Helena Roerich

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Helena Ivanovna Roerich
File:Helena Roerich 1.jpg
Born (1879-02-12)February 12, 1879
Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire
Died Script error: No such module "age".
Kalimpong, India
Era 20th-century philosophy
Region Russian philosophy
School Living Ethics

Helena Ivanovna Roerich (born Shaposhnikova) (Russian: Елéна Ивáновна Рéрих; February 12, 1879 – October 5, 1955) was a Russian philosopher,[2] writer, and public figure. In the early 20th century, she created, in cooperation with the Teachers of the East, a philosophic teaching of Living Ethics ("Agni Yoga").[3] She was an organizer and participant of cultural activity in the U.S., conducted under the guidance of her husband, Nicholas Roerich. Along with her husband, she took part in expeditions of hard-to-reach and little-investigated regions of Central Asia. She was an Honorary President-Founder of the Institute of Himalayan Studies "Urusvati" in India and co-author of the idea of the International Treaty for Protection of Artistic and Scientific Institutions and Historical Monuments (Roerich’s Pact). She translated two volumes of the "Secret Doctrine" of H. P. Blavatsky, and also selected Mahatma’s Letters ("Cup of the East"), from English to Russian.


Early life[edit]

Roerich was born in the family of Ivan Ivanovich Shaposhnikov, a well-known Saint-Petersburg architect.

Ekaterina Vassilievna Shaposhnikova, Roerich’s mother, belonged to an ancient Golenischev-Kutuzov family, which originated from Novgorod at the end of the 13th century. Significant members of this family included field marshal Mikhail Illarionovich Golenischev-Kutuzov, well-known poet of the end of 19th century; Arsenii Arkadievich Golenischev-Kutuzov, composer; and Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky.[4]

Roerich grew up and was educated in rich cultural traditions of her family. Since childhood she was inquisitive, and independent. She showed talents in a number of areas, playing piano, and by the age of seven reading and writing in three languages.[4]/ From the very young age, she started reading artistic, historical, spiritual and philosophic books.

In 1895, Roerich graduated from Mariinsky Gymnasium in Saint-Petersburg with a "gold medal", a special award for excellence in the studies. Though the education she received there was of a great quality, Roerich often studied additionally on her own. She learned painting, knew Russian and European literature well, studied the history of religion and philosophy, and took great interest in the works of the Indian philosophers Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, and Tagore.[5]

After finishing her education at gymnasium, Roerich entered the Saint-Petersburg musical private school. The director of this school was I.A. Borovka, a senior of metropolitan conservatoire, and professor of piano playing. He was a noted figure in Petersburg’s musical culture of the time, and personally mentored Roerich.

After graduating, which was aimed mainly towards revealing the most gifted candidates who should receive higher music education, Roerich intended to continue her education in the Saint-Petersburg conservatoire. But her relatives banned her from entering the conservatoire, worried that she would be interested by the revolutionary ideas found in the student environment. Thus, Roerich continued her education at home, where she perfected her grasp of foreign languages, and read many things.

Marriage and family[edit]

File:H.Roerich with her sons.jpg
Helena Roerich (right) with her sons

Roerich and her mother often spent the summer at Bologoe in the Novgorod region, with her aunt E.V. Putyatina, at the estate of her husband, Prince P.A. Putyatin. In 1899, at Bologoe, she met the painter and archeologist Nicholas Konstantinovich Roerich. They fell in love, and in spite of her relatives' opposition, in 1901, she and Nicholas were married in Saint-Petersburg.

In 2001, at the place in Bologoe where they first met, a memorial named "Monument of love" was established. It contains a quotation from N. Roerich’s essay "The University": "I met Lada, my partner in life and inspirer, at Bologoe, at Prince P.A. Putyatin’s estate. Joy!".[6] This was a strong alliance of two loving people united by deep mutual feelings and common views.[7] N. Roerich wrote about their marriage in his declining years: "We passed amicably any obstacles. And the obstacles turned into possibilities. I devoted my books: "To Helena, my wife, friend, partner and inspirer".[8] Many of Roerich’s paintings were a result of their common creativity. He called her "She who leads"[9] in his books, and asserted that on many his canvases, two signatures should be written: his own, and Roerich’s. "We created together, and not without reason it was said that the works must have two names, women’s and men’s.[8]

Nicholas and Roerich had two children. In August 1902, their eldest son George was born. Later, he became a world-renowned scientist and orientalist. Their younger son, Svetoslav, was born in October 1904. He became a painter.

Roerich supported all of her husband's initiatives, and went deeply into all his fields of study. In 1903—1904, they traveled together through forty old Russian cities to find sources of national history and culture. During these travels, Roerich had taken expert photographs of churches, architecture monuments, paintings, and ornaments. She also mastered the art of restoration and, together with Nicholas Konstantinovich, recovered some the masterpieces of great artists such as Rubens, Breugel, Vandyke, and van Orley, that had been hidden by latest paint layers. She also displayed her artistic intuition by collecting works of art and antiquities. Roerichs collected a beautiful family collection, composed of more than 300 works, which they later had transferred to the Hermitage Museum. Roerich also knew archeology well. Together with her husband, she often left for excavations in the regions of Novgorod’s and Tver’s, and took part in the work.[10]

N. Roerich and their sons thought highly of Roerich, and considered her a spiritual leader and keeper of family’s foundations.[11] In 1916, because of a serious lung disease, following the doctor’s insistence, the Roerich family moved to Finland (Serdobol), to the seashore of Lake Ladoga. In 1918, Finland declared its independence and closed the Russian border. In 1919, the family moved to England, and made their home in London.

Here, in 1920, Roerich, in collaboration with a group of anonymous thinkers and philosophers of the East, which in accordance with Indian’s spiritual tradition were named "The Great Teachers" (Mahatmas), began to work for the Living Ethics Teaching (Agni Yoga).


In 1920, N. K. Roerich received an invitation to tour the United States with an exhibition of his paintings. Thus, Roerich’s family moved to New York City. Here, the cultural activity was organized under N. Roerich’s leadership in partnership with Roerich. The culmination of this was the foundation in America of such cultural organizations as the Nicholas Roerich Museum, the Master-Institute of United Arts, the International painter’s association "Cor Ardens" (Flaming Hearts), and the International Art Centre "Corona Mundi" ("Crown of the World").

On December 1923, Roerich, along with her family, moved to India. This country had always been of great interest to the Roerichs. Adoration of India and its spiritual culture was not unusual among some Russian intellectuals of the time, feeling that their moral searches coincided with Indian spiritual tradition.[12]

From 1924 to 1928, Roerich took part in a Central-Asian expedition organized by N. K. Roerich, that traveled through hard-to-reach and little-investigated regions of India, China, Russia (Altai), Mongolia and Tibet. During the expedition, research in topics such as history, archeology, ethnography, history of philosophy, arts and religions, and geography was conducted. Previously unknown mountain peaks and passes were mapped, rare manuscripts were found, and rich linguistic materials were collected. Special attention was paid to the problem of historical unity of cultures of various peoples.[13] The expedition was carried out in very difficult conditions. Roerich shared all hardships of the travel with the others: hard passages, robber’s attacks, and obstacles created by English officials that nearly have resulted in death of the expedition.[14] In April 1925. when N. Roerich’s expedition stayed in Gulmarg, Roerich began to translate an extensive selection from "Mahatma’s Letters" from English to Russian, which she published in London in 1923. She also wrote a book named "Chalice of the East", which was published that year under the pen name "Iskander Khanum".[15]

Roerich’s manuscript "Foundations of Buddhism" was published in 1926, at Urga (now Ulan-Bator), where her expedition was staying at the time. In this book, the fundamental philosophical notions of Buddha’s Teaching were interpreted. The book also spoke about the moral basis of this Teaching and helped sparkng interest in Buddhism in the west.

In 1927, one of the Living Ethics books ("Community") was published in the same place in Mongolia. After finishing of Central-Asian expedition, Roerichs remained in India, in Kullu valley Himachal Pradesh. There, in 1928, they had found an Institute of Himalayan Studies "Urusvati" (this means "Light of Morning Star" in Sanskrit). It was planned as institute for complex study of Asian regions which exerted influence on the development of world culture. Among the tasks of the "Urusvati" was the complex study of human, its psychic and physiological features. Roerich became an Honorary President-Founder of the institute and actively took part in organization of its work.[16] Being a subtle art connoisseur and deep philosopher, she knew well the scientific problems of the institute, and often directed the researches as experienced scientist.[17] The main task of Roerich’s activity was in studying of ancient philosophic thought of the East.[18]

Roerich had dreamed that sometime a city of knowledge would rise in Kullu valley, which would become an international scientific centre. Later "Urusvati" became a large international institute that united well-known scientists from many countries. J. Bose, R. Tagore, A. Einstein, R. Millikan, L. de Broglie, R. Magoffin, S. Gedin, S.I. Metalnikov, N.I. Vavilov et al. had collaborated with it.[19]

In Kullu, Roerich continued her work on Living Ethics, the main work of her life. In 1929, her work "Cryptograms of the East" ("On Eastern Crossroads") was published in Paris in Russian under the pen name Josephine Saint-Hilaire. This work contains apocryphal legends and parables from the lives of great devotees and teachers of mankind: Buddha, Christ, Apollonius of Tiana, Akbar the Great, St. Sergius of Radonezh. Roerich devoted a special essay "The Banner of St. Sergius of Radonezh" to an image of the Savior and Defender of Russian land. In this essay she joined knowledge of history and theology with deep and reverent love to the hermit.[7] is essay was included in the book "Banner of St. Sergius of Radonezh", published under the pen name N. Yarovskaya in 1934.

Later life[edit]

In the first half of the 1930s, Roerich translated from English to Russian two volumes of H.P. Blavatsky’s fundamental work "Secret Doctrine".

A special place in Roerich’s creativity belongs to her epistolary heritage. She corresponded with more than 140 persons. The letters geography involves several continents. Among Roerich’s correspondents were friends, followers, cultural workers, political figures. In her letters, Roerich has answered numerous questions, explained the most complex philosophical and scientific problems, foundations of the Living Ethics. She wrote about great Laws of Cosmos, meaning of human life, importance of culture for human evolution, Great Teachers.[11]

In 1940, a two-volume edition of "Letters of Helena Roerich" was published in Riga. A complete set of Roerich’s letters is published by the International Centre of the Roerichs, where her epistolary heritage is kept. It was transferred to ICR by S.N. Roerich in 1990.

During N.K. Roerich’s Manchurian expedition, Roerich had corresponded with international organizations and coordinated activity for support the Roerich’s Pact (International agreement for protection of artistic and scientific institutions and historical monuments). As a result of this work, the Roerich’s Pact was signed on April 15, 1935 by heads of 22 countries.[11]

In January 1948, after her husband’s death, Roerich, together with her elder son moved to Delhi and then to Khandala (Bombay’s suburb), where they had waited for steamship from Russia with their entrance visas. But Russia denied their visas. They made their home in Kalimpong, though she continued to hope to return to Roerich just like N.K. Roerich had not changed Russian citizenship. But her numerous applications remained without response.


Roerich died October 5, 1955. In the place of her cremation the lamas had raised a white stupa on which the following epitaph was carved: "Helena Roerich, the wife of Nicholas Roerich, thinker and writer, old friend of India".[20]


A minor planet named after Roerichs[edit]

On October 15, 1969 a minor planet of Solar System was discovered by astronomers of Crimean Astrophysical Observatory Nikolai Stepanovich and Lyudmila Ivanovna Chernykh. This planet was named in honor of Roerichs family. It was numbered 4426.[21]


On July 6, 1978 group of alpinists has risen on nameless mountain peak and has gone through a pass between the peaks “Roerich” and Belukha. This pass and nameless peak has been named “Urusvati” in honor of Roerich.[22]

On October 9, 1999, during jubilee celebrations devoted to 125th anniversary of N. K. Roerich’s birthday and 120th anniversary of Roerich’s demise, a monument was established near the entrance of Museum named after N. Roerich. This monument is sculptural portrayal of Nicholas Konstantonovich and Helena Roerichs.[23]

In 1999, the International Centre of the Roerichs instituted a jubilee medal “Helena Roerich” dedicated to the 120th anniversary of H. I. Roerich..[24]

In April 2003, the college of arts named after Roerich began to work in the building of Institute “Urusvati” (India).[25]

In 2005, the museum of Helena Roerich has been opened in retired two-storeyed mansion known as "Crookety House" in Kalimpong. Here Roerich worked during last years of life. Opening of the museum was timed to the 50th anniversary of her death.[26]

A public library named after Roerich was founded at Altaic village Ust-Koksa. In 2007, library holdings include near 75 thousands of publications. More than 1600 persons have used its service. From 2003, the library is a member of Russian Library Association and collective member of international library association IFLA.[27]

A charitable foundation named after Roerich was created in 2001 in Moscow to finance the programs dedicated to popularization of Roerich’s heritage and development of cultural actions. The foundation furthers an activity in the field of education, science, culture, art, enlightenment. One of the directions of the foundation’s activity is revelation of young talents in various fields of art and help them to protect and develop their creative abilities.[28] An international Award named after Roerich was instituted by the Charitable foundation named after her to encourage scientific research connected with studying of scientific and philosophic Roerich’s heritage.[29]

N. Roerich’s paintings dedicated to Roerich[edit]


  • Leaves of Morya's Garden I
  • Leaves of Morya's Garden II
  • New Era Community
  • Agni Yoga
  • Infinity I
  • Infinity II
  • Hierarchy
  • Heart
  • Fiery World I
  • Fiery World II
  • Fiery World III
  • Aum
  • Brotherhood
  • Supermundane I
  • Supermundane II
  • Supermundane III
  • Supermundane IV
  • Letters of Helena Roerich, Vol. I-IX
  • On Eastern Crossroads
  • Foundations of Buddhism

See also[edit]


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  1. Crimean branch of the International Center of the Roerichs [archive]
  2. Roerich (born Shaposhnikova) / Helena Ivanovna / New philosophical encyclopedia. — Moscow, «Misl» Publishing, 2000. — V. 1–4. (in Russian)
  3. Roerich (born Shaposhnikova) / Helena Ivanovna / New philosophical encyclopedia. — Moscow, «Misl» publishing, 2000. — V. 1–4.
  4. 4.0 4.1 S. Kluchnikov. Proclaimer of the fire epoch. Story and study about Helena Ivanovna Roerich. Novosibirsk, Siberia department of «Detskaya literature» publishing, 1991. — P.10.
  5. Skumin, V. A.; Aunovsky, O. K. (1995). Светоносцы (о семье Рерихов) [archive] (in Russian). ISBN 5-88167-004-3. Retrieved May 13, 2015. Unknown parameter |trans_title= ignored (help)CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Ivanov M.A. Roerichs and Tver region. Tver: GERS publishing. — 2007. P.33.
  7. 7.0 7.1 H.I. Roerich’s biography at the website of Charitable Foundation named after H.I. Roerich.
  8. 8.0 8.1 N. K. Roerich. Diary leaves. Volume 2. — Moscow, ICR, 2000. — p.448.
  9. L. V. Shaposhnikova. Wisdom of ages («Mudrost vekov», in Russian). — Moscow, International Centre of the Roerichs, 2000. — P.448.
  10. S. Kluchnikov. Proclaimer of the fire epoch. Story and study about Helena Ivanovna Roerich. Novosibirsk, Siberia department of «Detskaya literature» publishing, 1991. — P.25.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 H.I. Roerich’s biography at the website of International Centre-Museum named after N.K. Roerich.
  12. 14 L.V. Shaposhnikova. Wisdom of ages («Mudrost vekov», in Russian). — Moscow, International Centre of the Roerichs, 2000. — P.139.
  13. Museum named after N.K. Roerich. Museum guide. — Moscow, International Centre of the Roerichs, Master-Bank, 2006. — P.262.
  14. L.V. Shaposhnikova. Wisdom of ages («Mudrost vekov», in Russian). — Moscow, International Centre of the Roerichs, 2000. — P.139.
  15. 18 Chalice of the East. Mahatmas Letters. Third edition. — Riga-Moscow-Minsk, «Ligatma-Moga-N» publishing, 1995.
  16. Museum named after N.K. Roerich. Museum guide. — Moscow, International Centre of the Roerichs, Master-Bank, 2006. — P.281.
  17. H.I. Roerich commemoration meeting at the Centre-Museum named after N.K. Roerich.
  18. Museum named after N.K. Roerich. Museum guide. — Moscow, International Centre of the Roerichs, Master-Bank, 2006. — P.283.
  19. Museum named after N.K. Roerich. Museum guide. — Moscow, International Centre of the Roerichs, Master-Bank, 2006. — P.285.
  20. Museum named after N.K. Roerich. Museum guide. — Moscow, International Centre of the Roerichs, Master-Bank, 2006. — P.318,320.
  21. Minor planet «Roerich» [archive] / «Lets protect the names and heritage of the Roerichs» («Zaschitim imya I nasledie Rerikhov») (in Russian) V.3. Documents, publications, essays. — Moscow, International Centre of the Roerichs, 2005.- 1094 p ─ Astronomic data of the minor planet «Roerich» [archive] on NASA website.
  22. Larichev V.E., Matochkin Ye.P. Roerich and Siberia. – Novosibirsk, 1993. – P.183.
  23. Monument of N.K. and H.I. Roerichs / Website of ICR
  24. From resolution of International public and scientific conference “Jubilee Roerich’s readings”/ Website of ICR.
  25. International Roerich Memorial Trust, India
  26. A Museum of Helena Roerich has opened in India / Website “Podrobnosti”
  27. Public library named after H.I. Roerich, Altai Republic, Ust-Koksa.
  28. Charitable foundation named after H. I. Roerich [archive]
  29. International award named after H.I. Roerich [archive]

External links[edit]

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