Tracing Roerich's Travancore connection

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM Sept. 26. For Russian film-maker Ms. Lunisa Telesco, the journey from St. Petersburg to India this month was a voyage back in time; recreating the life of Svetoslav Roerich, another Russian who journeyed from his place of birth, St. Petersburg, to India, only to fall head over heels in love with this country.

Ms. Ms. Lunisa is making a film on Roerich whose centenary birth anniversary will be celebrated in 2004. Through her film Ms. Ms. Lunisa, in addition to documenting Roerich's life and work in India, is also seeking to understand Roerich the man, who was able to deeply imbibe the essence of Indian culture and who made India his adopted homeland.

After extensive filming in Delhi, Ladakh and Bangalore, Ms. Ms. Lunisa and her crew are in the city these days, capturing on film the `Travancore connections' of Roerich. The first person they turned to for this was the present head of the erstwhile royal family of Travancore, Uthradom Tirunal Marthanda Varma_ a very close friend of the painter.

Even as he was sharing with Ms. Ms. Lunisa the memories of his association with Roerich, Mr. Varma showed the film-maker the picture of Peerimedu that Roerich painted when Mr. Varma was 18 old. Ms. Ms. Lunisa was also shown the portrait of the last king of Travancore, Chitira Tirunal Bala Rama Varma, and another one displayed at the `Kuthira malika'. It took Roerich three-and-a half months to complete the portrait.

Roerich's discussions with the members of the royal family were not confined to art or literature. He also discussed many social issues, Ms. Lunisa was told. It was according to the suggestion made by Roerich that Traveller's Bungalows, in Travancore, were renamed as Rest Houses, Mr. Varma pointed out. After filming the Roerich paintings displayed at the Sree Chitra Art Gallery in the city, Ms. Lunisa and her crew will leave for Kulu _ a town which was an integral part of the life of the Roerich family.

The initiative for Ms. Lunisa's film showcasing the love affair between Roerich and India, came from the Russian ambassador to India, Alexander Kadakin.

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