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

Shambhala

Subterranean Dwellers


Once on our travels we reached a half-ruined village. There was a glimmer of light in only two houses. In a small room, an old man sat cleaning a utensil. He became our host for the night. I asked him the reason for his isolation. He answered, “Every one has departed. They have found more suitable sites for their dwellings. They were strong and enterprising. Something new attracted them. But I knew that nothing new exists on earth. And I did not wish to change the place of my death.”

Thus the strongest ones depart. The decaying ones patiently await death. Is this not the story of all migrations, of all enterprises?

The subject of the great migrations is the most fascinating in the history of humanity. What spirit was it that thus moved whole nations and innumerable tribes? What cataclysm drove the hordes from their familiar steppes? What new happiness and privileges did they anticipate in the blue mist of the immense desert?

On rocks in Dardistan we saw ancient drawings. We also saw the same kind of drawings upon the rocks near the Brahmaputra, as well as on the rocks of Orkon in Mongolia, and in the tumuli of Minusinsk in Siberia. And finally we discerned the same creative psychology in the halristningars of Sweden and of Norway. And later we stopped in admiration before the mighty signs of the early Romanesque which we found, based on the same creative aspirations of the great migrators.

In every city, in every encampment of Asia, I tried to discover what memories were being cherished in the folk-memory. Through these guarded and preserved tales you can recognize the reality of the past. In every spark of folk-lore, there is a drop of the great Truth adorned or distorted. Not long ago we were too vain to appreciate these treasures of folk-lore. “What could these illiterate people know!” But afterwards we learned that even the great Rig-Vedas were written down only in the comparatively recent past, and perhaps for many centuries they were passed down by word of mouth. We thought that the flying carpet of fairy-tales belonged only to the children but we soon recognized that although each fantasy, in its own individual way, weaves a beautiful carpet ornamenting life, nevertheless this very carpet bears the footprints of great reality of the past.

Among the innumerable legends and fairy tales of various countries may be found the tales of lost tribes or subterranean dwellers. In wide and diverse directions, people are speaking of the identical facts. But in correlating them you can readily see that these are but chapters from the one story. At first it seems impossible that there should exist any scientific connection between these distorted whispers under the light of the desert bonfires. But afterwards you begin to grasp the peculiar coincidence in these manifold legends related by peoples who are even ignorant of each other’s names.

You recognize the same relationship in the folk-lores of Tibet, Mongolia, China, Turkestan, Kashmir, Persia, Altai, Siberia, the Ural, Caucasia, the Russian steppes, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, Germany, France; from the highest mountains to the deepest oceans. You will hear wonderfully elaborated tales in the Tourfan district. They tell you how a holy tribe was persecuted by a tyrant and how the people, not willing to submit to the cruelty, closed themselves in subterranean mountains. They even ask you if you want to see the entrance of the cave through which the saintly persecuted folk fled.

In Kuchar you will hear of King Po-chan, ruler of the Tokhars, and how, when the enemy approached, he disappeared with all the treasures of his kingdom, leaving only sand, stones and ruins behind him.

In Kashmir they speak of the lost tribe of Israel; some learned Rabbi may explain you that Israel is the name of those who are searching, and that it constitutes, not a nation, but the character of a people. In connection with these beliefs they show you in Srinagar, the tomb of Blessed Issa—Jesus. You may hear an elaborate story of how the Saviour was crucified but did not die and his followers carried the body from the sepulcher and disappeared. Issa is said to have recovered and spent the remainder of his life in Kashmir preaching the same gospel. It is said that from this subterranean tomb, one senses various fragrances. In Kashgar they will show you the tomb of the Virgin Mary where the Holy Mother of Issa fled after the cruel persecution of her son. Everywhere you have different stories of travels and movements of great meaning. As you continue with your caravan, this provides the greatest pleasure and the greatest education. From Tourfan there also comes the pleasing tale of how young people are sent for long trips as though on pilgrimages to acquire the best knowledge of other lands.

Each entrance to a cave suggests that some one has already entered there. Every creek—especially the subterranean creeks—draw one’s fantasy to the underground passages. In many places of Central Asia, they speak of the Agharti, the subterranean people. In numerous beautiful legends they outline the same story of how the best people abandoned the treacherous earth and sought salvation in hidden countries where they acquired new forces and conquered powerful energies.

In the Altai Mountains, in the beautiful upland valley of Uimon, a hoary Old Believer (Starover) said to me: “I shall prove to you that the tale about the Chud, the subterranean people, is not a fantasy! I shall lead you to the entrance of the subterranean kingdom.”

On the way through the valley surrounded by snowy mountains, my host told us many tales about the Chud. It is remarkable that “Chud” in Russian has the same origin as the word wonder. So, perhaps, we may consider the Chud a wonderful tribe. My bearded guide told how “once upon a time, in this fertile valley lived and flourished the powerful tribe of Chud. They knew how to prospect for minerals and how to reap the best harvest. Most peaceful and most industrious, was this tribe. But then came a White Tzar with innumerable hordes of cruel warriors. The peaceful, industrious Chud could not resist the assaults of the conquerors, and not wishing to lose their liberty, they remained as serfs of the White Tzar. Then, for the first time, a white birch began to grow in this region. And, according to the old prophecies, the Chud knew that it was the time for their departure. And the Chud, unwilling to remain subject to the White Tzar, departed under the earth. Only sometimes can you hear the holy people singing; now their bells ring out in the subterranean temples. But there shall come the glorious time of human purification, and in those days, the great Chud shall again appear in full glory.”

Thus the Old Believer concluded. We approached some low stony hill. Proudly he showed me, “Here we are. Here is the entrance to the great subterranean kingdom! When the Chud entered the subterranean passage they closed the entrance with stones. Now we stand just beside this holy entrance.”

We stood before a huge tomb encircled by great stones, so typical of the period of the great migrations. Such tombs, with the beautiful remains of Gothic relics, we saw in South Russian steppes, in foothills of the Northern Caucasus. Studying this hill, I remembered how during our crossing of the Karakorum pass, my sais, the Ladaki, asked me, “Do you know why there is such a peculiar upland here? Do you know that in the subterranean caves here many treasures are hidden and that in them lives a wonderful tribe which abhors the sins of earth?”

And again when we approached Khotan the hoofs of our horses sounded hollow as though we rode above caves or hollows. Our caravan people called our attention to this, saying, “Do you hear what hollow subterranean passages we are crossing? Through these passages, people who are familiar with them can reach far-off countries.” When we saw entrances of caves, our caravaneers told us, “Long ago people lived there; now they have gone inside; they have found a subterranean passage to the subterranean kingdom. Only rarely do some of them appear again on earth. At our bazaar such people come with strange, very ancient money, but nobody could even remember a time when such money was in usage here.” I asked them, if we could also see such people. And they answered, “Yes, if your thoughts are similarly high and in contact with these holy people, because only sinners are upon earth and the pure and courageous people pass on to something more beautiful.”

Great is the belief in the Kingdom of the subterranean people. Through all Asia, through the spaces of all deserts, from the Pacific to the Urals, you can hear the same wondrous tale of the vanished holy people. And even far beyond the Ural Mountains, the echo of the same tale will reach you. Often you hear about subterranean tribes. Sometimes an invisible holy people is said to be living behind a mountain. Sometimes either poisonous or vitalizing gases are spread over the earth, to protect some one. Sometimes you hear how the sands of the great desert shift, and for a moment disclose treasures of the entrances of subterranean kingdoms. But none would dare to touch those treasures. You will hear how, in the rocks, in the most deserted mountain ranges, you can see openings which connect with these subterranean passes, and how beautiful princesses once upon a time occupied these natural castles.



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