At the end of March 2011, I headed for Shimla. It was not a nostalgic trip down memory lane to the city that I had first visited almost 40 years ago — and which I love perhaps the most in India. This time, Himachal Pradesh's capital hosted an event as a part of the activities of the Roerich Trust — the cause of which has become part and parcel of my personal life and my diplomatic career. It was the board of trustees' meeting chaired by the Chief Minister, my friend Professor P.K. Dhumal. It also involved my concern for the preservation and upkeep of the spiritual, creative, scientific and cultural legacy of the illustrious Russian family of the Roerichs, who had made India their second home. I was closely associated with the last Roerich — Svetoslav — and his wife, the legendary Devika Rani, for 20 years. It was Svetoslav who in 1992 set up the International Roerich Memorial Trust (IRMT), and I was appointed the holder of his power of attorney.
For reasons beyond our control, no meetings could be held over the previous five years. There were many tasks that required immediate attention. At the same time, so much has in fact been done to implement the unique Russian-Indian project, and the Roerichs' memorial complex in Naggar has been developing successfully. A graphic report submitted by IRMT Executive Director/Curator Dr. Alena Adamkova covers all aspects of the laborious daily activities of our friend, colleague and noted Oriental scholar in collaboration with the district authorities, the Himachal Pradesh administration and the local people, committed to embodying the ideals that inspired the founders of the Trust, and convert it into a “shaan of Himachal.”
Once a neglected and dilapidated hamlet in a quiet corner of the Valley of the Gods, and known only to a handful of Indian, Russian and foreign intellectuals, it has blossomed into a major tourist attraction in northern India. It is today visited annually by almost a lakh of Indian and foreign pilgrims seeking beauty. Before our eyes, the Hall Estate is also transforming into a source of knowledge, education and learning. It is bringing to the local children the joy of mastering the mysteries of the fine arts, the unfading traditions of classical Indian dance, music and original folk crafts. How inspiring it is that the Himachali people and guests now perceive the Roerich Estate as a wonderful platform for cultural communication and interaction.
These are my impressions after attending the festivals organised in Naggar twice last year. Those were genuinely bright, colourful and authentic cultural events of international standard: one could not even dream of such events 20 years ago when I was just sharing my own money with the late caretaker of the Estate, Sister Ursula, for her living costs.
Such dreams being realised fit in perfectly with the vision of Svetoslav Roerich, with the ideas he had in mind while establishing the Trust. They are also in tune with the mutual aspirations of the great nations of Russia and India and the spirit of the time-tested amity between the two countries. This amity, as it was recently agreed by President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, has reached a new level of special and privileged strategic partnership. There are no two other countries in the world that share such a steady friendship.
Last year, the remarkable progress that was made in Naggar found a logical reflection in the decision of the co-chairs of the Indian-Russian Intergovernmental Commission to take the IRMT under their honorary patronage within the framework of the IGC Working Group on Culture and Tourism. Another compelling piece of evidence is a Presidential decree of December 2010, bestowing on Dr. Alena Adamkova the Order of Friendship, Russia's highest award for a foreigner.
All this clearly exemplifies the understanding on the part of Russian and Indian leaders of how important the cause for which the IRMT was set up, is. It should inspire us to pursue a more harmonious and active pattern of working.
Unfortunately, in recent months there have appeared some ill-motivated coverage in sections of the regional press, seeking to cast a shadow on these promising prospects by levelling unfair allegations that seek to create an unhealthy air around the Trust. Not as the Ambassador of a friendly country, but as the vice-president of the IRMT and the person whom Svetoslav Roerich personally authorised to launch the Trust, I am emphasising the fact that the Russians are not seeking to acquire any property, grab anything or dictating their own rules. We are against any notions of “control.” Russia is determined, together with India, to consistently and steadily achieve the transformation of the Naggar Estate into a world-class museum, a cultural, educational and research hub that would meet universally recognised international standards and become the envy of other countries. That is all there is to it.
We see the future of the Roerichs' Trust not as a modest village-level exhibit that one can see in the heritage ‘Castle' Hotel nearby, but as a wonderful sacred reserve, as a precious fount, where not only the legacy of the great Russian family but also the priceless cultural heritage of the people of Himachal Pradesh are carefully preserved for the sake of the present and coming generations. Where Russian-Indian friendship and spiritual affinity abide eternally and celebrate their inherent beauty.
It is heartening that almost all the proposals tabled by the Russian side for the agenda of the board meeting aimed to create the necessary preconditions for effective advancement in all these directions have received the understanding and support of our Indian partners. They relate to various aspects of the IRMT's activities – from approving basic documents, reflecting its current and future status, to tackling simple infrastructure tasks needed for daily life and activities. This refers to the immediate repair and restoration of the house-cum-museum — which causes serious concern. It was decided to start these works without delay, on the basis of technical specifications and estimates finalised by Russian and Indian experts. Another landmark decision refers to the sanctioning of funds, and starting the first phase of construction of the premises of the Roerich Academy of Arts according to the scheme jointly prepared by Russian and Indian architects. The plan was supported by Chief Minister Dhumal, during his visit to the Roerichs' Estate last autumn. This project was initiated in 2001 by the former Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, with an initial grant of Rs. 1 crore.
The Russian side is eager and committed to making its contribution towards the implementation of that announcement. This cause has already suffered an unforgivable delay, and I believe that any further delay in this matter will ruin the noble cause and Mr.Vajpayee's cherished dream. The meeting approved the protocol on cooperation in reviving the Urusvati Himalayan Institute between the Trust, the International Centre of the Roerichs in Moscow and the Institute of Integrated Himalayan Studies in Shimla. The programme on regional culture and folklore studies submitted by Dr. Alena Adamkova, eloquently titled “Heavenly Himachal”, which is targeted at enriching the IRMT museum's exposition, also received the support of the board members. In the framework of preparing for the 20th anniversary of the IRMT in 2012, it was decided to run a contest for the best monument to the Roerichs to be installed on the grounds of the estate. The contest will be financed by Moscow's International Centre of the Roerichs.
Of particular satisfaction is the fact that the board unanimously approved my proposal to constitute an ‘IRMT Vision Committee' to evolve a long-term vista for the IRMT, with at least a 10-year horizon, with a view to expanding the unique message of the Roerich family's artistic, cultural and spiritual legacy in India and elsewhere in the world. The first session of the committee took place right after the meeting of the board of trustees, and it proved to be fruitful.
All in all, the discussions were held in a constructive and business-like manner. The attempts of some board members to focus on minor issues and bring discord over certain drawbacks in the Trust's activities, were out of tune and inappropriate. Our position should be clear to everybody: there are no irregularities in the Trust. Yes, there are some shortcomings in the activities and we do not turn a blind eye to them. We are attending to them, but there are teething troubles. The so-called “irregularities”, as was reported recently, are but figments of the imagination of some dissatisfied ‘art lovers' or attention-seekers. These constitute petty and foul rumour-mongering. We stand strongly against any attempts to speculate on these difficulties or fan scandals around them. The Russian side will not be misled by the people who, under well-intended slogans, try to ruin or undermine the sacred goals of the IRMT, its raison d'être. Is it not strange to hear such words, and I quote, as an intention to “embark on the path of war”? Those are unbecoming of true Roerich followers.
Based on my awareness of the humungous and ever-alive international influence of the Roerichs, I can say categorically that the Naggar complex has huge untapped potential to emerge as the nucleus of a global art and culture movement dedicated to promoting world peace, universal brotherhood, and the protection and revival of humanity's artistic and cultural heritage. This indeed is the specific message of the Roerich Pact, the 75th anniversary of which we celebrated at Naggar in October 2010 by organising a befitting International Cultural Festival. So far we have only touched the tip of the enormous creative resources of the Roerich complex at Naggar. As someone who has been associated with it since its start, it is my personal dream and fervent wish to see that 10 to 20 years from now, the Roerich complex would spread the shaan of Himachal Pradesh even more widely in India and all over the world.
The inspiring and lofty mission underlying the Roerich Trust implies that only like-minded and open-hearted people should work for its fulfilment. This mission guides us towards a more active and committed search for constructive solutions in the spirit of mutual understanding, solidarity and cooperation.
The founder of the IRMT, Svetoslav Roerich, often reiterated a simple slogan: “Let us strive for beauty together!” . He meant to say that the all-conquering beauty should rule our common thoughts, endeavours and achievements. There is neither “togetherness” nor “beauty” in choosing “the path of war”. Let us follow that call together.