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


The Veils of Death

Many are the veils which dim the pages of history. The dust of life covers much…

“Where is our old aya, the wife of the Red Lama, she who so zealously executed her tasks, who so quietly entered the room and as quietly departed? She who was so discreet, knowing only what it was her duty to know?”

“She is dead.”

“But she always seemed healthy! Apparently she never drank and was never loose in her ways.”

“No—she was poisoned!”

“But how can you speak so indifferently of such a violent crime? How did it happen?”

“Many are poisoned here. This no longer surprises us. There may have been many reasons. Perhaps she knew more than she should have known. Perhaps she aroused some one’s vengeance through an unintentional act. Or perhaps she was too often among her relatives.”

Thus lightly, is poison regarded, as a cause of death in the East.

Ts’ai-han-chen, our old Chinese, becomes very worried when we are invited to the Amban for dinner. He offers us much advice and finally ends with, “Altogether, it is better not to eat there. The Dao-tai is a wicked man. He is not an official—his acts are those of an assassin!”

“So, you think he will poison us?” we inquire.

“I did not say so—but all precautions must be taken. You know that when the Governor of the Province, the mighty Yan D’u-t’u, wanted to rid himself of some undesirable relatives, he invited them to dinner. Behind each guest was stationed an honorary guard. But when the dinner was almost finished, the D’u-t’u himself shot his closest relative and the guards cut off the heads of the others.

“It was the same D’u-t’u who, wishing to free himself of an undesirable official, gave him a mission of honor. When the official had set out on his way, the D’u-t’u’s people waylaid him in a remote spot and strangled him in a unique way; they pasted him over completely with paper.

“You know,” continues Ts’ai-han-chen smiling, “D’u-t’u is most ingenious. He can get a man to confess to anything. One of his most effective methods is to pass a horsehair from one corner of the eye through to the other —then they start drawing it back and forth. So, you had better avoid eating during the dinner; better tell them that your constitution does not permit you to eat food to which you are unaccustomed.”

Our Kalmuk lama also bids us farewell with, “I shall pray for you—because one never knows what may happen in the course of a dinner.”

These local people know so many stories of the treachery of the officials; to support their statements they will show you secretly a photograph of the crucified Ti-tai, the high commander of Kashgar, who was treacherously trapped by the cruel Dao-tai of Khotan. Innumerable tales of treason and poison envelop the old cities.

The Tibetans have learned much about the Chinese Ambans. A high Tibetan official says, “When they offer you tea—be careful. In one notable family, I was offered tea, but I am experienced and I noticed that odd bubbles were rising to the surface of the cup. I happen to know the poison which gives this effect—so I avoided drinking.”

Another Tibetan relates how one of the high and worthy lamas was almost poisoned by food given to him with the appearance of utmost reverence. But immediately on tasting it, he noticed a strange taste and did not swallow it. Although he became ill, he thus escaped death. Numerous legends are related about high lamas who have been poisoned, and even in the history of the Dalai lamas this practise is mentioned more than once. It is striking to hear what strange practises are attributed to lamas. It is said that some lamas became wandering spirits after death, using a type of magic dagger to kill even the innocent. The famous “Rollang” of Tibet, the resurrection of corpses is often linked with the names of lamas.

You may still see the ruins of a monastery and hear how during the funeral rites a corpse revived and in a fury killed eight monks. Since that time the monastery was deserted. It is said that a corpse may be brought back to a living condition, if a heavy blow is struck against it and if a large amount of blood is permitted to flow from the body.

One may find various explanations for these stories but they are recorded and related with great frequency.

Not only in Tibet but also in Nepal, strange stories are told. For instance, it is said that even up to the present time, during the burial of the Maharajah, the senior high priest must eat a piece of the flesh of the dead ruler. And as a reward he receives the great privilege of admission to the most exalted spheres of heaven.

Parallel with these strange customs one may see various objects skilfully adapted for poisoning. For instance, there are daggers and arrows with special secret appliances for poison. A favorite object employed in this practise is, of course, a ring containing a poison compartment. One should also mention poisoned fabrics.

Probably the strangest belief encountered here is that he who poisons a man of high standing is said to receive all the luck and privileges of his victim. Where and how such a corrupt idea could have originated is even impossible to imagine. Along this same trend of thought, it is said that there are certain families who collect secret for-mulz of special poisons and have the special privilege of being poisoners. When you hear of cases of certain people perishing from unknown sicknesses, you wonder whether these strange customs have been exercised upon the victims.

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: