Remarks by the Ambassador of Russia to India, Alexander M. Kadakin, at the official release of “V.V.Vereshchagin: Indian Poem”

Tuesday, 09 December 2014 13:07

My dear friend, esteemed Prof. Lokesh Chandra,

My dear friend, esteemed Dr Kapila Vatsyayan,

Honorable guests, dear friends,

These days, when the Festival of Russian culture in India is a great success across India, the Embassy is proudly presenting a true masterpiece – a volume devoted to Indian journeys of an outstanding Russian artist, Vasily Vereshchagin. This is the third volume in a few years within a unique project implemented by the Embassy of Russia. The challenge was great - to familiarize international community with the life and oeuvre of those eminent Russians who significantly contributed to spiritual and artistic affinity and amity between the peoples of Russia and India. A work of a famous Russian indologist I.Minaev dedicated to scientific analysis of Indian memoirs of another illustrious Russian traveler of the 15th century, Afanasy Nikitin, was published in 2010. Two years ago, we published a collection of letters and paintings of a remarkable Russian artist and writer Prince Alexey Saltykov. Today we proudly present the volume that includes not only Vereshchagin’s paintings and sketches, but also his and his wife’s Indian travel diaries, translated into English for the first time ever. Words fail to describe how happy I am that my very dear senior friends of decades, the towering stalwarts of India’s intellectual elite – Dr Kapila Vatsyayan and Dr Prof. Lokesh Chandra are here to share the joy of a new exquisite and precious volume coming from the press. Actually, book publishing is not a field of activity for an Embassy, but through joint efforts of the Embassy, MTS, Timeless Books we have done it! Congratulations! For centuries India had been attracting Russian travelers. Its history was shrouded with a mantle of fairytales and mysteries. Russia was fascinated with myths and stories about India’s fabulous wealth. After a legendary travel of a merchant from Tver, Russia repeatedly tried to establish trade links with India. Boris Godunov granted special favours to Indian tradesmen. In the 17th century, Russian envoys were sent to find inroads from Central Asia to India. Tzar Alexey Mikhailovich pioneered the establishment of relations with the Great Moghuls. In 1646, Russian envoys Nikita Syroezhkin and Vasily Tushkanov presented a letter of credence to Shah Jahan with a proposal to establish diplomatic and commercial relations. In 1694, a mission headed by Semyon Malenky was deputed to India and stayed there for five years. During the rule of Peter the Great, Indians were allowed to trade not only in Astrakhan, but also in Moscow. They enjoyed Peter’s special protection. Since the 17th century a settlement of Indian merchants existed in Astrakhan. Gerasim Lebedev is rightly considered the founder of Russia’s Indian studies. He was the first to spark scientific interest into India by indicating the similarity of Sanskrit and the ancient Slavic language, revealing the striking affinity of the Sanskrit and Russian phonetic systems as a proof of cultural and spiritual closeness of the two nations. He held Sanskrit in high esteem not as an extinct and obsolete language, but as mother of all tongues and invited Russian scholars to go to India and explore ancient traditions and contemporary life, its customs and traditions. As it often happens, a story of one personality picked the dusk of times unfairly overshadows other glorious names. Let me not dwell on the wonderful journeys of Vasily Vereshchagin in India, leaving you an opportunity to read about it in this exclusive book. I would rather refer to those about whom we know too little. Philipp Efremov, Petr Pashino and Raphail Danibegashvili were our almost unknown compatriots. All of them are united not only by undeserved oblivion in their homeland but also by striking courage, self-sacrifice, compassion and modesty and profound love for Russia. Philipp Efremov, a counsellor of the Court, was the first European to reach India through Western Tibet and Karakorum pass. He described his journey, lasting from 1774 to 1782, in his book “Nine-Year Wandering”. Member of the Russian Geographic Society and a connoisseur of oriental languages, Petr Pashino was one of the first Russian travelers to visit and describe India. He covered great distances on feet, visited places where no European had ever stepped and told about what he had seen in his book “Across India”, written with simplicity, grace and wit. It was published in Saint Petersburg in 1885. A splendid constellation of Russian poets and writers brought the treasures of India’s culture to Russian readers: in 1792, Nikolay Karamzin translated (albeit not from the original) the ancient Indian drama “Shakuntala” by Kalidasa and stated that its author was as great as Homer. Vasily Zhukovsky and Konstantin Balmont ecstatically submerged into the Indian subjects. The family of Nicholas Roerich holds a special place among prominent Russians whose activities became a strong bridge between our countries. A great artist, scholar and writer, archeologist and researcher, maharishi, he revealed and left behind the richest spiritual and cultural treasure-trove. The scope of his works is astonishing – thousands of pictures, where each is a remarkable masterpiece. The life, scientific and cultural work of the unique family of the Roerichs are an amazing example of spiritual synthesis between our nations. That is the reason why my Embassy pays so much attention to maintaining and preserving the unique artistic and cultural heritage of the Roerichs, which has paramount significance for Russian-Indian friendship. That is the reason why the International Roerich Memorial Trust was set up by me in the Kullu Valley in 1992 under instructions from the last Roerich, Svyatoslav. Our guests Dr Lokesh Chandra and Dr Kapila Vatsyayan knew the Roerichs personally, and Dr Lokesh Chandra is linked to the Roerich Trust in three avatars – as the life trustee, as the ICCR president and as the founder of the Roerichs Museum in the Russian Centre. Thus, we have many ideas and plans; a lot of work is still to be done. The Festival of Russian culture has marched across India with triumph – from New Delhi, Kullu, Naggar to Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Jaipur and other cities. We invite you to the upcoming gala-concert of Russian ballet artists in Siri Fort Auditorium on December 22, 2014. Next week the President of Russia Vladimir Putin will make his seventh friendly visit to India. A set of documents covering a wide range of cooperation will be signed – from energy and military sphere to joint research and cultural exchanges. Undoubtedly, it will further strengthen the already close Russian-Indian cooperation. It is a matter of great privilege for us to dedicate this volume to this visit. We must thank the talented translators of the volume into English Mrs Ferina Duggan-Polichtchouk and Sasha Polichtchouk, the Timeless Books publisher Mr Ravi Sabharwal for the their great contribution. May I officially present to you, dear friends, this new volume as a symbol of our creative cooperation, affection and mutual understanding between the peoples of Russia and India, and kindly request you to release it. New Delhi, December 5, 2014

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