Nicholas Roerich Estate Museum in Izvara
Nicholas Roerich
Estate Museum
in Izvara

Shambhala

Tibetan Art


The red door, aglow with the gold of ornament, slowly opens. In the twilight of Dukhang, the gigantic image of Maitreya majestically rises into the height. Through the velvety patina of time, one begins to discern upon the walls the delicate silhouettes of images—a whole series of stern Bodhisattvas, guardians and keepers… Powerfully they stand, outlined by a firm hand. Time has enriched the colors and mellowed the sparks of gold. They transmit an unforgettable impression of exalting joy!

The entrance is blue-white, like old Chinese porcelain. There is a tiny door and a high threshold. Like old banners of the great spiritual battles, rows of Tankas hang from the carved balustrade. Numerous paintings glow with a multi-form variety of themes. Golden and purple riders gallop against a black background. The golden filaments of clouds and edifices are interwoven into a scroll of inexhaustible imagination. Upon them are depicted hermits taming the elements. Teachers are ascending the perilous paths. The dark forces are humbled. Hosts of the righteous as well as sinners are thronging around the thrones of the Blessed Ones. On white hatiks — ceremonial scarfs — travelers cross the abysses of life. And the Blessed Tathagata, in the circle of chosen Arhats, sends His Blessings to the approaching ones who are un-fearful of the Great Way. We shall not forget this shrine of precious banners. It shall always fill us with a strength as for battle.

There is another carved entrance. Above the broad steps, in full power, stand the Dharmaraja—the Rulers of all lands. They guard the gates to the great Mother of All Being. The multiple-eyed, omniscient Dukhar, surrounded by resplendent Taras—these are the self-sacrificing guardians of mankind. The gold surface has not yet been completely subdued by the noble covering of time. But dampness already weaves its pattern on the walls. High above the Taras is the Mandala of Sham-bhala. The indefatigable ruler Rigden-jyepo keeps vigilance on the tower, in the sacred circle of the snowy mountains. The warriors are gathered together. We shall not forget this great symbol.

Now we are on remote mountain passes. The snows are already nearby. On this pathway of antiquity appears a gigantic image of Maitreya carved on a rock, bestowing blessings upon the travelers. Not by an average hand was the surface of the rock transformed into this mighty, monumental image. The fire of achievement, a strength of touch, and an indefatigability of labor summoned human forces to the creation of this image upon the now-deserted path. Verily, this is great and significant in thought and in expression, and impelling in masterly craftsmanship. A great art!

The black and gold banners are of Chinese origin. The character of the design and composition is apparently reminiscent of China. Dukhar and Taras—they are the Mother Kali of Great India and the Blessed Kwan Yin of hoary China; they have come from afar to this Tibetan Dukhang. Maitreya recalls the Bodhigaya of India. The Image of the Blessed One directs your thought to Sar-nath; the Hindu origin of the image is even pointed out to you. The mighty Maitreya on the rock was carved by some hand in the Sixth or Seventh Centuries—one which knew of great India. You recall the technique of the Trimurti of Elephanta. You are transported to the sculptures of Mathura, to the frescoes of Ajanta, to the fairy tale of Ellora, to the majestic ruins of Anuradhapura, to the picturesque masses of Rangoon and Mandalay.

Everything that we see in Tibetan temples inevitably evokes reminiscences of India and China. The flow of the water-fall recalls its source!

Four years of wanderings through all the Buddhist countries have permitted the accumulation of many impressions. From the unforgettable fairy-tale of the cave temples of Central Asia to the Ten Thousand Buddhas recently ordered by Buddhists of Mongolia from Polish factories (as if the East had become depleted to such an extent!); from the impoverished monastery comprising a transportable yurta of the steppe, to the painting of Sham-bhala carried by the wandering lama—we have seen all.

Of course, everywhere we have been astonished by the distinction between the old and modern images. The powerful conception of ancient temples, their grandeur and proportions, their discriminately chosen sites and the lavishness of their construction, speak to us of quite a different spiritual condition in their creators. The meager proportions, indifferent choice of sites, instability of construction and ornamentation make some of the new Tibetan temples unconvincing. Those who lived as eagles upon the heroic rocks, have passed away. The Tibetans themselves stress the advantages of the ancient work, and the importance of the site in view of its antiquity. And this is not the mirage of antiquity; it is simply reality, and an evident difference in the quality of the creation.

Certainly, time with its inimitable accumulations adorns all things. We know how ennobled by time are the Primitives of Italy, Spain and the Netherlands. The Persian merchants spread their carpets under the feet of the bazaar crowds in order to obtain the precious patina. So we may attribute a great deal of the attractiveness of old Tibet to the lure of time.

Besides, it is entirely evident that the mastery of old artists of Tibet was finer and keener. Their spiritual striving gave them an inspiration which passed beyond the boundaries of the conventional mechanical canon.

Dalai Lama the Fifth, called the Great, who was responsible for the Potala, the only significant structure of Tibet, knew how to strengthen the nerve of spirit. Several of the Tashi Lamas knew how to encourage talent.

It is significant to note how everywhere the inner stimulus establishes the quality of production. It lights or extinguishes the fire of creation, of all the productions of a nation. The true history of a nation could be written by the monuments of its creation and production. Now, after the departure of the Tashi Lama, Tibet is somewhat lowered spiritually and in the expressions of its art.

The entire literature of the Buddhist teaching emanated from India and China. It is pointed out that Tibetan translations from the Sanskrit are stereotyped because of the paucity of expression in the Tibetan language and fail to express many of the subtleties which evolved from the wisdom of India.

Of course, in addition to India and China, Tibet has more ancient heritages. On the rocks we found old drawings. Out of the vastness of antiquity, the Swastika summons us—this sign of the fiery cross of life. Since the periods of ancient migrations there remain in Tibet some typical forms of handicraft. But the art of the great wanderers is entirely forgotten by modern Tibetans. True, that up to now, the swords of Tibet remind you of the Gothic tombs. Fibulae and buckles reveal to you the Goths and Alans. One recalls the unexpected information from the chronicles of Catholic missionaries, that the site of Lhassa is somewhere called Gotha. In the Doring district, in the Trans-Himalayas, we found an old buckle with the double-headed eagle, so much like our discoveries in the South Russian steppes and northern Caucasus. In the same locality we discovered ancient tombs entirely like the tombs in Altai where the Goths passed.



Museum Address: 188414, Izvara Village, Volosovo District, Leningrad Region, Russia.
Phones: +7-813-73-73-273 (group tours); Phone/Fax +7-813-73-73-298 (general)
Museum Director: Cherkasova Olga Anatolievna E-mail: isvara_museum@mail.ru