A Travel Diary
By Nicholas Roerich
[ Published by Claude Bragdon ]
Part V : INDIA (1924)
The motley figures of hell are being trampled down by the powerful feet of the White Guards. Red and green “guardians of the entrances,” many-armed and with horrible grins, are threatening the violators. In explosive gasps flare up the gold tongues of the primeval flame. The misty aureoles of lights are glowing. . . .
With cold respect or else with a clerical sense of the scientific, do we examine the Tibetan and Nepal banner-paintings in the British Museum, the Musée Guimet in Paris, or the Field Museum in Chicago. But in a completely different attitude do we approach the same paintings on this site, and they speak to you quite differently. Every gesture of Buddha’s hand is of vital meaning for the local world. The good and evil entities with their endless symbols are transformed from ornaments into a living epos. The images are enfolded in a stirring harmony of tones. The finest of these are of ancient work although the new paintings are also at times excellent.
Let us predict for these images a great future—just as twenty years ago the future importance of the old Russian ikons was predicted. Merited attention has been given to the Chinese and Japanese art. An elaborate literature has expressed this free art concisely. But after a study of classic Egypt, after the subtlety of Japan, after the romance of China and after the arabesque of the Persian and Mogul miniature, now appears a new object for study and admiration.
The art of Central Asia is coming to the fore. In the fiery fantasy; in the dignity of the fine form; in the intense and complex gradation of tones is manifested this completely unique and striking art. But in its quiescent expression this art responds to the mystery of the cradle of humanity. In itself it forms Asia, to which in time shall be directed inquiries and researches. Only, it is necessary to knock upon the doors of this beauty without threats, without weapons, without pillage. With full readiness must we gather the pearls of profound and anonymous achievements; without superficial scientific hypocrisy and without bribed treachery.
To study the life of a nightingale by first killing it — is it not barbaric ?
One remembers keenly some objects discovered by Kozloff in Kara-khoto in Mongolia. Especially does one recall the wondrous image of the woman’s head. If such a people lived in the silenced cities of the deserts — how far were these places from being a wilderness !
Wisely, wisely did the deserts succeed in guarding for posterity new treasures, and not only material treasures. . . . One must recall not only the swords of the Tartar in measuring the life of Central Asia. There are also the tents of all travelers and searchers. Even to the Khan’s camps were summoned the finest of artists.
I remember how badly fared one young doctor who was sent to Urga in Mongolia for service. Poor soul, he knew not what and how to search. If the young generation could realize what treasures were prepared for it, and lie at the edge of the road — unlifted. Sometimes it is only a question of lifting up the treasures.
A little shepherd boy found 120 pounds of gold in Scythian objects, because he was attracted by the glimmer of metal which sparkled on the slope of the hill, washed off by the rain. How many such sparks are glimmering ! But often our eyes are dulled by laziness.
The blessed Maitreya is always represented crowned by a wreath, in a great image. In Tashi-Lunpo, the monastery of the Tashi-Lama, three years ago there was placed a gigantic image of Maitreya, bearer of the new age of universal Unity. This idea has been invoked with the new approaching era of Tibetan chronology.
During the service in the temples, smoking Tibetan tea is passed around. Therein is the idea of the grail in this filling of the vessels before the Blessed Image. One must never leave the vessel empty — this is contrary to the custom of the East. Then the gigantic trumpets are sounded, like the voices of storm and thunder, with their summons to the future. Backs adorned with their purple mantles are bent low, thinking of the future. And like a fiery field, under the image of the Dream of the World, one hundred and eight fires (108) are glimmering.
In a special compartment are guarded the masks of the keepers. Is it possible that these frightful visages can symbolize the way of benevolence ? However, these are not symbols of benevolence but symbols of earthly elemental forces. For there is the heaven and the earth. Even the physical world of Tantrik teaching, which has been so degraded in modern understanding, must be conceived sublimely. The teacher, Padma Sambhava, would not have proclaimed only a physical teaching.
I look upon an ancient painting of the Monastery Daling. Here are the acts of the teacher, Padma Sambhava. All his forces are represented in action. Here is the teacher as a black-hatted lama with Solomon’s Star upon his headdress, striking a dragon. Here is the teacher summoning the rain. Here he saves a drowning one; he charms small evil spirits; weaponless, he conquers beasts and by a magic weapon he smites a tiger, first covering his head with the sacred triangle. Here he makes harmless the serpents; here he conjures the stormy current; and he sends rain. Now he fearlessly converses with the gigantic mountain spirit. Here the teacher flies above all mountains. Now out of the shelter of the cave he hastens to comfort the world. And finally in the circle of a poor family, he prays for a benign sea voyage for the absent master of the house. No matter how clouded is his teaching now, its foundation stills gleams through.
Or again, another ancient painting: “The Paradise of Padma Sambhava.” The teacher sits in the Temple surrounded by the Righteous Ones. The Temple stands upon a mountain separated from the earthly world by a blue river. Across the river are stretched white hatiks (scarfs) and upon them the self-denying voyagers are crossing to the temple. A clear picture of the illuminated ascent ! Of course, his commentators have besmirched even this manifestation. How encrusted with false grimace are all religions !
Of course, the teacher, Tsong-kha-pa, is still nearer. He rose beyond the confines of magic. He forbade the monks to have recourse to magic powers. His teaching — that of the Yellow Lamas — seems less spoiled.
On New Year’s Eve, February 4, after sunset, the fires in the monasteries upon the hill dart up. And the ringing gongs and the far-away drums reverberate. … In the morning are held the dances.