Nicholas Roerich

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Nicholas Roerich or Nikolai Konstantinovitch Rerikh (Николай Константинович Рерих) was a Russian painter, traveler, and esoteric writer (1874-1947) who lived in New York City, and later in India's Kulu Valley. Together with his wife Helena Roerich (Elena Ivanova Roerich), he is an influential figure among Russian New Age spiritual seekers.

As a painter, Roerich is usually grouped with the Russian Symbolists. His best-known paintings (generally tempera on canvas or cardboard) feature old Russian churches, Himalayan landscapes, or religious scenes representing various Eastern religions. He also painted the backdrops for a number of operas, including the premier of Stravinsky's Sacre du printemps, as well as the interiors of several Russian churches. Museums of his artwork exist in New York City, Moscow, and Naggar (Himanchal Pradesh, India), among other places.

Between 1924 and 1928 Roerich led a U.S.-flagged expedition through various regions of Central Asia including Chinese Turkestan, Altai, Mongolia, and Tibet. During the 1930's he visited Manchuria at the behest of U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Henry Wallace, to whom he reportedly suggested adding the Great Seal of the United States (the eye-in-pyramid symbol) to the obverse of U.S. currency. Exposure of Wallace's "guru letters" to Roerich (so named for their customary salutation, "Dear Guru...") derailed Wallaces 1948 presidential bid.

Roerich wrote a number of books including poetry, essays, and travel writings. Of these, the best-known are his travelogue Altai-Himalaya (which incidentally reports an early UFO sighting, over Eastern Tibet in 1926) and essay Shambhala (describing a paradisial Buddhist kingdom which only the elect may find).

He was instrumental in promoting the 1935 "Roerich Pact" among 21 American nations, which established the "Banner of Peace" symbol--three red dots surrounded by a red circle, on a white flag--as a protection for cultural sites such as museums and libraries. (I.e., the signatories undertook not to bomb sites displaying the symbol.) The symbol is now used primarily by Roerich groups.

The Roerichs joined the Theosophical Society in 1920, Nikolai having been exposed to Buddhism through working on a Tibeto-Mongolian temple in Saint Petersburg. As a worldwide schism developed among Theosophists over the claims of Annie Besant and the young Krishnamurti, the Roerichs began receiving their own revelations from the "Masters" (also known as Adepts or Mahatmas) from their Central Asian stronghold. These revelations (in Russian) became the series of Agni Yoga books, also known as the Teaching of Living Ethics (Zhivaya etika, Живая этика).

During the 1920's, Roerich--ostensibly acting on the instructions of his Masters--approached the Soviet authorities with a proposal to establish a new Central Asian Buddhist state. His proposal was received coldly, as was his endorsement of V.I. Lenin as a Mahatma, and the Roerichs felt it adviseable to flee Moscow.

Roerich's followers--called Rerikhovtsy ("Roerich-ites") in Russian--resurfaced during Perestroika, with Raisa Gorbachev said to have been a supporter. Today they are divided into a number of fractious lineages, often around competing gurus, and are known for their pilgrimages to Mount Belukha in Altai. The Roerichs were posthumously expelled from the Orthodox Church in the year