The exhibition “Nicholas Roerich: Life and Creative Work” organized by the International Roerich Memorial Trust, Naggar, Kullu, India and the International Centre of the Roerichs, Moscow with the support of the Embassy of the Russian Federation in India, New Delhi has become a wonderful gift to the residents and guests of the ancient Indian town of Chamba, the capital of the namesake princely state, which has been a district of Himachal Pradesh since 1948. The town is situated in the picturesque Himalayan Chamba valley to the north-west of the Kullu valley.
The exhibition took place between July 26 and August 2 and was timed to the annual international festival of the Chamba valley called Minjar Mela dedicated to the victory of the Raja of Chamba over the Raja of Kangra in 10th century AD. It is also connected with the time of ripening of corn (minjar is the Hindi for corn cob). During the days of the festival special pujas (prayers) are held in the temples, women tie coloured threads on the wrists of their brothers as a sign of blessing, and a festive fair takes place on the central square of the town where artists, craftsmen and artisans exhibit their products. Music and songs play from morning till night. Popcorn and traditional Indian sweets are sold in enormous quantities and one easily gets the impression that Chamba’s entire life has concentrated right here in the festively decorated center of the town.
The exhibition on Nicholas Roerich opened at that very place in the heart of Chamba in Bhuri Singh Museum. Throughout the week the central hall of the museum exhibited Roerich’s prints, vintage photographs and banners telling about the milestones in the life of the great Russian maharshi, his activities and artistic legacy.
The occasion of the grand opening of the exhibition took place on July 26 on the first day of the fair, was graced by Mr. Thakur S. Bharmouri, Forest Minister, Himachal Pradesh, Mrs. Shudha Devi, DC Chamba and Mr. M.S. Negi, Curator, Shimla State Museum. The exhibition was presented by Mrs. Larisa Surgina, Russian Curator, IRMT and representative of the International Center of the Roerichs, Moscow, and Mr. Ramesh Chander, Indian Curator, IRMT.
Mrs. Surgina noted that “when Roerich was still a very young and fledging artist he met the great Russian writer Leo Tolstoy who is well known in India not only as the author of wonderful books but also as a Russian sage, a friend and guru of Mahatma Gandhi. Tolstoy gave him the following words of advice: “In the field of moral standards always aim higher: the current of life will anyway bring you lower. Let your messenger aim higher and he will surely reach his destination.” Roerich always remembered this piece of advice by Tolstoy and was always guided by the noblest goals and ideals. He walked the path of Good and love, beauty and knowledge. He lived and worked for the common good. With his artistic, scholarly and philosophical legacy he inspires us to follow the noblest ideals. And he has the right to do so: after all, having conquered himself, having
become the great artist of his own life, Roerich evolved into one of those great men who we call our leaders, gurus and maharshis.”
Mr. Hari Chauhan, Curator, Bhuri Singh Museum expressed his gratitude to the organizers of the exhibition for the opportunity given to the residents of Chamba to learn about the renowned Russian artist and get closer recognition of his art represented by the reproductions of such paintings as “Terra Slavonica,” “Pilgrim of the Radiant City,” “Maitreya the Conqueror,” “Guga Chauhan,” “The Master’s Command” etc. Before the present appointment Hari Chauhan was the curator of the State Shimla Museum and supervised the inventory of museum items in IRMT in 2012. He continues to extend substantial support to the museum complex in Naggar.
Bhuri Singh Museum which hosted the exhibition is one of the first museums in the Himalayan region. It was founded in 1908 by the then ruler of Chamba State Raja Bhuri Singh with direct involvement of Prof. J. Ph. Vogel who had many years worked in the Archeological Survey of India and studied Chamba culture.
The collections of miniatures and other pieces of art inherited by the Raja, a great number of Sanskrit texts carved in stone and metal collected by Vogel during his travels in Chamba, carved wooden fragments from temples badly damaged by the earthquake of 1905, antique arms and coins, the two-sided “rumal” scarves embroidered in traditional style as well as other art pieces related to the cultural heritage of Chamba became the backbone of museum collection. Vogel systematized the museum collection and conducted the first attribution of each item, which resulted in the publication of the museum catalogue in 1909. The scholar was inexpressibly happy that the artifacts collected by him in the Chamba region would be kept and exhibited in the museum.
Mrs. Lyudmila Shaposhnikova called Chamba a fairytale kingdom (Along the Master’s Route, v. II). Tucked away in the Dhauladhar and Zanskar mountain ranges, Chamba did not experience the devastating invasions and preserved its unique Hindu culture in its entirety. In the center of the Chamba town there is a group of ancient stone temples called Lakshmi-Narayana dedicated to Vishnu and Lakshmi and embellished with stunningly beautiful carving. The temple dedicated to Shakti Devi in Chhatrari village astounds with the fineness of its wood carvings. In the same place there is a temple containing stone images of Nagas. There are also ancient temples in Khajjiar and Saho village in the vicinity of Chamba.
The first capital of the Chamba State was Bharmour where even today one can see the bronze images of Ganesha, Vishnu, Shiva and Parvati installed in the ancient temples. Bharmour is considered the native place of the Gaddi nomadic tribes who came and settled there centuries ago.
The history of the new capital, Chamba, started in the 10th century AD. According to one of the legends princess Champavati, the daughter of Raja Sahil Varman convinced her father to found the new capital on the bank of the river Ravi, some 60 km away from Bharmour, in the place she liked. The town was built but for some reason lacked water. Once the Raja saw a dream that water will appear in the city if some member of the royal family sacrificed him/herself. Rani Sunaina, the wife of Raja Sahil took it upon herself.
She ascended the mountain looming over the new capital and had herself sacrificed there. A wall was erected around Sunaina and covered with a flat rock. Thus she was immured alive. When the ceremony ended water sprang from the ground and the town was saved. And today water shoots from the spot where Sunaina gave her life – the spot that is considered sacred.
Nobody knows what particular event became the source of this legend. And it is of no importance. In people’s memory Rani Sunaina will remain a hero who gave her life for the common good. They praise her in songs, write about her in books, depict her in paintings and rumals. As Roerich wrote, “Mankind should preserve its heroes. It should also preserve their memory for it would be the source of wholesome and creative inspiration. Life is empty without a hero...”
The exhibition on Roerich struck a new cord in the measured and unhurried life of Chamba steeped in ancient myths and legends. It also became one more stone strengthening the foundation of the edifice of friendship and cooperation between the great countries, Russia and India.