Vol 10: A Roerich Mongolia Artist Heroine Shows in NY

When I first volunteered to assist Prof. Bira in restoring the Nicholas Roerich House in Mongolia, where Nicholas had lived with wife Helena and eldest son George during 1926 and 1927, the challenges loomed large. But somehow things came together.

Eight months later, when we prepared for our July 6th 2009 opening, we faced a further challenge: what to hang in the museum for the opening ceremony. After all, we had no actual Roerich paintings. In fact only one Roerich original exists in Mongolia, and it hangs in the Zanabazar National Museum. All others created during Roerich’s 1925-1928 expedition through Mongolia and Tibet, including the many works he painted during his 1926-27 stay in Ulaanbaatar, were contracted to the Roerich Museum in NY, or at least the early version of that Museum that had emerged from Roerich’s 1920-1923 travels in America, and his highly successful work there.

Soyolma and sister Khajiidma Oglethorpe University Museum, 2006, with museum director Prof. Lloyd Nick

We decided to go with art prints and hand copies of Roerich works for our opening. Daniel Entin, director of the Roerich Museum in NY, graciously provided us with prints, as did two of the Russian associates. Jo Jagoda from Dallas, a wonderful supporter of our Roerich activities.

For the hand-created copies I turned to a female artist friend: Ms. Soyolma Davakhuu. I had met Soyolma, when I first visited Mongolia in 2004. Later, when I organized an exhibition of traditional Mongolian Buddhist art in 2006 in Oglethorpe University Museum, Atlanta, USA, in honor of the 800thcommemoration of Mongolian statehood, Soyolma accepted the invitation of Oglethorpe to come and serve as Artist-in-Residence for a month. She was accompanied by her sister, an abbess of an Ulaanbaatar female monastery, who led meditation and chanting session in the university for the month. (For coverage of the Atlanta exhibit, see the YouTube video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WN5yLLRbr-U). Over the next four years I had the honor of arranging exhibitions for Soyolma in a half dozen US cities, including NY, Chicago, Bloomington (In.), Buffalo (NY) Atlanta, and Northampton (Ma), (for photos of these shows see the link http://picasaweb.google.com/soyolma108.

Bira, Ishdorj and Glenn at the opening of the competition exhibit, “Roerich and Me”

But let’s return to the story of the Roerich House opening of 2009. We needed art for the house on opening day. I approached Soyolma, and requested her to ask her artist friends around the city to each create a copy of their favorite Roerich painting. In addition, we asked her to help with a national competition we hoped to run: “Roerich and Me.” The idea of the competition was to have each artist first create a copy of their favorite Roerich work, and then create an “inspiration” from that work, meaning whatever they liked to do. More than fifty artists participated. The Khaan Bank Gallery in downtown Ulaanbaatar even hosted the works as an exhibition two weeks prior to our opening, in order to bring attention to our Roerich House event.

Prof Bira examining the Roerich original painting popularly known as “The Red Hero,” which was painted by Roerich during his residency in Ulaanbaatar in 1927, and gifted to the Mongolian government that same year..

Soyolma personally created several wonderful Roerich copies for us, including a full-size one of the wonderful painting that Roerich had reluctantly gifted to the Mongolian government in 1927. This Roerich painting later became lost during the long period of the Stalinist purges, but was found, I believe in 1958, when Nicholas’s son George visited

Soyolma’s “Shambhala King” hangs beside Dilov Hugatht, i.e., Tilopa Tulku, when he teaches Dharma at Roerich House a few weeks after our 2009 opening. For a video of his talk see the link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JdDnKc48tCQ

Ulaanbaatar in 1958. Many decades later Prof Bira convinced the Zanabazar  Museum to allow him to open the painting and study the inscription on the back. The inscription read, in Tibetan script, “Shambhala Gyalpo Rigden Drakpo,” meaning “The Shambhala King and Knowledge Holder Rudra.” As Kalachakra enthusiasts will know, Rudra is the name of the prophesied twenty-fifth king of the mythological land of Shambhala, who will one day save the world from a self-inflicted catastrophe and usher in a golden age that will last for a thousand years.

As stated above, Soyolma created several Roerich wonderful copies for our opening, including one of “The Red Hero.” Another was Roerich’s famous painting of the great 11th century Tibet yogi, mystic and poet Milarepa, who is widely popular with Mongols even today. She also had several of her friends create other pieces for us. As a result, the Roerich House was resplendently beautiful during the opening.

Hummm. The name of this blog entry is “A Roerich Mongolia Artist Heroine Shows in NY.” I better get back to the main story line.

A number of us thought that it might be appropriate to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Mongolia’s re-assertation of its status as an independent country by organizing an exhibition in the US of national award winner artists. The Manchu Mongol occupation of China, that had endured for over two and a half centuries, came to an end in 1911 (Manchu Mongolia had invaded and colonized China in 1644). Shortly after this dramatic turn of events, both Mongolia and Tibet issued declarations stating that whatever rights and arrangements that had been in place because of treaties in the Manchu Mongol / Khalka Mongol / Tibet alliance would not be extended to the Han Chinese, who had overthrown the Manchu Mongols.

I approached my old friend Ganden Thurman in Tibet House, NY, to see if the Tibet House Gallery would be interested in such an exhibit. Tibet House had originally been founded by Bob Thurman, a long time student of the great Mongolian lama Geshey Wangyal, who in turn had been a disciple of the Mongolian master Tsenzhab Dorje (known to modern Mongols as Agwang Dorjev). The first part of Tsenzhab Dorje‘s name, i.e. “Tsenshab,” is in fact a title, and indicates that he was one of the seven scriptural tutors of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama. It was this Dalai Lama who, in coordination with the Eighth Bogd Lama of Mongolia, had issued the 1911 proclamation “re-affirming” independence. Therefore Tibet House seemed an ideal venue for our exhibit. Ganden agreed, and enthusiastically accepted the proposal.

Then came Step Two. Here I asked my old friend Soyolma, who had won the 2008 “Artist of the Year Award” in Mongolia, to allow us to build an exhibit around her work, while incorporating four or five other national award winners. I also asked her to suggest other artists who fit this bill.

Prof Ann Norton and Soyolma at a showing of Mongol artists in The Rubin Foundation Gallery, NY, 2010.

Step Three bumped things up a notch, and for it involved the delicate task of sorting through artists and art. For this I brought in an art professor friend, Prof Ann Norton of Rhode Island. We had worked together on several other exhibitions in the past, including an exhibition in Mongolia in the summer of 2010, entitled “Three Feminine Visions: A NY/UB Art Extravaganza.” (For a YouTube video on this show, which was co-sponsored by the Roerich House Mongolia, follow the link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IX9LIJ8gjIE.)

Ann planned to be in Ulaanbaatar for a Buddhist conference in July of 2011, so the timeframe worked perfectly. She readily agreed to take on the task, and we began to work together in cyberspace, sending images of paintings back and forth across the web in an effort to create the desired theme and mood. Eventually we came up with six artists and forty works of art that we felt represented the genius of the contemporary Mongolian artistic spirit.

Step Four involved funding. I applied to the William Hinman Foundation for a small grant, to cover costs of sending over a few of the artists with their art. The application was successful.

Then November rolled around, and we had to move into high gear. Soyolma and another of the artists, Bulgantuya, flew with the art to Atlanta, where Scott Engel of Designs Creations (http://www.framewise.com/testimonials) took on the task. Then Jose Morelli, a Peruvian American architect and graphic designer who lives in Atlanta, took artists and art on the 20 hour  drive to New York, where the art was installed. (By the way, Jose is also an accomplished musician. Hear him with his band, the Flying Mystics, on numerous YouTube links. One piece that he created for Roerich House Mongolia is called “Cloud Surfing.” In this work he puts Flying Mystics music to Nicholas Roerich’s “Altai-Himalaya” paintings. The link to it is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vIBAxeE4FhY

And so it went. December 1st was scheduled as the opening day. Naturally we made a YouTube video from the event. The link is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8lljLa7qvBY

Below is the profile of the artists and the exhibition, if you the reader are in the area. The show will be up until February 15th, 2012. Fifteen of the forty pieces have already sold, so contact Tibet House soon if you like one of the pieces. Tibet House has a wonderful link to the show on its site. http://tibethouse.us/art-gallery/current-exhibition

Below is a profile of the exhibit and the artists:

Gankhuyag Natsag

Gankhuyag Natsag, or Ganna, as he is known  to his friends, is one of Mongolia’s most internationally renowned artists. His paintings, statues and traditional lama dance masks have shown in more than a dozen cities around the world, including New York, Paris, Houston, and Singapore. He is considered a national treasure of Mongolia, and is the first to re-establish the complete tradition of 108 lama temple dance masks and costumes, or tsam, since its closure and destruction by the Communists in 1937. The exhibition will include a dozen of Ganna’s spectacular tsam masks.

Soyolmaa Davaakhuu

Soyolmaa Davaakhuu is the 2008 recipient of Mongolia’s prestigious “Female Artist of the Year” award. Exhibitions of her paintings have been hosted in half a dozen North American cities, including Atlanta, Chicago and New York. A dozen of her works are in the permanent collection of the Rubin Museum of Art in NY. She is especially renowned for bringing the clarity and precision of traditional Buddhist art into a contemporary ambiance.

Nurmaa Tuvdendorj

Nurmaa Tuvdendorj, Mongolia’s 2006 winner of “Female Artist of the Year Award,” has received equal international acclaim, especially in Europe, where her work is frequently on show. Nurmaa is famed for her ability to capture on canvas the radiance and raw intensity of the Mongolian spirit.

Bulgantuya Dechindorj

Bulgantuya Dechindorj another of Mongolia’s internationally acclaimed female artists, and the 2007 recipient of Mongolia’s “Female Artist of the Year Award,” has shown extensively throughout Europe, where her work received rave reviews in Sofia, Budapest, Warsaw, Kiev, and Vienna.

Bolor Tsevelsuren

Bolor Tsevelsuren is especially known among young Mongol artists for her “aesthetics of the feminine.”  Her works have been included in numerous international exhibitions, including “Feminine Visions: A New York / Ulaanbaatar Art Extravaganza.

Uranberkh Magsarmaa

Uranberkh Magsarmaa is the winner of Mongolia’s “Golden Brush Award.” His works have shown in numerous galleries around Asia. He comes to New York from a recent showing in China.

Exhibition curated by Glenn Mullin and Prof. Ann Norton.
Special Sponsor: The William Hinman Foundation
Artist portraits by James Doyle

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Vol 9: A Spanish Pilgrim to the Roerich House, Mongolia

Editor’s Note: Since we began work on the restoration of the Roerich House in Mongolia back in the spring of 2009, we have been able to receive many wonderful Roerich enthusiasts from around the world.

            David Fontano was and is special among these many visitors. His dedication to the Roerich legacy is profound, informed, pure and vibrant. After his visit with us he generously accepted our request to be our website manager, and to help in several other ways. In brief, he has become an integral part of the Roerich Mongolia team.

            I would like to thank him for accepting our invitation to contribute a blog entry on his visit to Mongolia and the Roerich House. Although English is not his mother tongue, he threw himself into the task with the joy and enthusiasm that he seems to bring to so much of what he does in life. – Glenn Mullin, Blog Editor


Five years ago I saw, for the first time, the logo of the Roerich Peace Banner in an article in a Spanish newspaper. The article had no stated connection to Roerich and his Banner, but the symbol caught my attention.  At that time, I did not have any idea who Nicolas Roerich was, and the symbol had no particular meaning to me. However, it stuck in my mind.

Sometime later I was listening to the radio. The program  was about travelers and adventurers of the world, and the name of Nicholas Roerich came up. The discussion aroused my interest, and I decided to do some research on the Internet. That was the moment I associated the two: the Banner and Nicholas Roerich.

It was also the day I fell in love with Roerich’s paintings. I became captivated by the beauty and light of his work, as well as the idea represented in the Banner. For several days and nights I researched further into Roerich’s life and work.

Roerich Museum, New York

Then in 2008 I made a trip to New York City, and while there I visited the Roerich Museum (www.roerich.org).

I was deeply impressed with the energy of the Roerich paintings on display there. Two of the works on show, “Madonna Oriflamma” and “Mother of the World,” drew my interest with special force. I also particularly liked the painting of the Himalayas, perhaps because I love hiking in mountains, and love natural settings. These paintings express the beauty which can be found in such places: mountains, sky, light, sunsets.

While in the Museum I had the good fortune to meet with Daniel Entin, the museum director. He told me about the existence of a Roerich Museum in the north of my own country, Spain, and gave me an introduction to Leonardo Olazabal, its director.

Several months later, after I returned from a trip to Nepal and Tibet, and also by that time knowing a little more about Roerich´s work, I decided to visit the Spanish Roerich Museum. There, thanks to Daniel Entin, I was able to meet with Leonardo Olazabal and his wife Petrie, the museum founders. I was deeply impressed with how they had dedicated so much of their lives to the study and promotion of Roerich and his work, mainly in Spain.

“Darjeeling” Sintesis and Meditation Center

This museum had been created in 1978 in association with the Darjeeling Raja Yoga Meditation Center. It is appropriately located in the peaceuful, beautiful and harmonious surrounding of the Bedia Mountains of Bilbao, allowing students to connect with the Roerich legacy in a natural setting.

To my amazement, Leonardo and his wife invited me to assist them in organizing a Roerich exhibition in Madrid, where I currently live. The exhibition was planned in connection with the 75th anniversary of the signing of the Roerich Pact. This exhibition indeed did come to pass. Interested readers can learn more about it on the following web link:


Siberian Roerich Society

But let me return to the account of my visit to the Roerich House in Mongolia.

Roerich had spent many years in Asia, and therefore numerous places associated with him are located there. I wished to visit as many of them as I could. I applied for and was granted a two month break from my job, and proceeded to make a plan to travel through Russia, Central Asia, Mongolia and China.

The excursion began in Russia, where I visited the Roerich Center in Moscow. After that I flew from Moscow to Barnaul, and hiked to the Belukha Base Camp. This mountain was very special in Nicholas Roerich’s mind. I then visited Novosibirk, Russia, and also the Siberian Roerich Society. (www.sibro.ru/en/). Finally I travelled from Siberia to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

It was a great trip and a great experience for me, and I was thrilled to see for myself some of the beautiful power places described by Roerich in his books and depicted in his paintings.

My plan in Mongolia was to visit the Roerich House in Ulaanbaatar, where Nicholas Roerich had lived and painted in 1926 and 1927 with his wife Helena and eldest son George. I had learned of the existence of this house through my researches on the web (www.roerichmongolia.org).

            Before leaving Madrid I had written to Glenn Mullin, a Canadian writer who is assisting Prof Bira in restoring the House and making it into a museum and art institute. I told Glenn about my interest in visiting the house, and he offered to help in any way he could.

Therefore when I arrived UB I telephoned him. He suggested that we meet in at the Ulaanbaatar Hotel, in the downtown area of the city. It could easily be found by someone new to Mongolia. I arrived at the hotel, and Glenn was waiting for me with several of his friends. They greeted me with big smiles, and I felt very at ease with them. Glenn was with a California man, Carl Olmstead, and two wonderful Mongolian ladies who were helping with the restoration work, Degi and Bolor. They received me like we were old friends. Over the following days in Ulaanbaator I found them to be delightfully friendly, and were always laughing and joking. I was very happy to be there and my limited English didn’t hinder us from getting along.

Roerich Museum Ulaanbatar

We drove to the Roerich House in Glenn’s little Suzuki Jeep, and I was touched by what I saw.  The house had been restored from its dilapidated state by enthusiastic volunteers and workers, people wanting to help preserve the legacy of Roerich in Mongolia.  For someone who was able to appreciate and value the beauty of Mongolia and its people, it seemed fitting to have the work done by people dedicated to love, peace and beauty.

            On arriving at the house I met Vedran Bolfek in the Museum. Vedran is a Croatian restoration artist, and had been working as a volunteer in restoring the house. To me, he was a very good example of someone who feels the calling. He had learned of the existence of the house when the restoration work was in the planning stages, and immediately offered to travel to Mongolia and help with the work. This was his second summer there, and much of the beauty and integrity of Roerich House Mongolia as it exists today can be credited to Vedran’s great talents and experience in the world of restoration work. He was completely dedicated to the task, with his mind only thinking about the noble cause and the satisfaction that comes from noble deeds.

            My friends at the Museum walked me through the various rooms, and explained the meanings of the paintings and art prints on the walls. There is a Shambhala Room, with copies of many of Roerich’s Shambhala paintings. This room is used for lectures and meditation. There is also a room called Altai Himalaya, named after Roerich’s famous book with that title. This room has copies of Roerich’s more famous Buddhist paintings, as well as his Himalayan and Mongolian works of a spiritual nature. Another room is dedicated to Roerich’s paintings on the Mongolian “great khaan” theme, with copies of his paintings on Ling Gesar, Chinggis Khaan, the Mother of Chinggis, and so forth. A fourth room has copies and art prints of some of the famous portraits of Nicholas Roerich, many by Svetoslav, and a fifth is dedicated to the Roerich Peace Pact. Finally, the two large rooms on the west side of the building are used as a café and “rotating art gallery.

The task of transforming the old house into an active museum and art institute is a work in progress, and it still continues today with the collaboration and support of people around the world (http://www.roerichmongolia.org/how_u_can_help.html ).

            I had been carrying a flag with the Roerich pax cultura logo on it, and created a documentary photo in all the places I had visited. Glenn suggested that we take a photo with this Peace Banner inside the Museum, in the Shambala Room, as a celebration of that moment.

In summary, during my first visit to the Roerich House I found a family joined together in the quest of well-being and hard work, with joy and dedication to the ideals of beauty and love.

For the next few days, Glenn and his friends made my visit to UB very exciting, and helped me organize my trip around Mongolia. I especially wanted to visit the South Gobi, Kharakorum, Khuvsgol Lake and Khamar Monastery in the East Gobi, that was associated with Shambhala.

When I finished my Mongolian tour and headed back to Ulaanbaatar, Glenn had another surprise for me. He had organized for me to meet with Professor Bira (who had been out of town when I first arriven in the city). Bira had been a student of George Roerich back in the late 1950s. It was Bira who had discovered the existence of the Roerich House in Ulaanbaatar a few years earlier, and had applied to the government to have it declared a historical site and thus saved from destruction by developers. Glenn organized a brief meeting with Bira and me in front of the National Library. It was a wonderful occasion, and we all took a photo with the Banner of Peace.

My visit to Mongolia and the Roerich House in Ulaanbaatar were wonderful experiences for me. Later, Glenn asked me to donate some of my time, and my skills as an IT professional, and take over the management of the Roerich Mongolia website. I was delighted and honored to be asked, and I immediately accepted. This is my own small contribution to the wonderful legacy of Roerich in Mongolia.

I would like to conclude this blog report by thanking Prof. Bira, Glenn, Vedran, Degi, Bolor and all my other new friends whom I met in Mongolia. You are all doing a great job with the Roerich House of Ulaanbaatar. I have no doubt that this work will be of great benefit for many generations to come, not only to the people of Mongolia, but to all the world.


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Vol 8: Reflections of a Roerich House Mongolia Volunteer

Introductory Note: When Prof Bira invited me to assist him in his efforts to save the Roerich House in Mongolia from developers, the house was in a state of complete devastation. Floors and walls were destroyed, most windows were broken, and the place looked like an image from a war zone. It had largely been used by drunks and derelicts for well over a decade, and was in terrible condition. Finding money to repair it was one thing; finding people with skills at restoration was another.

            It was at this time that I received an email from a young Croatian restoration artist, Vedran Bolfek. “I love Roerich and his work” he wrote me, “and would love to visit Mongolia. If you wish, I can come for a few months in the spring and summer, and help with the restoration work.”

            Naturally I was excited. “Come as soon as you can,” I replied. “We want to be up and running by July 6th, the Dalai Lama’s birthday.”

            He arrived in mid spring, and worked a solid twelve hours a day, seven days a week, from then until our opening. Without him, we could never have made the deadline. Of course it was a partial opening, for we did not yet have running water, electricity or toilets. These things all take time, requiring paperwork and permission from the municipal government; and governments usually operate at a more relaxed schedule than we were on. But we nonetheless managed to be up and running for the summer, so that we could host visiting groups of foreign visitors to Mongolia, and have a lecture and art program for local Mongols.

            Vedran, like Roerich, demonstrated that, in practical reality, the efforts of one individual can make a huge difference With him we succeeded. Without him, we would not have done so.

Glenn Mullin, Blog Editor


Mongolia is the Land of the Eternal Blue Sky or Monkh Khokh Tenger. It is a land little known in Europe today, much the same as it was when Nicholas Roerich visited with his wife Helena and son George in the 1920s. It is an ancient land with an ancient legacy, much of which is surrounded in mystery.

Such were my feelings when I arrived in Ulaanbaatar two years ago. I am a professional building restorationist by trade, and I had come to Mongolia as a volunteer worker to help restore the house in which Nicholas Roerich had lived and painted during his sojourn of 1926 and 1927.

As I walked onto the dilapidated property where he had resided those many decades ago, I imagined that he probably experienced many of the same feelings of excitement, wonder and awe that I was now feeling myself. Like him, I had been fascinated with the history of Tibetan Buddhism outside of Tibet itself, in regions such as Mongolia. From the mid-thirteenth century on, the Mongolian khans had played a profound role in the transformation of Tibetan Buddhism into an international spiritual tradition. Tens of thousands of Mongolians had travelled to Tibet to study and practice, and the cross-fertilization had worked both ways. Tibetan Buddhism benefitted from the Mongolian genius, and the Mongols had benefitted from the Buddhist legacy of India that the Tibetans had worked so diligently to preserve in its purity. In later centuries, when the Dalai Lama emerged as the principal spiritual and temporal leader of the Land of Snows, the Mongol khans continued to play a major role in the un foldment of this unique institution. Indeed, I strongly recommend to everyone with an interest in Central Asian history that they look deeply into the connections between the Dalai Lamas of Tibet and the khans of Mongolia, It is a fascinating and often overlooked aspect of history.

I first learned about the house in Ulaanbaatar where the Roerichs had lived through a blog posted by the illustrious Don Croner, on his site “Don Croner’s Wide World of Wanders.” I did not know much about Nicholas Roerich at that time, and Don’s blog inspired me to undertake a private research. I am proud to say that after my arrival in Mongolia I had the honor of meeting Don in person. In fact, as documented in an erlier edition “The Roerich Mongolia Blog, Don became strongly involved in the effort to restore the Roerich House, and published several Roerich books in honor of the occasion, including Roerich’s book on Shambhala, as well as his “The Heart of Asia.”.

I should say from the beginning that it would be dishonest of me to set myself forward as a person who has a deep background or interest in art. However, Roerich’s paintings struck a strong chord in me. Immediately on seeing them I fell in love with his vision of the world, and of the soul of man. He seemed to bring a kind of adventurism into his paintings, an almost palpable historical energy. Ant there was a positive sense about them that seemed to reveal all the greatness of times past, while at the same time pointing to how this greatness or positive quality of spirit could be drawn upon to inspire humanity to evolve in creative directions.

When I learned that Roerich was not only a painter and traveler, but also was scholar of Buddhism, a philosopher, a social thinker and activist, and an avid researcher into the subject of Shambhala, my interest in him grew even stronger.

I remember what I was told in Ulaanbaatar by a couple of Russian visitors. They were wonderful people from Siberia. They said, “Russia has never produced a greater man than Nicholas Roerich. Perhaps it will never produce one equal to him again.”

I spent six months or so a year for the next two years in Mongolia, working on the Roerich House. There were many memorable events, too many to recount here. I could safely say, though, that what was most impressive for me was meeting with so many people from all over the world who had such great respect for Roerich and his work.

The ideas of some social thinkers quickly become obsolete. The opposite is true with Nicholas Roerich. Rather than becoming obsolete or old fashioned, it seems to me that his social philosophy is becoming more and more relevant with the passage of time. For that reason I greatly admire those people around the world who are working with passion and determination to keep the memory of his legacy alive. It is a great honor for me that I was able to make a small contribution in this respect by helping restore his residence in Ulaanbaatar, and transform it into a museum and art institute. It was truly a priceless experience for me.

As I write these words my eyes occasionally move from my computer screen to the night sky, and I look eastward. Thoughts of that house where Nicholas, Helena and George lived in 1926 and 1927 arise within me, and I feel a warm emotion swelling up within my chest. It is clear to me that they have affected my life in a beautiful way. It is perhaps too soon now to fully understand this effect at this point in time, but I can clearly sense its presence, like a keystone in the architecture of my future.

Of course my time in Mongolia was not all spent inside the Roerich House walls. It was not all carpenter’s dust, hammer and nails. While there I took the time to visit many parts of Mongolia that were of historical relevance to Buddhism.

These included Amarbayasgalant Monastery, where the holy body of the First Jetsun Dampa, Zanabazar, was interned after his death in 1724; the great temple complex of Erdeni Zuu in Kharakhorum, where Altai San Khaan built a temple complex in the 1580s in honor of the visit of the Third Dalai Lama to the Mongol lands; and Khamar Khiid, where the Fifth Noyon Lama, Danzan Rabja, that illustrious mystic, poet and lama rebel, built a meditation center and temple complex in the early 1800s. I strongly believe people in the West with an interest in Buddhism should make every effort to visit such places, to walk where these great beings have walked, breath the air and dust of the holy places associated with their lives and deeds. In my case, perhaps my strongest spiritual experience came when I meditated in Amarbayasgalant Monastery, inside the temple that served as the resting place for the mummified body of First Jetsun Dampa, the Bogd Gegen Zanabazar. I know that this was one of those experiences that will take many years to fully comprehend.

But I digress. Let’s return to the story of the Roerich House restoration project.

I arrived in Mongolia as a volunteer on this project in the spring of 2009, and remained into the early winter. I then returned to Croatia for some months, but came back to Mongolia again in the spring of 2010. In total I donated thirteen months of my life to this project.

Earlier I mentioned how I learned of the Roerich House in Ulaan Baatar through “The Worldwide Wanders of Don Croner.” Shortly after that I contacted Glenn Mullin, a Canadian writer living in Mongolia who was working as the project coordinator and fundraiser in the restoration of the house. I mentioned to Glenn that I am not a wealthy person, so could not donate funds, but that I am a professional restoration worker, and could donate some time. That is to say, I could travel to Mongolia and work on the house with my hands.

Glenn was very enthusiastic. He commented that the Mongolians are good builders, but that they do not have much experience with restoration work. My skills, he said, would be very useful. He immediately arranged for my stay, and requested Mrs. Shuree Nyam of the Foreign Ministry to facilitate a residence visa for me. I would like to thank both of them for their kindness.

As I mentioned above, I arrived in the spring of 2009. Basic restoration work had commenced in March, and I came slightly after that.

Glenn was determined that we should have a “soft” opening on July 6th, the Dalai Lama’s birthday, so that we could have the museum open for visitors through the summer. Therefore the pace was very intense from the moment I arrived. It was hard and somewhat dirty work at that stage of the project: sawing wood, hammering, plastering boards, and painting.

There were moments of elation as well. Glenn had wanted us to create an arced doorway between the two rooms that would be used as the museum cafe and art gallery. Amazingly, as we slowly took down the wall separating these two rooms, we were amazed to discover that in reality the arch already was there, just covered up by plaster. Sometime in the house’s past history the two rooms had been separated and rented out as individual dwellings, and the arch had been covered over. things like our discovery of old wooden arch that was hidden inside wall dividing two rooms. We removed the boards, polished and painted the arch and it is there today right in front of you as you enter the Roerich House.

There were also times when our most simple intentions turned almost into science fiction. I could go on about brick deliveries that never came, cutting logs with a1.8 meter handsaw that our dearest worker and friend Puntsok brought from his home on a bus! Or the efforts of transporting building materials like long wooden boards in a taxi car. These things were all part of the amazing everyday life in Ulaanbaatar.

Because Glenn is a Buddhist writer with books in numerous languages, over the summer of 2009 he was able to get Buddhist friends from various countries who were travelling in Mongolia for the summer to bring their groups to the museum. Perhaps once a week or so we would host a group of this nature. It was always exciting to meet these people, and witness their enthusiasm for the Roerich House restoration. Glenn was also able to organize for great lamas to come to the house and speak. The first of these was the great Telopa Hugatht, who visited and spoke at the museum shortly after the opening. Mongols came in large numbers to see him, because his former incarnation was one of the three greatest lamas in Mongolia. This incarnation was born of Mongol blood, but in Philadelphia. He presently serves as the head lama in the Kalmuk Republic, Russia, and visits Mongolia every summer. The great Green Tara Emanation also taught in the Museum; a lady in her mid sixties, she is said to be the chief of the 108 Mongolian emanations of Tara. Her monastery is in Hovst Amaig, Southwest Mongolia, but she visits Ulaanbaatar from time to time. The British writer and meditation teacher Keith Dowman also visited and taught on another occasion, also to a full house.

As a Croatian, I learned some Russian while a schoolboy. The Roerich House is in what is referred to as “The Russian Quarter.” In early Soviet times the Russian Embassy had been located there, and the golden roves of the Russian Orthodox Church, located across the street from Roerich House, are a dominate feature of the local skyline. While working in the house I managed to meet many of the local Russian (or rather Russio-Mongolian) inhabitants. Most of them had been born in Mongolia, after their forefathers settled in Mongolia back the first half of the twentieth century. The Russian Quarter must have been a fascinating time in those days, when Nicholas Roerich visited with his family. Many of those original Russian settlers were traders and craftsmen. It must have been an Ortodox Christian parish, as evidenced by the church that still stands there.

One of my “local Russian” friends, Andrey, whose family came to Mongolia before the Revolution of 1921, told me that there were numerous Cossack settlements in rural Mongolia in those early days, mostly engaged in herding and animal husbandry. Most of those Cossack Russians disappeared in the early 1920s, killed either by the “Mad” Baron von Sternberg of the White Russian Army, or subsequently by the Red Bolsheviks, who saw them as an obstacle in the class struggle, since all these settlers had wealth. Eventually those original Cossack Russians in Mongolia almost completely disappeared, and were replaced by the new arrivals, the Russian Bolsheviks. This kind of unhappy history, that followed Communism wherever it went, is still the subject of conversation with many of the peoples whom I met during those summers of 2009 and 2010. Such is my observation, based not only on my conversations with Mongols and Russians in Mongolia, but also based on the example of my own country, Croatia, which similarly suffered under Soviet domination.

We all worked very hard during the spring and early summer of 2009 to get the house ready for the already announced July 9th opening and somehow we succeeded. The opening was scheduled for 4:00 pm, and at two in the afternoon Glenn forcefully asked us to put down hammers and saws, and get things ready. Yes, we hammered almost up to the last minute.

People started arriving at around 3:30. More than two hundred people came, and it seemed like a grand success.

Thus it was that the Nicholas Roerich House Museum and Shambhala Art Institute became partially functional on July 6th, 2009.

As I mentioned earlier, over the summer and autumn months to follow we had a steady flow of distinguished guest speakers. Of particular interest to me was the Telopa Tulku, the Shadjin Lama of Kalmykia. In his lecture he spoke on Shambhala. We had dedicated one of the larger rooms in the museum to the theme of Shambhala, a subject on which Roerich had written extensively. We had made this room into a teaching and meditation hall, with low wooden benches on which people could sit with legs crossed in the meditation posture.

Telopa Rinpochey’s teaching on that occasion is carved deeply into my mind.  I have always loved the mythology of Shambhala, which in traditional literature is presented in a multidimensional way. As Telopa Rinpochey´s pointed out, on a personal level, a practice level, it is important to find Shambhala within one’s own heart, one’s own soul. That said, the the legends of “portals” to or geographical locations associated with Shambhala are equally fascinating. Mongolia has always been associated with these portals in Indian, Tibetan and Mongolian literature. Many Shambhalists today believe that the Gobii s one of the places in the world where these multidimensional portals exist, power sites where meditators can connect the two realms of existence: this ordinary world, and the World of Shambhala.

I cannot say much about these Shambhala portals from personal experience. However, anyone visiting Mongolia will notice the unique energy of the land. The steppes, hills, valleys and rocks are almost radiant with a special energy. That power is largely invisible to Mongols today, perhaps because of the cruel and unimaginative nature of the seventy years of Soviet domination, but it is there nonetheless, perhaps more obvios to visitors, who look with fresh eyes, than to the Mongols themselves.

As romantic as Mongolia might look through lenses of memories of pleasant times, as a Croatian I cannot think of Mongolia during Roerich’s time without remembering the nightmare into which the country fell a decade after his visit, with the Communist Cultural Holocaust. Roerich’s dream of a new era of peace and prosperity, symbolized by the coming of Shambhala, of times of knowledge, culture and prosperity, were swept away in a sea of blood and destruction created by the Mongolian and Soviet Communists. The optimism that was radiating from Roerich’s art and social philosophy had to be put on hold for few generations.

The fall of Communism in 1989 and 1990 was perhaps a sign of the return of the optimism and creative vision embodied by Roerich and his work. This is true not only in Mongolia, but in numerous countries where people had been oppressed by the Soviet regime for decades.

Unfortunately healing and recuperation are not easy or instant. In most countries where Communism had dominated for so many years, one unwholesome mindset was simply replaced by another. In many formerly Soviet-bloc countries, brutal Communist dictatorships were replaced by an almost equally destructive obsession with materialism and instant profits. The newly discovered freedom that so many people acquired in 1989 and 1990 was much too often used to pursue selfish interests, at the expense of others in society, as well as at the expense of the environment. This is as true in Mongolia as it is in Russia today, and many of the East Europe countries that achieved freedom two decades ago. Freedom has the potential of being a good thing, but of course people must know how to use it.

Let’s hope that the worldview and social philosophy advocated by Roerich, and so inspiringly embodied in his art, will find its application within our lifetime, and will not have to wait for some next generation even farther away in the future.

by Vedran Bolfek

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Vol 7: Prof. S. Bira, Portrait of a Mongol Hero

President, The Roerich Society of Mongolia
Director, The Nicholas Roerich Museum and Shambhala Art Institute
General Secretary, International Association for Mongol Studies

For our seventh issue of The Roerich Mongolia Blog, we have chosen to feature Prof. S. Bira, the Mongol hero who nursed Mongolian culture through the Soviet period from 1960 until the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, and since that time has continued his efforts to promote knowledge of Mongolia and all thing Mongol.

Prof Bira is the principal driving force behind the effort to save the Roerich House in Mongolia and transform it into a Shambhala Art Institute.

A student of Nicholas Roerich’s Tibetologist son George Roerich in the late 1950s, Bira has been deeply involved in preserving the legacy of his teacher George (a graduate of Columbia University in New York), and his teacher’s famous father, the great painter, humanist and social activist Nicholas K. Roerich.

     In this issue we introduce our subscribers to some of the YouTube videos on Bira that we have made over the past two years, as part of our effort to bring attention to the Roerich House Project in Ulaanbaatar. – Glenn Mullin, Blog Editor

Prof Bira was born in 1927, which was a year after the arrival of the Roerichs in Ulanbaatar, Prof. Bira became a monk in Ganden as a child. He tells the story of these early years in the first of four interviews, made for YouTube in December of 2008.

In this first interview, Prof Bira also tells of the murder of his father by the Communists, and the imprisonment of his brother for fourteen years.

 In the second of the four interviews, Prof Bira addresses his schooling under the Soviets: His education in Russia, first at the Moscow University for International Relations, and later at the Institute of Oriental Studies. He discusses the hardships and restrictions of academic study during the Stalinist period, and also during the more liberal “warm” period under Khrushchev.

In the third of the four interviews Bira describes his time with George Roerich in 1957, who had just come back to Moscow to teach at the Institute of Oriental Studies. Bira remained with George Roerich for the next three years. As all Mongolists and Roerich enthusiasts will know, George died under suspicious circumstances in Moscow in 1960:

The last of the four interviews introduces Bira’s discovery of the Roerich House in 2003, where Nicholas had lived with his wife Helena and eldest son George during their visit of 1926 and 1927. Bira speaks of his efforts to save the house from destruction at the hands of developers:

Each of these interviews is less than ten minutes long, the maxim allowed by You Tube in 2008.

 If anyone prefers an edited version of the four interviews, all four were cut down to a single presentation of ten and a half minutes, for the modern generation with a shorter attention span.

Another YouTube video might be of interest to our subscribers. Last autumn Prof Bira visited his eldest son Aria, a research scientist who lives in Baltimore. We arranged for filmmaker Gail Percy to visit him, together with her daughter Raina. During the visit, Gail and Raina interviewed Bira on the famous Roerich pax cultura logo, and the role of this ancient symbol in Mongolian history. The link to this interview is:

Finally, some of our readers might enjoy a look at an art exhibition organized by The Roerich Shambhala Museum in Ulaanbaatar last summer, with New York artist Valley Burke-Fox joining with three Mongolian artists in “Feminine Visions: A New York – Ulaanbaatar Art Extravaganza.” Bira’s introduction of the artists at the opening ceremony conveys his humor, warmth and charisma, and demonstrates why he is considered a national treasure in Mongolia.

In this photo Prof. Bira studies the only Nicholas Roerich painting known to exist in Mongolia, “The King of Shambhala,” or “Rigden Gyalpo.” It is one of the many paintings created by Nicholas Roerich during his residence in Ulaanbaatar in 1926-27.

 The painting was presented by Nicholas Roerich to the Mongolian government in 1927. Its survival was in doubt for some years during the Stalinist period, and was feared lost during the terrible years of the Cultural Purges of the 1930s and 1940s. However, it was re-discovered during the George Roerich visit to Ulaanbaatar (with Bira as translator and guide) of 1958.

 The painting now belongs to the Zanabazar Fine Arts Museum, where it is usually on display. Some years ago Bira was allowed to remove the paper backing from the frame, and was delighted to see the name “Rigden Gyalpo” inscribed in Tibetan, written by his teacher George Roerich so many decades ago

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Vol 6: The Roerich House, Mongolia: A Hidden Shambhala in the heart of Ulaanbaatar by Carroll Dunham


Introductory Note: Carroll Dunham, a medical anthropologist from Princeton University, lives in Nepal with her photographer husband Thomas Kelly. Both lead National Geographic tours to various sites in Asia. Whenever they bring groups to Mongolia, they try and bring them to our Roerich House as part of their itinerary.
One of their groups included the renowned Buddhist author Keith Dowman (“Flight of the Garuda,” “Old Man Basking in the Sun,” “Buddha’s Lions,” etc  Tom and Carroll graciously assisted us in organizing a lecture for Keith at Roerich House.
Carroll also accepted our invitation to contribute an essay for our blog, “The Roerich Mongolia Monthly.”
-– Glenn Mullin, Blog Editor


The Roerich House Museum in Ulaanbaatar is a welcome Shambhala, a hidden treasure. It has an air of mystery surrounding it, and I think this would have made Roerich himself very happy.  The pursuit of refinement and beauty was sacred for Roerich. This vision lives on in at the museum; for it is a place brimming with creative potential and possibility. For visitors to Mongolia’s emerging capital city of Ulaanbaatar, as well as for short and long term residents, it offers a wonderful introduction to Nicholas Roerich and his artistic and spiritual adventures with Mongolia and the Mongols.

 The museum itself houses several dozen excellent oil copies and prints of Roerich masterpieces associated with his “Altai Himalaya vision.” In addition, the attached “Shambhala Café and Art Institute” offer a cultured refuge in the heart of the city, both exciting and educational. I came with a group of a dozen friends, fresh from the busy streets of Ulaanbaatar. The tranquility and beauty of the Roerich House was a welcome relief from the hectic urban pace.


 It has been fun watching the Roerich House develop. Two years ago the house was a ruins that was scheduled for demolition, and the property around it a garbage dump for local residents. Then the work of restoration began.

On my second visit, I beheld numerous dedicated workers and volunteers sawing and pounding nails,  bringing a condemned building back to life.

On my next visit, I was delighted to see that the basic structure of the house had been restored, and the inner walls finished and adorned with prints and paintings.

Something like sixty Mongolian artists from across the country had created pieces to be shown at the opening. The vibrant colors and evocative spiritual treatment of landscape evoked the ethos of Roerich himself, and demonstrated how the spirit of Roerich’s Pax Cultura is alive and well in Mongolian artists today. The museum and its café/gallery are ideal for hosting events for group lectures, or talks. On one of my visits I had the pleasure of helping organize a lecture and public blessing by the great Mongolian female mystic Green Tara of Hovst Province in southwest Mongolia. Later I had the pleasure of including her in a film I produced for National Geographic, with Wade Davis as the host of the program. On the next, I had the honor of helping bring Keith Dowman to the Institute for a lecture. I was delighted that both events were met with full houses.


 Daniel Entin, the director of the Roerich Museum in New York, once wrote, “Roerich devoted himself to the search for the seed of good on the earth. He wanted to learn how this seed can be made to flourish, how it can be used to solve humanity’s vast array of problems in order to reach the goal of peace and planetary harmony. This search took him to many parts of the world, but the heart of Asia was for him the true source, the field in which this seed of good could be found.”

Daniel continued, “Roerich’s special interest was Shambhala. To some Western writers Shambhala is a heavenly paradise, but to Roerich it was the heart of the planet, the place to which we owe our existence, our spiritual survival, and our knowledge. He saw the search for Shambhala as the search for the solution to the problems of existence, for the vanquishing of obstacles, and for the discovery of the great freedom that lies beyond difficulty, tragedy, and destruction. “

Much of this is evident in Roerich’s extraordinary prolific work of art, as well as in his incredible life story. The Spanish artist Zuloaga said,” In the creative art of Roerich, I see that which I have always felt…. Roerich was great artist, great worker. His creations express proud and lofty sentiments.”

Boris Grigorief wrote, ” Roerich’s name is on the lips of the entire world. I am proud when I think that he is so able to arouse the human soul to such a profound extent.”


 Nicholas Roerich was born in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1874. When he was nine, a noted archeologist came to conduct explorations in the region and took young Roerich on his excavations. The adventure of unveiling the mysteries of forgotten eras with his own hands sparked an interest in archeology that would last his lifetime.

In 1895 Roerich met the prominent writer, critic, and historian Vladimir Stasov.  Through him Roerich was introduced to many of the composers and artists of his time: Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Stravinsky, and the basso Fyodor Chaliapin. At concerts at the Court Conservatory he heard the works of Glazunov, Liadov, Arensky, Wagner, Scriabin, and Prokofiev for the first time, and an avid enthusiasm for music was developed. Wagner in particular appealed to him, and during his early career, whene he was frequently hired to design stage sets for operas and ballets, he created designs for Wagner’s operas.

Musical terms and analogies can be applied to Roerich’s painting. He frequently related music to the use of color and color harmonies, and applied this sense to his designs for opera. As Nina Selivanova wrote in her book, The World of Roerich: “The original force of Roerich’s work consists in a masterly and marked symmetry and a definite rhythm, like the melody of an epic song.”

Roerich met Helena, daughter of the architect Shaposhnikov and niece of the composer Mussorgsky They were soon engaged to be married.    Helena was an unusually gifted woman and a talented pianist. Later in life she authored many books. One of these, The Foundations of Buddhism, was penned while she was living with Nicholas and their son George in Ulaanbaatar during 1926 and 1927. Amazingly, it was published in Russian in Ulaanbaatar in the spring of 1927. (Of note, Daniel Entin, director of the Roerich Museum in NY, donated an original edition of this book to Prof Bira, when Bira visited NY in early 2011. Moreover, our friend Don Croner published an English edition of the book for our Roerich House Mongolia opening, in June of 2009.)

As head of the School of the Society for the Encouragement of Art, Roerich instituted a system of training in art that seems revolutionary even by today’s standards: to teach all the arts under one roof, from painting, music, and dance, to theater and the so-called “industrial arts”, such as ceramics, painting on porcelain, pottery, and mechanical drawing.

The cross-fertilization of the arts that Roerich promoted was evidence of his inclination to harmonize, bring together, and find correspondences between apparent conflicts or opposites in all areas of life. This was a hallmark of his thinking, and one sees it demonstrated in all the disciplines he explored. He constantly sought to break down compartmentalization. (It was this talent for synthesis, which enabled him to correlate the subjective with the objective, the philosophical with the scientific, Eastern wisdom with Western knowledge,  building bridges of understanding between such apparent contradictions.

As Garabed Paelian affirms in his book Nicholas Roerich, “Roerich learned things ignored by other men, perceived relations between seemingly isolated phenomena, and unconsciously felt the presence of an unknown treasure.”

Perhaps it is this “unknown treasure” that in Roerich’s paintings speaks to the viewer who is attuned to that underlying meaning, and further explains the transcendental feelings that some experience through his canvases.


  “Bang! A shot. The bullet pierced the window. It is good that George (Roerich’s son) had just gone away from the window at that very moment.”

Thus begins Roerich’s chapter in Altai Himalaya, on his time in Mongolia. He writes of the Lewis machine gun everyone is amused at that resides in the dining room (now a viewing room in the museum.) “Let them know we have enough arms!” he writes.

His writings indicate his journey’s focus was artistic and spiritual, as well as a search for a formula for world peace. He travelled from India on a caravan adventure of incredible physical arduousness with his wife and elder son George. Roerich tells us that the expedition had to cross thirty-five mountain passes from fourteen to twenty-one thousand feet in elevation during the journey, one example of the strenuous nature of the undertaking.

Roerich believed that the rigor of the mountains helps a person find courage and strength of spirit. And in spite of any obstacles they met, the Roerichs’ belief in the essential goodness of life and the spirituality of man was reinforced wherever they went.

 Roerich and Shambhala

 Throughout his Central Asia expedition of 1925 to 1928, Roerich searched for evidence of Shambhala and the coming of the future buddha, Maitreya.

He wrote, “Some of the Mongolian lamas know a great deal. Whenever we asked them questions, their answers showed deep knowledge.  But then, it is not so easy to win their confidence in spiritual matters. All places in Mongolia are enveloped in legend.”

He describes his time in Mongolia, traveling down through the Gobi to Tibet, encountering bandits. He writes: “Limitless seems the Central Gobi. White-pink-blue- and slaty black. The gales bury the flat slopes with layers of stones. None must not be caught in this stony gale. The danger of the Gobi is that wells may have dried. Sometimes the mouths of the wells are filled with fallen animals. Again, it is necessary to don Mongolian kaftans. Precautions are necessary.  We approach the city of the notorious robber Ja Lama on camels and hasten across the broad, swift stream.

Tibetans tell Roerich about the flight of the Dalai Lama in 1904, when the Dalai Lama escaped the British invasion of Lhasa and went for safety to Mongolia. According to the stories, when the group reached the Changtang crossing, the men and horses felt a severe tremor. The Dalai Lama explained to them they were at the hallowed border of Shambhala.

Roerich shows the Mongols books on New York, “They whisper: “It is the attainment of Shambhala!”

A devastating torrent sweeps down a canyon and destroys their camp before they see a remarkable black eagle flying above them.

“Seven of us began watching this unusual bird. At this same moment another of our caravaneers remarked, “There is something far above the bird.” And he shouted in his astonishment.”

Roerich continues, “We all saw, in a direction from north to south, something big and shiny, reflecting the sun, like a huge oval moving at great speed. Crossing our camp this thing changed its direction from south to southwest. And we saw how it disappeared in the intense blue sky. “

Many years later this extraordinary experience led to rumors of “Roerich UFO spotting.” In fact, something of a legend of Roerich and UFOs emerged over the decades.


 At the end of their 1925-1928 expedition through the various Mongolian kingdoms, and also Tibet, the Roerich family settled in the Kullu Valley. at an elevation of 6,500 feet in the Himalayan foothills, with a magnificent view of the valley and the surrounding mountains.

Here they established their home and the headquarters of the Urusvati Himalayan Research Institute, which was organized to study the results of their expedition, and of those explorations that were yet to come.    The Institute’s activities included botanical and ethnological-linguistic studies, and the exploration of archeological sites. Under the direction of their father the two Roerich sons, George and Svetoslav, established a collection of medicinal herbs, and made extensive studies in botany and ancient medical lore, as well as in Tibetan and Chinese pharmacopoeia.

Roerich created a  flag he called the Banner of Peace. The design of the Banner shows three spheres surrounded by a circle, in magenta color on a white background. Of the many national and individual interpretations of this symbol, the most usual are perhaps those of Religion, Art and Science as aspects of Culture, which is the surrounding circle; or of past, present, and future achievements of humanity guarded within the circle of Eternity. The symbol can be seen in the seal of Tamerlane, in Tibetan, Caucasian, and Scandinavian mystical symbols, and on Byzantine and Roman artifacts. The image of the Strasbourg Madonna is adorned with it. It can be seen in many of Roerich’s paintings, most notably Madonna Oriflamma, in which Woman is depicted as the carrier and defender of the Banner. This sign and the motto of Pax Cultura that accompanies it, symbolizes Roerich’s quintessential vision for humanity.

As he wrote: “Let us be united — you will ask in what way? You will agree with me: in the easiest way, to create a common and sincere language. Perhaps in Beauty and in Knowledge.”

Roerich’s efforts to promulgate such a treaty resulted in his nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize by the University of Paris in 1929. Then on April 15, 1935, Pax Cultura was drafted as an international treaty, known as “The Roerich Peace Pact,” and was signed in the Oval Office in the presence of President Roosevelt and two dozen world leaders. This treaty is still in force.

Nicholas Roerich died in Kullu on December 13, 1947. His body was cremated and its ashes buried on a slope facing the mountains he loved and portrayed in many of his nearly seven thousand works.


 In 2009 I was able to bring Keith Dowman, our guest teacher at Lapis Sky Wilderness Retreat Camp in Arkhangai, and the author of over a dozen books on Dzogchen philosophy, to give a lecture at the Roerich House. The lecture was open for all,

 Then in 2010, my husband and I, working with Acupuncturists Without Borders, were able to bring a group of fifteen acupuncturists to Mongolia to exchange healing knowledge with traditional Mongol healers, and also to exchange ideas on treatments for alcohol addiction,  In connection with this, I was able to help bring Naron Delkekh, the emination of Green Tara, to Roerich House for a lecture and also to give belessings to individuals.

 When my husband and return to Mongolia this summer of 2011, we won’t miss the chance to  bring our two National Geographic Groups with us to Roerich House, and treat them to an experience of one of the most  positive aspects of modern Mongolian life, namely, the present efforts throughout the country to revive the traditional culture that was destroyed during the Soviet period.

This is wonderfully exemplified by the effort to restore the Roerich House, and make the world aware of the great role that Mongolia played in the 1920s in inspiring this great artist, humanitarian and social activist in his creation of the Roerich Peace Pact, a document for which he was nominated by the University of Paris for the Nobel Peace Prize, two years after he left Ulaanbaatar.


 Carroll Dunham
Wild Earth Pvt. Ltd.
P.O. Box 2187
Kathmandu, Nepal

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Vol 5: Sina and Maurice Lichtmann’s 1927 visit to the Roerichs in Mongolia

Sina Fosdick

Sina Fosdick

From the Diary of Sina Lichtmann-Fosdick


Translated from the Russian by Vedran Bolfek

With an Afterword by Aida Tulskaya, Roerich Museum, NY


Editor’s Introduction:
We at the Roerich House in Mongolia, formally known as the Nicholas Roerich Shambhala Museum and Art institute, are delighted to share a translation recently made from Russian into English by our friend, co-worker and Roerich House restoration artist Vedran Bolfek. The text is taken from the published Russian edition of the diary of Sina Lichtmann, who visited the Roerichs in Mongolia in 1927 with her husband Maurice Lichtmann.

In fact the Lichtmanns played a major role in the Roerich expedition of 1925-1928 from beginning to end. This expedition travelled from Ladakh in India through most of the seven great Mongolian kingdoms of the time, as well as through Tibet, finally coming back to India via Sikkim.

Working from their base in New York City, the Lichtmanns organized supplies for the exhibition, and also organized for the hundreds of paintings created by Nicholas Roerich during this expedition, as well as the Buddhist artifacts and other cultural items gathered by him, to be shipped to the newly established Roerich Museum in New York.

Maurice and Sina Lichtmann later divorced, and Sina remarried, taking the name of her new husband, Fosdick. The diary is therefore published under her second name, Sina Fosdick.

The original Roerich Museum at 103rd Street collapsed in the late 1930s because of the Great Depression, as well as from internal conflicts associated with its original chief patron. A smaller facility was acquired a decade later on 107th Street and Riverside, and Sina went on to become its director. As Aida points out in the Afterword to this article, Sina served in this capacity until her death.

We would like to thank Vedran for making the material available in English. If any readers are interested in supporting a project, they might consider funding Vedran to translate Sina’s complete diary, not just the account of the brief period that she spent in Ulaanbaatar in 1927. –

Glenn Mullin, blog editor


An Excerpt from Sina’s Diary: A Translation from the Russian Edition

We arrived in Ulaanbaatar at five o’clock. Getting here is extremely difficult, for the road is appallingly bumpy. We were liable for customs inspection, but the authorities just let us pass without even checking our baggage. The city is rather dirty, but it is also very interesting and quiet, with temples, yurts, and sanctuaries, and is rimmed by beautiful snowy mountains with remarkable contours and nuances of lilac, pink and gray.

We went to Consul Alley. There we beheld a lovely house. Its big doors opened before us, and we caught sight of Nicholas and George Roerich running out from the house to meet us. We were all very happy, and we greeted one another with kisses.

Helena Ivanovna stayed inside, sick and in bed. The group had been waiting for us for the past two days, and had driven out to the road several times in an open wagon. As a result, poor Helena had come down with a bad cold.

We were given a room in the house of their host, that shared the same courtyard where they lived. Our room was small and had no bed, so they offered us the use of their mattresses until our baggage arrived. We were so happy to be here with them. Doctor Ryabinin and Vladimir Nicholayevich (the brother of Nicholas) stayed at Vsyesvyatski’s place half a block away. We were so dirty that we looked like hobos, so we quickly washed up and returned. All of them had dressed up for the occasion. George looked handsome; Nicholas had aged a bit, but looked wonderful.

Poor Helena, however, looked unhealthy. She had been sickly throughout the winter, with influenza and other problems. The air here is terribly dusty, and the wind carries many germs. She has a frail constitution with which to meet these conditions.

The Roerichs had worked hard over the past months since I had last seen them. Nicholas had finished around 100 paintings. At the same time, Helena had prepared two books for publication.

Now I will describe how they lived.

They had been assigned a small but lovely house, with a low porch that had two steps leading to a big door. The first room upon entering is a dining room, with a wooden closet as well as two collapsible tables and chairs, and a big wood-fed stove. Off the dining room is a small foyer for hanging coats. The foyer also has a sink for washing hands when arriving; this is necessary because of the terrible dust.

George’s room lies off of this. It is smaller, with book shelves, a table and also a mattress.

After that you get to bigger room, with a small table in the middle, and with chairs. It also has shelves filled with all kinds of medicines and materials.

A most beautiful tangka hangs from the main wall in Nicholas’s painting room, making the place very picturesque. The room itself has two windows. Nicholas worked here during the winter months.

Helena’s room is situated to the right of this. It is rather small, with two windows and two mattresses, as well as a small table. Nicholas also slept here.

Their shrine room is the most wonderful, with an amazing tangka hanging on one of the walls. The sanctum is covered in purple velvet. The third window in this room was used specially for this purpose.

A wonderful Buddhist image has been set in the center of the altar, with khadags (prayer scarves) draped over it. A couple of smaller buddha statues are arranged around it, also with khadags hanging over them. The altar is decorated with copper butterlamps, beautiful pieces of crystal, sacred beads made from sandalwood, sacred figurines, and  numerous drawings. All of this arouses a strong impression on visitors.

Two yurts stand in the courtyard. One is used as a toilette and bathroom (with a small tin bathtub). The other yurt is bigger, and serves as a home for their attendants, mostly Buryats and Tibetans.

A beautiful Russian girl by the name of Lyudmila serves as cook for the group, assisted by her fourteen years old sister. We had heard of Lyudmila while still in Urumqui.

Two Tibetan lamas are in the Roerich’s service and so is Konchok, who is traveling with them.

Also with them is a wonderful old Tibetan man by the name of Dedka. Nicholas likes to call him ”Half Man” because of his diminutive size.  He has the responsibility of tidying up the rooms and feeding the furnaces. He is not going to travel with the Roerichs (when they leave Ulaanbaatar for Tibet). The other servants are Buryats. Altogether there are ten staff members. Most are unskilled; untrained raw material.

They also have a secretary and technical assistant by the name of Pavel Konstantinovich Portyaghin, a young man of twenty-four. He is not very friendly, but hopefully he will change and more use will become of him.

It is hard to express how happy we were to meet each other. Everyone was talking at the same time. We wanted to learn everything that had happened to them, and at the same time they wanted to hear all of our news.

From our side, our most important news concerned the construction of a twenty-four storey building dedicated to the Roerich vision.  Work on it was scheduled to commence soon in New York. The prospect was very exciting.

The winter had been hard for them. Very little help had come from those who had promised it, and there were many obstacles and distractions.

For example, there was the silly advice that Nikiforov gave to them, to present a precious painting as a gift to the Mongolian government. Nikiforov insisted on this. Nicholas was reluctant to consent, but in the end was pressed to do so. The act of making such a gift had the adverse effect of making his place of residence more widely known.

In the end, however, it turned out well enough, and the Mongols were polite and seemed to appreciate his significance, as well as the significance of the gift. Nicholas referred to the painting as “The Great Rider,” and as “The Shambhala King.”

Some two days after our arrival we went to visit Dzhamtsarano, an advisor to the government. He is an educated man, and spoke of the possibility of cooperation with America. The day after meeting with Dzhamtsarano we went to see the painting that had been gifted to the Mongolian government. It was hanging in the Prime Minister’s parlor. On that occasion (when visiting the Prime Minister’s office) the government offered to send a man to guide the expedition to the border when it left. This was very useful. In the end they gave a lama as the expedition’s guide.

April 8, 1927

We got up early as usual and went to see the parents. Breakfast was at 8:20. After that Maurice and Nicholas went into the city to run some errands that had to be taken care of before our departure.

On their return they told us how they went to see the representative at the Trading Mission. He had assured them that everything would be ready for the departure as planned. He promised that he would have all cars ready at the earliest date possible, but added that some parts of the road were in poor condition, and that this might delay delivery of the vehicles. It was amazing how these words came after a talk with one man yesterday who had been sent by Blumkin, and who had insisted that the expedition must wait for Blumkin’s return.

We packed up books and other articles, to have them sent home. George and I went to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to obtain custom permits so that some of our belongings could be sent on an earlier flight. We could go on a different plane.

We worked all day long helping Helena to pack up. We also had to take constant notes of advice from Nicholas.

I had an impressive talk with Helena about the soul. As she explained in her book on Buddhism, every incarnation has a new ingredient.

That evening Helena spoke to us about Brothers, naming many names and also about Sisters. She spoke of how eleven Brothers and three Sisters are incarnated in physical bodies and others in astral ones. She described many of them specially Vogan who loves Sister Phon Po very much. They received long and serious Missive.

The next day early in the morning we went to parents, packing our baggage and then they went to the city center and I stayed with Helena and had a long talk about the new building in New York, and the planned and accommodation for its directors.

<<< Today we sent part of our baggage on the airplane. We will fly on Friday ourselves.

Later in the evening Dzamtsarano came and spoke wonderful words to Nicholas. He stated that one lame had many visions during August of 1926. In that vision all Mongols were praying, facing west. Then “The Great Rider” appeared. Everyone turned their heads toward the southeast.

Dzamtsarano concluded, “Then you came in September.“ It became clear that everybody is giving great meaning to the painting “The Great Rider, the Ruler of Shambhala,” that had been given by Nicholas Roerich.

Dzamtsarano also requested Roerich to consider a project for a temple/library where that painting would be exhibited, together with holy books and other things. The temple, he said, could be built from jasper and crimson.

<<< In the evening we were left alone. Helena told the doctor about her two dreams that she had while she was mourning for her mother.

In the first dream she saw herself walking on the astral plane, She arrived at a long corridor, and then she entered into a great hall with a large ladder. Many people dressed in red stood on either side of the ladder, with black spots on their bodies. The higher they were standing (on the ladder), the fewer black spots they had. Going higher and higher, the ladder and the beings emanated very beautiful pinkish-red lights.

Then (in Helena’s dream) she saw a gigantic figure dressed in red, with a black cloak on his back. He rushed down from top to bottom. He had an unusually beautiful face and long black hair. The figure rushed down directly to Helena and, without reaching the lowest bar of the ladder, he tipped over in lassitude but so graciously and pretty. It was Lucifer and he was gorgeous.

In her second dream she saw a sphere in bluish, silver and white tones, almost like sunlight. Again there was a great ladder, and people in white with blue nuances were standing on both sides of it. Then the great figure of Christ very slowly descended down the ladder. He was touching groups of people on both sides of the ladder. They started to emit golden sunlight. She began to worry that if he were to come to her and touch her, she will also start to glow. He came and touched her, and she did start glowing and feeling the great light.

Doctor suggested that perhaps the dream indicated that Helena had witnessed Lucifer’s fall.

April 10, 1927.

We started our work early in the morning and until ten we were packing up our baggage. Helena is amazingly energetic and brisk, she practically did everything by herself.

<<< During the day we continued with packing and helping Helena. Things are always very cheerful with them. One can always hear laughter and jokes. There is never anger or harsh words. At the same time, when necessary they are stern and rigorous.

In the evening we had guests. They were dear but boring people. After that B.K. and I did some paper work and then considered future responsibilities.

Helena noted how people who grow faster are sometimes obliged to consider themselves secluded and isolated from others, because other people can be envious and can not understand them. She said that we are obliged to keep serenity even in most critical moments. She stated that we would meet again after three year.

She was flattering me and hugging and kissing me, I was feeling as if some sunshine was warming me up from inside.

Two more days and they are leaving!

April 11, 1927

We went to them early in the morning for breakfast, and as soon as we arrived we started to plan our work The Tibetan assignee arrived. He is a nice man, and brought khadags (prayer scarves) and farewell gifts. Unfortunately Helena and I were alone; the others had all gone out to accomplish various tasks. Therefore we had to entertain him for three hours by ourselves, with only a house servant as our translator. In the end, for want of a better thing to do, I asked him to pronounce Tibetan names and words. In the end we had very good language class.

<<< In the morning Helena was given an injection of spermine (two grams). The pain was terrible, and she screamed and cried. Her whole organism was in state of shock. It seemed to be terribly painful, and she must have felt awful.

April 12, 1927

It was a hard day. We all had many things to do in the morning. Helena noticed that the cars were only carrying only one spare tire each, for such a difficult and dangerous journey. She demanded that the drivers go to the Trade Mission and obtain all the spare parts necessary. If it wasn’t for her intervention at that time, the expedition would have had many problems later down the line. It turned out that the chief trade representative had gone hunting rather than taking care of the plans for the expedition’s departure!

A lama came and gave khadags to everyone.

It was sad to see that Doctor and Portyaghin, two guests on the expedition (and paid for it too) who were supposed to work together with other, didn’t want to work. They seemed only to demand things from others, especially Doctor, rather than make themselves useful.

It is impossible to describe the amount of love and care I was shown by Nicholas and Helena during these days. Today Helena again was hugging and kissing me repeating. She commented on how sad she is that in all this haste she didn’t find the time to talk with me in peace, and to read a bit with me.

To experience their love again I would be happy to go around the world just to meet with them. Nicholas put his hand on my shoulder and spoke to me with care. What great souls! When we will see them again?

Today in evening we departed early. Helena had to lie down, because she felt tired and sick. She said that she had dreamed of me. In her dream I had brought her a book with my thoughts in it, and she kissed the book. Now she believes that the next time I come I will share with her my thoughts regarding the work that has been accomplished.

Tomorrow morning they are leaving!

April 13, 1927

At six in the morning we were at their home. Preparations for departure were already on the way, and the baggage is almost loaded on the cars. The mattresses are folded, and the sleeping bags belayed. I was helping with final the packing.

At seven Dzamtsarano came with an official to escort everyone through customs control. We had tea with him. He brought a lama with him, who will serve as guide for our expedition all the way to the border.

He said he had worked all night long to prepare the necessary permits and passes for that lama, so he could accompany us on the expedition. Such respect and attentiveness!

Around nine we came out from the house. Dzhamtsrano was asking about licenses and car numbers, pointing out that without them the authorities will not let us through. It was clear that the Trade Representative had been negligent, or even worse, and had not attended to this matter properly. It became rather chaotic. Nicholas and George had to run from one place to another in order to get the car number plates. Every official blamed the other, and tried to exonerate himself. The Mongols observing the scene broke into laughter over the manifestation of incompetence.

It is important to mention how much Dzamtsarano did on all instances to try and improve the situation. His helpfulness was outstanding.

The talk was that our departure would have to be adjourned, but then finally at three o’clock people returned with the number plates. Nicholas and George were exhausted with the effort. Helena laughed and quoted the saying on how the last of the leftovers are never the most tasty parts of the meal. It fit our situation. Our stay in Ulaanbaatar had been wonderful, but the “leftovers” of being stuck in the courtyard from nine in the morning until three in the afternoon was a bit of a worry.

<< Then the Trade Representative came, the man who had been out hunting all morning instead of supervising the arrangements for our departure. He was rather ashamed, and  invited us to sit in his car. He also offered to accompany us for the first part of the journey, in order to show the route to the first post. I went in his car and V.K. went with Dzhamtsarano, who also had desire to escort the expedition.

<<< In this way we accompanied them for the first part of their journey. It was beautiful day. The sky was clear and azure. Avirakh had caught a cold, and so stayed at home. We traveled with them for twenty-one miles, all the way to Sengen, and from there parted ways.

There is little need to say how sad we all felt in saying goodbye, knowing where they were now going (i.e., across Mongolia, into Tibet and back to India). We knew that we would now be apart for a long time. Helena and Nicholas hugged and kissed me, asking me to tell about everything that I heard and seen when I got back home. They asked me to their give love and good wishes to everyone back in New York.

During last night together both Nicholas and Helena looked so wonderfully great, albeit somewhat weary. Ah, my beloved ones! Helena was smiling, wearing her soft gray cap which we brought with us from Moscow. She was hugging and kissing me, calling me “Sinochka.” (The word “sina” in Sanskrit means “urgency”).

<<< We will leave tomorrow at 4:30 in the morning to the airport, because the airplane will leave at 5:00. We are exhausted..

In the morning or perhaps I should say late that last night in Mongolia, we got up, washed our faces, had tea and left our dear little but now sad home. Dedka chanted a few bon voyage chants for us, and pointed out that auspicious signs were present in the sky, predicting good weather.

At 5:45, we said goodbye to Dedka and Dasha, the house maid, and took our seats on the airplane.

From Diary of Sina G. Fosdick


Afterword by Aida Tulskaya:

Sina Fosdick was one of the Roerichs’ closest and most trusted co-workers. She was born Zinaida Shafran in 1889 in Odessa, in the Russian Empire.

Even as a small child  her musical talent was obvious, and her parents gave her the best possible education in the field: first, in Leipzig, then in Berlin where she studied under Leopold Godovsky. When Godovsky moved to Vienna to head the Piano School at the Royal Academy of Music, Sina followed him.

In 1912, after Sina’s father died, Sina and her husband Maurice Lichtmann (who also was a student of Godovsky) immigrated to America. They were accompanied by Sina’s mother. Here, they worked as piano teachers at the Godovsky Piano  Institute, and later started their own piano school.

In 1921, after Sina and Maurice Lichtmanns had met with the Roerichs and become their followers, the Lichtmann Piano School became a part of the School of Arts founded by the Roerichs. After the School of Arts had grown and become the Institute of United Arts, Sina Lichtmann became its director.

Since 1949, when the Nicholas Roerich Museum was reinstated at West 107th Street, and until her death in 1983, Sina  (now Fosdick by her second marriage) remained its director.

Sina was one of those rare souls who very quickly understood the scope of the cultural and spiritual mission of the Roerichs. She bacame a close and loyal co-worker until the end of her life. Through lectures, writings and correspondence she actively promoted and disseminated the Roerichs’  art and philosophy.

Sina participated in the Altai and Mongolia parts of the Roerich expedition of 1923 – 1928. She was with them in Moscow, India, and Mongolia. She left many diary notebooks about the most important events and experiences  of her life, especially about her times with the Roerichs, their meetings and discussions, their teachings, their personalities.

Fragments of her diaries were published in Russian in 1998 by Sphera Publishing House.

The excerpts translated above about the Roerichs in Mongolia are taken from this publication.


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Vol 4: Roerich House Mongolia Publishes Bi-Lingual Edition of Helena Blavatsky’s “The Voice of the Silence”

In 2007, some forty-five members of The Theosophical Society travelled with Glenn Mullin to Tibet. The adventure was eventually produced as a documentary film, Journey to Blavatsky’s Tibet (http://www.questbooks.net/title.cfm?bookid=2102).

A third of the group then when on to Mongolia. Here the Mongolian writer and translator Degii Delgerjargal organized a visit through many of the sacred power places of Central Mongolia, including Erdene Zuu at Kharakorum, the old capital that had been created by Chingis Khaan in the early thirteenth century. Degii had earlier assisted the group in Beijing; and when one of the group was refused a Tibet travel permit, had taken that member on a private tour of the Kokonor region of northeast Tibet, for which no special permit is required.

The Mongolia visit inspired the formation of a small informal group of Theosophists in Ulaanbaatar, centered at The Nicholas Roerich House, where this early Buddhist Theosophist lived and painted in 1926 and 1927. Glenn took the group to meet with Prof Bira, who had just begun an effort to save the house from demolition.

The visit also inspired the first translation into Mongolian of Blavatsky’s The Voice of the Silence, rendered by Degii and edited by Roerich Mongolia Society member Shuree Nyam. The translation was prepared by comparing the original English of Blavatsky with the later Russian translation. In addition, to facilitate the task our old friend David Reigle prepared a special edition of Blavatsky’s work just for the project in Mongolia, modernizing Blavatsky’s English for ease of comprehension, and adding Sanskrit and Tibetan equivalents of the important technical terms. Roerich Mongolia’s friend the Texas Theosophist Doss McDavid, graciously wrote an Introduction. The result was published in 2010.

This Mongolian edition was something of a hit, and it was decided to bring out a bilingual edition, so that Western enthusiasts of Blavatsky’s work would have access to the modern treatments by Doss McDavid and David Reigle. In particular, it was felt that the addition of Sanskrit and Tibetan equivalents for the technical Buddhist words used throughout Voice would be of special interest to international readers. We also felt that many young Mongols would appreciate having the book in the two languages, as a reading tool to facilitate their understanding of Buddhism in English. The material was re-designed and re-published to accommodate the bilingual treatment.

For good measure, we included the Foreword by H.H. the Dalai Lama to the 1989 American edition. Mongolians have been followers of the Dalai Lama since the Third Incarnation visited the Mongol lands in 1578, and the mere fact that the present Dalai Lama wrote an introduction to a somewhat modern edition of Blavatsky’s work seemed a great blessing.

The bilingual edition is available in the West from Quest Books in Chicago, and in Mongolia through various bookstores in Ulaanbaatar.

Below is the Introduction by Doss McDavid.

An Introduction to the Mongolian Translation of HPB’s “The Voice of the Silence,” by Doss McDavid


“First lightning and thunder and whirlwind and tremor; and only afterward, in silence, the Voice ineffable.”

Nicholas Roerich, The Realm of Light


H.P. Blavatsky was one of those unique individuals whose influence extends far beyond their immediate circle of friends and their short lifetime on earth. She attracted the attention of the intellectuals of her time, inspiring people as diverse as Thomas Edison, William Butler Yeats, and Mahatma Gandhi. She was one of the principal founders of the Theosophical Society, an institution that has given rise to a host of offshoot organizations and left its traces in today’s art, literature, and vocabulary.  She was the author of hundreds of articles and of five important books that have stayed continually in print since the time of their writing. While they could be studied for several lifetimes without exhausting their ramifications, the philosophy set forth in these books is very simple: the essential unity underlying all things, the cycles that manifest throughout the universe, and the perfectability of conscious life through evolutionary growth.

Born in nineteenth-century Russia, Blavatsky left the country of her birth at an early age to explore the world.  Searching for strange and unusual phenomena and determined to uncover the secrets of life and death, it was in Eastern lands—specifically Egypt, Lebanon, India and Tibet—that she found Those who were to become her Teachers and to guide her along the path toward greater knowledge.  She was accepted into their inner circles, initiated into their esoteric schools, and trained in their way of life. Under their guidance, she practiced their systems of inner discipline and self-culture till she was judged competent to return to the Western world.  Upon her return, she was entrusted with a distinctive mission—to call attention to the “Wisdom of the East” and to gather together a group of open-minded seekers who could promote and extend the Theosophical Movement throughout the world and into the future.

It is our privilege to make available a Mongolian translation of “The Voice of the Silence” and two other small treatises comprising  the  Book of Golden Precepts.   Written down by H.P. Blavatsky from memory toward the end of her life, she had studied and learned them by heart years before during one of her visits to Asia. In recognition of its importance as a spiritual text, in 1927 a special edition of this book was published in Peking (now Beijing) with an introductory blessing from the ninth Panchen Lama who was at that time living in China.

While most Mongolians may be unfamiliar with Madame Blavatsky and the Theosophical Society, many will have heard of Nicholas and Helena Roerich and their two sons George and Svetoslav. The Roerich family visited Mongolia in 1926 and lived there briefly before continuing on their journey back to India.  The members of the Roerich family were devoted Theosophists and dedicated followers of H.P. Blavatsky. Readers who are familiar with the Agni Yoga series, written down from the dictation of Eastern Teachers  and published by Nicholas and Helena Roerich for the benefit of their students, may recall multiple references to the “Voice of  the Silence”, the title of the little book now presented to the Mongolian public.   Thus, in Agni Yoga we find the following passage:  “It has been truly said that manifestations come first in thunder and later in silence. It is impossible to hear the Voice in silence without having first experienced it in Thunder, which is much less difficult and exhausting.  But after thunder, silence follows; and it is in silence that the Essence is found.

The meaning of this passage cannot be fully understood without being familiar with the first of the three treatises now presented for the first time to Mongolian readers. In the instructions given there, it is explained that the psychic perception of the disciple passes through a gamut of seven stages culminating in the full realization of the inner voice.  The sixth of these is said to be like thunder while the last is the voice of Silence itself.

Helena Roerich referred to H.P.B. as “the great spirit who accepted the bitter task of giving to humanity, lost in dead dogma and on its way to atheism, the impulse to study the great sacred Doctrines of the East” (Letter from Helena Roerich dated 8 September, 1934).  In another letter, Helena Roerich wrote that  “H.P. Blavatsky was sent to the world to fulfill a great mission…to shift the consciousness of humanity” (Letter from Helena Roerich dated 15 November, 1935).    So deep was his devotion to Blavatsky’s memory that in 1925 Professor Roerich  painted  ‘The Messenger’ dedicated to H.P.B. and personally brought it to Adyar, the international headquarters of the Theosophical Society.

It is the sincere wish of the members of the Theosophical Society in America that the present little booklet will serve as a fitting introduction to the teachings given to the world through H.P. Blavatsky.    May other translations follow and may the people of Mongolia find inspiration in the works transcribed by this “fiery messenger of the White Brotherhood”.

Doss McDavid


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Vol 3: Roerich House Mongolia Morns the Loss of a Great Lama Friend

Roerich House Mongolia Morns the Loss of a Great Lama Friend

The great Baasan Lama Dorligjav passed away quietly in his home on  Jan. 30th, 2011, while lying on his bed in the auspicious Lion’s Posture of a Buddha. He had a mischievously playful smile on his face, so characteristic of how we all knew him.

Baasan Lama was one of the oldest friends of Roerich House Mongolia, his friendship in fact pre-dating Bira’s discovery of the house in 2004, and consequently of the efforts to have the house declared an historical building to be preserved for posterity. Of course it far predated our efforts in 2008-09 to raise money to restore the house and have it transformed into a Roerich Shambhala Museum and Art Institute. (It is one thing to have a city government place a stay order on the demolition of an old building, but quite another to find the funds to do restore the building and do something with it.)

Like most Mongols, Baasan Lama had learned about Roerich as a young man: learned that Roerich had visited Outer Mongolia as well as numerous Russian and Chinese occupied Mongolian territories in the mid 1920s, had again visited Chinese occupied Mongolian territories in the mid 1930s (Stalin had banned him from the Soviet satellites by this time), and had created several hundred paintings inspired by these visits. He also learned that Roerich had been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1929, and of the subsequent Stalinist ban. As far as Baasan Lama was concerned, anyone banned by Stalin was worthy of admitarion.

Baasan Lama’s connection with Roerich deepened in 1988, when Prof Bira was asked to assist with the planning of a Russian expedition to the sites visited by Roerich on his 1925-28 expedition. Bira, knowing that Baasan Lama was a Roerich enthusiast, asked him to lead the expedition. This was a decade and a half before anyone learned that the Roerich House in Ulaanbaatar had survived the harsh Communist years and still existed. Mongolia was still under Communism at the time, although Gorbachev had ushered in a more liberal mood.

Baasan Lama’s profile took a quantum leap upward in 1990, when he became famed as one of the “Group of Thirteen” who led the movement that overthrew the Communist government and ushered in democracy. He was the only monk in the Group of Thirteen. In fact, his courageous participation terrified the conservative monks in Ganden (at the time the only monastery allowed by Communism in Mongolia), who distanced themselves from him because of it.

I first met Baasan Lama in Singapore in 1992, when I was there translating for the late great Kirti Tsenshab Rinpoche. Baasan Lama attended the teachings and initiations, and we became instant friends. He was in Singapore to try and generate interest among the Buddhist community in rebuilding Buddhism in Mongolia, that had been so terribly destroyed by the seventy years of Communist rule. (Only one of its 1,250 monasterys escaped closure and destruction.)

Our friendship deepened in 2004 when I was on my own lecture tour through Asia. The tour took me through Mongolia. I was giving a talk in Ganden Monastery of Ulaanbaatar, when my old friend Baasan walked in, late as usual. He smiled ear to ear, prostrated and sat down.

Two years later I curated an exhibition of Mongolian Buddhist art for the Oglethorpe University Museum of Art in Atlanta, entitled “Portals to Shangri-La: Masterpieces from Buddhist Mongolia in Honor of Mongolia’s 800th Anniversary of Statehood.” The exhibit was sponsored by the Rubin Museum of Art in NY, and the Rubin Foundation. After showing in Atlanta it travelled to NY and also to the Crowe Gallery in Dallas. Baasan Lama graciously accepted my request to travel to Atlanta with his old friend Guntusangpo Lama to perform chantings at the opening ceremony.

During that visit to Atlanta the two lamas were received by former US president JimmyCarter, who since his retirement from political life has become very involved in supporting democratic movements around the world. President Carter heard that one of Mongolia’s “Thirteen Heroes of Democracy” was in town, and asked to meet with him. The meeting took place in the Carter Center for Human Rights. President Carter showed great interest in Mongolia and its fledgling democracy, and promised to make the facilities at the Carter Center available to Mongols interested in promoting democracy and human rights. Baasan Lama and Guntusangpo Lama then travelled to NY to meet with Don Rubin of the Rubin Museum of Art, and to DC to meet with the Conservency for Tibeto-Mongolian Art and Culture.

After working with the Group of Thirteen to overthrow Communism and bring democracy to Mongolia, Baasan Lama traveled extensively throughout Asia to try and generate interest and energy in rebuilding Buddhism in Mongolia His travels took him through many countries, including Japan, Korea, America, India, China, Nepal, Singapore, and Malaysia. More recently, he had become a strong force in Inner Mongolia, assisting Mongolian lamas there in their effort to rebuild from the destructions of the Chinese Communists.

Baasan Lama also worked tirelessly to bring the Ninth Bogd Lama to Mongolia, whose visit was blocked by both the Mongolian government and conservative elements in Ganden Monastery. A high point in his life came when the Bogd Lama was finally allowed to return in 2009, and was granted citizenship in 2010.

I saw Baasan Lama once or more a month from the time I began spending time in Mongolia: winters to write, and summers to lead Buddhist pilgrimage groups. He often showed up at my apartment with a friend or two in tow, usually lamas, artists, musicians, social activists, or people involved in the movement to rebuild Mongolian traditional culture from the ravages of the Communist destructions.

November of 2008 brought a group of Russians to town for a conference on Roerich. Naturally Baasan Lama was in attendence, and spoke on his affections for Roerich and his visions. Prof Bira also invited me to read a paper at the gathering, and I was delighted to do so. At the time the Roerich House was in a terrible state, with all windows broken, holes in the walls big enough to walk through, and all eight rooms in it looking like they had been submitted to a barroom brawl out of an early cowboy moovie. The house had been used by drunks and homeless people for well over a decade, and was slated for demolition.

Baasan Lama was distraught at the state of the house. Bira had been able to get a reprieve for the building; but four years had passed since the city had given it to him, and it was more dilapidated than it had been at that time. Baasan pushed me to get involved.

Six months later we were ready to look at a “soft opening” for summer. I wanted a stupa on the land, based on the stupa that Nicholas Roerich had personally built in northeast Kokonor

during his 1925-28 visit to the Seven Mongolias. Baasan Lama came with a stupa maker who created his stupas from recycled metal. We went to look at his factory. Lo and behold, one of the pieces of scrap metal that he had on hand was the top of an old Russian tank, left behind when the Russians suddenly withdrew from Mongolia in 1990. We decided immediately: the stupa would be made from a recycled Russian tank. Somehow it seemed appropriate to the legacy of the Russian born New York peacenik artist Nicholas Roerich: swords to plowshares, and tanks into stupas.

Naturally, after the stupa was completed Baasan Lama came with a half dozen of his monk friends and performed the consecration rituals. After the consecration was finished, they recited the Panchen Lama’s famous “Prayer for Rebirth in Shambhala,” which Roerich mentioned several times in his writings, and which was one of his inspirations in the creation of his twenty or so Shambhala paintings, as well as in the writing of his book on the subject, simply entitled Shambhala. A good time was had by all.

When the time came in the summer of 2009 for our grand opening – July 6th, the Dalai Lama’s birthday – Baasan Lama came as one of the guests of honor. (The others were former President Ochirbat; and First Lady Damila, the widow of a former Prime Minister. Always a man with taste and style, he consented to sit for a photograph with the former First Lady and her entourage.

A month later the great Telo Tulku, whose previous incarnation was one of the three top incarnate lamas in the country, came to town. Baasan Lama phone me up excitedly and told me to get over to Rinpoche’s hotel immediately. As we saw in a previous posting, the former Telopa Lama had escaped the Communist destructions of the 1930s, and found his way to New York, where he became the first American lama. After his passing, his reincarnation was discovered in the form of a young Kalmuk Mongol who had been born in Philadelphia, City of Brotherly Love. It was this young lama who now was in Ulaanbaatar, en route to the homeland of his predecessor in Gobi Altai, Southwest Mongolia.

This occurred days after the July 6th opening of our newly (partially) restored Roerich House, and Telopa Tulku accepted our invitation to speak in our Shambhala Room. He would come, he said, after his return from the Gobi Altai. And indeed he did, becoming, for all of history, our first speaker. (Four more lamas visited and taught later that summer: Ongtrul Rinpoche, a Drikung Kargyu master from Tsopema India; Garchen Tulku, a Drikung Kargyu master presently based between New York and Germany; Majiid Tara, Mongolia’s lady lama and an incarnation of Green Tara; and Keith Dowman, the British teacher of and writer on dzogchen.)

Strangely, the night before Baasan Lama’s passing I dreamed that I was meditating in a forest hut with some friends. Suddenly Kyabje Trijang Dorjechang, the Junior Tutor of the Dalai Lama and one of my own root lamas, came in and sat with us. He appeared very old, and then suddenly sat up in meditation and passed away in our very presence. Although we were in a remote forest hut, three policemen magically appeared in my dream and took photos of Rinpoche’s deceased meditating body.

Moments after Baasan Lama’s passing, his family phoned to inform me of his passing. They asked me to come and perform powa prayers in their home. Naturally I was honored to do so. Then when I was in the middle of the ceremony, three policemen suddenly came into the room  to photograph Baasan Lama’s body, just as had happened in my dream the night before with Kyabje Trijang Dorjechang. Photos of this nature are required for the official death report.

For me, the meaning is that Baasan Lama carried the great blessings of the mahasiddhas, and especially of Heruka Chakrasamvara, or Demchik as this Tantric Buddha is known in Mongolia. Kyabje Trijang Dorjechang was considered to be an emanation of Buddha Chakrasamvara.

Baasan Lama’s passing is a great loss to Mongolia, where so few lamas of his caliber, charisma and unique character remain.  It is also a great loss to me personally. He took me under his wing in Mongolia, and shared his wit and wisdom with me since my first visit to the country.

A brief bio: Baasan Lama became a monk in 1974 at Gandan at the age of age 19. He studied for five years at Gandan Monastery, and then became Head Chant Master in 1979. He served in that capacity until 1989.

In 1989 he co-founded the Democratic Association, a secret body of thirteen Mongols who initiated and directed the movement to overthrow the Communism government. He was the only monk in the group; the other twelve were lay people. The “Group of Thirteen Heroes” drafted Mongolia’s “Declaration of Independence from Communism,” and the origin draft of this constitution was entrusted into his care for safekeeping. He kept it carefully hidden inside a copy of the Guhyasamaja Tantra (Sangdui) scripture. Their movement succeeded against all odds, and the Communist government capitulated. Mongolia has been a democratic country since 1990 because of this brave deed of Baasan Lama and his twelve associates.

From 1994 to 1996 Baasan Lama helped rebuild Damdol Tegchenling, a temple dedicated to the preservation of Mongolian lineages coming from Padma Sambhava.

After 1996-1999 he served as a chairman of the Mongolian Buddhist Association. That same year (1996) he became head lama of Zepel Choijin Lama Temple.

In 2002 he established The International Mongolian Buddhist Association, a platform with which he hoped to rebuild the traditional links between the Buddhist communities of “the Seven Mongolias.” (Six of these Mongolian kingdoms were lost to China and Russia during the tragic treaty of 1921, and intercommunication between them cut off during the long years of the Communist period.) Because of this work, he made many visits to Buriatia, Inner Mongolia, Khokonor, and so forth since that time, forging links with Buddhist leaders in those regions. Hopefully someone in the new generation of Monglian lamas can take up this important task.

In 2006 he formed a Mongolia-China Buddhist Association, a vehicle that he hoped to use to break down the Bejing government’s stranglehold on Buddhism throughout the Tibeto-Mongolian regions of China.



During that visit to Atlanta the two lamas were received by former US president Jimmy Carter, who since his retirement from political life has become very involved in supporting democratic movements around the world. President Carter heard that one of Mongolia’s “Thirteen Heroes of Democracy” was in town, and asked to meet with him. The meeting took place in the Carter Center for Human Rights. President Carter showed great interest in Mongolia and its fledgling democracy, and promised to make the facilities at the Carter Center available to Mongols interested in promoting democracy and human rights. Baasan Lama and Guntusangpo Lama then travelled to NY to meet with Don Rubin of the Rubin Museum of Art, and to DC to meet with the Conservency for Tibeto-Mongolian Art and Culture.

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Vol 2: Profile of a Roerich Enthusiast: Don Croner, Our Hero of 2009

Profile of a Roerich Enthusiast: Don Croner, Our Hero of  2009

When we began the marathon drive in the spring of 2009 to raise money for and  accomplish the work of restoring the Roerich House in Mongolia, and get the house at least to a state where we could open the doors on the Dalai Lama’s birthday of that summer (July 6th), we had two great strokes of luck.

The first was that the professional restoration artist Vedran Bolfek joined us as a volunteer supervisor of the work crews, and of course also worked tirelessly himself with hammer and nail. Vedran ran several different work crews, some simultaneously, often working from early morning until long after dark in order to try and have things ready for our scheduled July 6th opening. Somehow he succeeded.

The second stroke of luck was that Vedran brought the American Mongolist Don Croner on board as publisher extraordinaire, and during the spring of 2009 Don published a half dozen books by or on the Roerichs. Don’s blog, “Don Croner’s World Wide Wanders (see http://www.doncroner.net/blog.html) has become almost legendary with enthusiasts of modern Mongolia, and his support and involvement with Roerich House Mongolia was a great inspiration to all members of the Roerich Society in Mongolia.

Don began by publishing three books in cooperation with and for us (well, in reality out of his admiration for the Roerichs, and in order to help the success of our Roerich Mongolia project). The vehicle was his Mongolian publishing house, Polar Star Books. The three were:

1. Shambhala, by Nicholas Roerich (in English);
2. Heart of Asia, by Nicholas Roerich (in English); and
3. The Foundations of Buddhism, by Helena Roerich (in English).






In addition, he also published a Russian edition of the Helena Roerich book on Buddhism. Helena had in fact written this book in Russian during the winter of 1926-27, while living in the house in Ulaanbaatar that we were now restoring. Her book had originally been published in Mongolia during the spring of 1927. Given that Mongolia had at the time already been under Communist rule for half a decade, this was quite a feat on her part.

Don and his Polar Star Books also published a small catalog of Roerich House Mongolia, with articles in both Mongolian and English. This was much appreciated on the opening ceremony of July 6th 2009, at which former Mongolian president Ochirbat came as chief guest of honor.


The saga continued a month later, when the great Tilopa Tulku (Delov Hutaght) generously consented to be the first featured speaker at our newly opened Roerich House Mongolia during his summer visit to Mongolia. This young US born lama is the present head of Buddhism in Kalmukia; but even more importantly, he is regarded as the reincarnation of the great Telo Lama, one of Mongolia’s three greatest incarnate lamas. The former Telo had escaped the Communist killings of the 1930s, and made his way to America, where he died in 1967. Thus he was the first lama to reside in the USA. He had been instrumental in bringing over the Kalmukian lama Geshey Wangyal, and thus helped to create America’s first Tibetan Buddhist centers.

Don turned up the heat in his publishing company when he learned that the Telo Lama would be in the country and would teach at Roerich House. He quickly brought out a new edition of the long out-of-print English translation of the autobiography and political memoirs of the former Telo Lama, and presented a copy of this work to the present incarnation when the latter visited Roerich House Mongolia in late July, several weeks after our opening.

Because of this great contribution, Prof Bira, president of the Roerich Society of Mongolia, formally presented Don with the award “Shambhala Hero.”

To view a video on Telu Tulku’s visit to Roerich House Mongolia, click on the following link:

—–        Glenn Mullin, Oct 18, 2011, Chicago

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Vol 1: The Roerich Mongolia Monthly

Mongolia has just completed the annual Tsagansar or “White Month” celebrations, and we now enter the Year of the Iron Rabbit. Rabbits produce many babies, and we hope that we at Roerich House Mongolia will be able to produce many great creations in the year to follow. An in honor of this New Year, we have decided to launch a weekly blog, The Roerich Mongolia Monthly.

Many of you know the basic Nicholas Roerich story. A Russian born New York artist who lived the last decade of his life in India, Roerich took the world by storm in 1919, when he painted stage sets for the Paris opening of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Everyone hated the opera, but loved Roerich’s stage sets. This was Roerich’s big break on the international scene. The international papers unanimously criticized   the opera, but praised Roerich. The next year he went to America at the invitation of the Art Institute of Chicago, and travelled on a twenty-eight city tour. America fell in love with him, and in NY a wealthy developed created a twenty-four city building in his name, with the two top stories for a Roerich Museum. This was the beginning of “The Master’s Institute,” a collective of artists, educators, scientists and social thinkers devoted to ushering in a new era of international peace and harmony. In 1929 Roerich was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Later the Roerich Museum in NY moved to a more modest location, where it remains today. This NY institution has kept the Roerich legacy alive over the past ninety years. Its website makes available all sorts of great Roerich materials, including photos and writings for free download.

Roerich travelled to India in 1923 at the invitation of India’s greatest living poet, Rabindranath Tagore, whom he had met in London just before coming to America. He took up residence in the Dalai Podrang, the house where the British had housed the Thirteenth Dalai Lama from 1909 to 1912. He began his famous “His Country Series” there, and also his “The Himalayas” series.

In 1925 he, together with wife Helena and son George (a graduate of Columbia University, NY) left on a four year journey through the “Seven Mongolian Kingdoms.” This brought him to Outer Mongolia in 1926, and he remained until the summer of 1927. Nicholas’s own journal, Altai Himalaya, is a great peek into the many lands through which they travelled, as well as into Roerich’s visions and insights. George’s Trails to Inmost Asia is even better as a travel journal.

Skip forward thirty years. Khrushchev comes to power in Moscow, and sees the Stalinist anti-intellectual campaign as having been a disaster. He orders the government to release any surviving intellectuals who had been imprisoned, and pleads with ex-pat Russians to return and help Russia rebuild from the destructions of the Stalinist cultural purges. Nicholas Roerich’s eldest son George, who had left Russia as a child over forty-five years earlier, accepts to come to Russia for a term, and to re-open a Sanskrit-Tibetan program at the Institute of Oriental Studies in Moscow. The year is 1957.

Prof Bira, at the time a young teacher in Ulaanbaatar, returns to Moscow that same year and takes up studies under George, doing his PhD in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism under him. George dies in Moscow in 1960, the year that Bira graduates.

Skip forward another forty-five years. Prof. Bira is now the last surviving Asian student of George Roerich, and has become one of Mongolia’s foremost academics. By chance in 2004 he discovers the house where the Roerichs lived in Mongolia in 1926-27, and learns that he is slated for demolition, to be replaced by a high rise modern building. He surrounds himself with a small army of academics who appreciate Roerich’s contribution to Mongolian history, and together they press the Mongolian government to save the house by declaring it an historical site, and to entrust them and their newly established Roerich Society of Mongolia with the responsibility of  restoring and developing it.

Not much happens for the next few years. The small group of academics is unable to generate funds for the work, or even to pay the city land taxes.

Then in November of 2008 Bira re-meets Canadian writer and teacher Glenn Mullin, and Glenn accepts to take responsibility to raise funds for the project, and also oversee its execution. He brings on board Batdorj Damdensuren, former director of the Zanabazaar National Museum. Bira, his assistant Ishdorj, Glenn and Batdorj form a working committee to press ahead. Glenn’s fundraising activities meet with a modest success, and a few months later, after the winter cold has passed, work on the restoration begins.

The spring of 2008 brings a great stroke of good fortune. Vedran Bolfek of Croatia, a professional restoration artist, volunteers to come for six months and direct the restoration work. Three or four teams of local Mongol construction workers throw themselves into the task, and in four months time the Roerich House is ready for a “soft opening.”  (Soft, because still no permission from the city to hook to the city’s heat and water systems, and also because a quarter of the house is still unfinished and therefore is just blocked off.) The opening took place on the Dalai Lama’s birthday (July 9th) 2009, just as planned.

Many wonderful friends helped with the work, and many visitors made pilgrimage to our doors during the summer of 2009. We will glimpse into some of these in the blogs to follow.

To conclude, we thought that it might be useful to present the first dozen or so editions of our Roerich Mongolia Weekly in this manner, by reviewing what has been done to date. And of course, to intersperse these with accounts of present activities.

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