The Roerich Pact is a clarion call from the 20th Century for re-enshrining Culture at the centre of the global agenda for survival and progress in the 21st Century. India and Russia should heed this call.
This is the view expressed by MrSudheendraKulkarni, former advisor to Prime Minister AtalBihari Vajpayee and Member of the Board of Trustees of the International Roerich Memorial Trust (Naggar, Kullu Valley, HP), in an interview with Natalya Benyukh, Correspondent of the Information and Broadcasting Agency “Sputnik”, in connection with the 80th Anniversary of the signing of the Roerich Pact.
Question: The Roerich Pact has marked its 80th Anniversary. Dozens of countries, including India and Russia, have signed the Pact and expressed their adherence to the document in the past years. However, invaluable cultural objects are being destroyed during upheavals, conflicts and wars in various parts of the world. According to your opinion, how far realistic are the aims and tasks of the Roerich Pact? How do you assess the significance of this document?
Answer: I believe that the significance of the Roerich Pact has remained undiminished with the passage of time. This is because the founding vision of the Pact, as symbolised by the Banner of Peace, has lost none of its relevance. The words with which Nicholas Roerich had described that vision speak to us even today with the same inspirational power and sense of urgency: “What the Red Cross flag is for the preservation of physical health, our Banner of Peace is as protector of the spiritual health of humanity.” Has the mission of the Red Cross come to an end? No. So how can the mission of the Banner of Peace come to an end? The world will continue to need the Roerich Pact so long as there are threats to mankind’s priceless patrimony of culture, arts and spirituality.
Indeed, the significance of the Roerich Pact has further increased in our times. Firstly, because humanity’s diverse cultural, artistic and spiritual heritage continues to be threatened by traditional as well as non-traditional forms of armed conflict, such as terrorism. We know how the Bamyan Buddha statues were destroyed by the forces of terrorism and religious extremism in Afghanistan. More recently, ISIS has deliberately targeted what it regards as “alien” works of art in Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
Secondly, yet another non-traditional and altogether new threat to the cultural and artistic heritage of the word comes from environmental degradation and climate change. This threat was more or less absent in Roerich’s time. This is a new phenomenon, which has acquired a menacing speed in recent decades. Indeed, oceans, rivers, lakes, forests and mountains are Nature’s own inimitable works of art. They are also the sustainer of life and culture of human societies. Their contamination, toxification and depletion must be viewed very seriously. Roerich, for example, would have been horrified by the damage being done to the fragile Himalayan ecology due to reckless urbanisation in India.
Therefore, I think that the international community should re-dedicate itself to the vision, aims and tasks of the Roerich Pact.
Question: The larger part of the Roerich family’s heritage is in India. It is well known that in the past years, some adverse events have influenced the work and threatened the existence of the Roerich memorial Estates in Naggar (Kullu Valley) and Bangalore (Karnataka). What has to be done to safeguard, preserve and popularize the heritage of Roerichs in India?
Answer: I feel both very sad and, as an Indian, very ashamed that the precious heritage of the Roerich family has not been properly preserved in the estates in Naggar (Himachal Pradesh) and Bangalore (Karnakata). The primary responsibility to safeguard and preserve this heritage rests with the Government of India and the Governments in the states of Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka. I am strongly of the opinion that, since Roerich was a Universal Man and since his family symbolises a strong bond of friendship between India and Russia, the Government of India (that is, the central government in New Delhi) should take direct control of the estates and the artistic assets in Naggar and Bangalore, with appropriate legal and administrative changes in the governing trusts, and with no scope for either bureaucratism or localism. The state governments of Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka should have, at best, a marginal role. The Russian side should be more strongly represented in the new governing bodies. A decision to this effect should be taken at the highest level in the Indian Government. In other words, Prime Minister Mr. NarendraModi should take personal interest in setting right the affairs of the Roerich estates in Naggar and Bangalore.
Once this is done, dedicated and knowledgeable persons should be staffed in the two trusts with a mandate, and adequate budget, to popularise the Roerich heritage in India both within the country and all over the world. They should be developed into world-class centres of culture and art, jointly managed by Indian and Russian professionals. The Bangalore estate, which is very large in size, has the potential to become something like the Central Park in New York. Many new initiatives, such as the proposed International Roerich Art Institute at Naggar, should be implemented. A Roerich Centre should be started in New Delhi.
Some work in this direction had begun when former Indian Prime Minister Mr. AtalBihari Vajpayee (1998-2004) took personal interest in reviving the Roerich heritage. I had the privilege of being associated with these efforts when I was working in the Prime Minister’s Office at the time.
In this context, I must gratefully and most admiringly mention the tireless and matchless efforts that H.E. Mr. Alexander Kadakin, Ambassador of Russia in New Delhi, has been making to preserve and popularise Roerich family’s precious heritage in India.
Question: The Roerich family did their best to bring Russia and India closer. What is your opinion on the role of their ideas and works in promoting Indo-Russian relations and opening new prospects for bilateral cooperation?
Answer: The Roerich Family constitutes an unbreakable bond of friendship between India and Russia. The legacy of this family must be preserved by our two countries as a shared asset, and also as an asset that belongs to the entire humanity. In doing this, we should go beyond symbolism, tokenism and ritualism. Nicholas Roerich was not just a painter. He was of course an artist who scaled Himalayan heights of excellence. But he was also a great philosopher of art, culture and life. Moreover, he strove to put his philosophy into practice, as has been exemplified by the Roerich Pact and the Banner of Peace, around which he built a global movement.
India and Russia – both governments and civil societies in our two countries – should strive to follow this philosophy in their paradigms of national development. Both India and Russia should jointly propose to UNESCO and other international forums (such as G-20, BRICS, etc) that preservation and promotion of culture, arts and spiritual traditions should be mainstreamed into government policies and development agendas.
In recent years, a positive new dimension has been added to the global debate on sustainable development. There is now a growing demand that ‘Protection and Promotion of Culture’ be enshrined as the fourth pillar of Sustainable Development, the other three pillars being
• Inclusive social development
• Inclusive economic development
• Environmental sustainability
There is also a worldwide demand to include ‘Culture’ in the post-2015 UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
These demands are fully in keeping with the vision of the Roerich Pact, which called for the protection and promotion of all that is Beautiful, Divine, Life-Sustaining and World-Uniting.
As Nicholas Roerich had said,
“In Beauty we are united!
Through Beauty we pray!
With Beauty we conquer!”
The Roerich Pact is a clarion call from the 20th Century for re-enshrining Culture at the centre of the global agenda for survival and progress in the 21st Century. India and Russia should heed this call. And together our two countries should strive to make the rest of the international community heed this call.