a close bond with the artist, who ends up spending several Christmases in Mandi.
Born a decade apart (Roerich in 1874 and Dinanath in 1884), the two men lived through the world wars and often discussed politics, philosophy, spirituality and, above all, art. Many idyllic evenings were spent exploring the bazaars, often returning home with “pothas” of Indian miniatures. Their friendship encouraged my grandfather, Surendra Daulet-Singh, to begin collecting Roerich’s paintings in 1963, a defining moment for him as a collector.
Nicholas Roerich was born in Saint Petersburg, Russia on October 9, 1874. A trained lawyer, artist, philosopher, author and archaeologist, he was a central figure in Russian politics and culture. However, he sought greater power, power that lay beyond the upper echelons of Russian society. Roerich first landed on the shores of Bombay in 1923 with his wife Helena and their two children George and Svetoslav. But they never aspired to settle by the sea; by the end of the year, they had arrived at Kanchenjunga in Darjeeling.
It was in the depths of the mountains that he hoped to immerse himself in “Shambhala,” a Buddhist idea of a heavenly abode on earth. His paintings from this period are full of shades of azure and magenta, exuding serenity and divinity – a calming image for times riddled with anxiety and despair. He believed that mankind was connected to the natural world by hidden threads, symbolizing their inherent relatedness.