I was seven years old when I first visited the Himalayas. I vividly remember the sensation of the icy mountain air, while the aquamarine peaks metamorphized into a stunning shade of fuchsia as the skies touched dawn. Safe to say, my young self had never witnessed such a breathtaking sight before.
Over the last two years while navigating the numerous lockdowns from the confines of my home, I found myself revisiting the mountains, only this time through the paintings of the late Nicholas Roerich that grace our New Delhi home. My family’s connection with Roerich extends back to the early 20th century, when my great-great-grandfather, Dewan Dinanath, was the prime minister of Mandi and Holkar states. He formed a close bond with the artist, who ended up spending several Christmases at Mandi.
Born a decade apart (Roerich in 1874 and Dinanath in 1884), both men lived through the world wars, and often discussed politics, philosophy, spirituality, and most importantly, art. Many idyllic evenings would be spent exploring the bazaars, often returning home with ‘pothas’ of Indian miniatures. Their friendship encouraged my grandfather, Surendra Daulet-Singh, to begin collecting paintings by Roerich in 1963, a defining moment for him as a collector.
Nicholas Roerich was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, on 9 October, 1874. A trained lawyer, artist, philosopher, author and archaeologist, he was a central figure in Russian politics and culture. He, however, sought greater power—one 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 the 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 during this period are pregnant with shades of azure and magenta, emanating serenity and divinity—a soothing image for times riddled with anxiety and hopelessness. He believed that mankind was connected to the natural world through hidden threads, symbolizing their inherent kinship.