Chuds, Himalayan Brotherhood and Northern Shambhala by Aado Lintrop
I interested in writings of Roerichs after my trip to Ladakh and before my second visit to Nepal, when I wanted to read as many literature connected with the region as possible.
So I found Nicholas Roerich’s “Altai-Himalaya” in Estonian and started to read.
After some pages I wondered why it’s so impossible to understand the text, why it seems to me like coded one, and unfortunately I have no cipher to it.
Search of code leaded me at first to different writings connected with great Asian expedition of Roerichs.
But only after cursory reading of Helena Roerich’s diaries I began to obtain little understanding about several mysterious passages in the book. Or did I?
Rather I understood that many passages presented as old prophecies by Nicholas Roerich are repeated in diaries of Helena.
Actually of course vice versa – Nicholas Roerich cited in his works (also on paintings) prophecies of his wife.
To summarize for them who are not experts on topics related with life and work of Roerichs that since 1920 they were in all their activities instructed by members (masters, mahatmas) of mythical White Brotherhood (or Tibetan Brotherhood).
Idea of this brotherhood comes from theosophical works of Helena Blavatsky (she named it Great White Brotherhood).
Medium was Helena Roerich, but Nicholas also had experiments on that field (some of his so called automate writings and drawings are preserved). The mahatmas dictated to Helena Roerich most of the texts, published later in series of “Agni Yoga” books.
Passages from Helena’s texts were used by Nicholas also, and masters sometimes gave instructions concerning his paintings.
So I find very appropriate to cite here words of Nicolas Roerich quoted by Ludmila Shaposhnikova: “In St. Petersburg, in Scandinavia, in England, in America and everywhere in Asia we worked, learned, expanded consciousness.
We created together and not in vain is said that our works have to carry two names – the ones of wife and husband.” (Šapošnikova 2008: 60.)
Without long discussion about the meaning and importance of Roerich’s works I take up now the topic of my paper.
In travel diaries of Nicholas Roerich one can find lot of folkloristic motifs. Also we can discover them on his paintings.
Probably he has interest in folk tradition already when he was young man. During his trips he collected certain folklore purposefully.
About Helena Roerich we can’t say the same, during the great Altai – Himalayan expedition she rather was medium-guide, her task was to receive and forward instructions of the Brotherhood.
Some passages in her diaries about bad health and instructions to avoid sunshine refer rather to separate or reclusive life than to active communication with local people.
I dare to suppose that most folkloristic motifs in Helena Roerich’s texts originate from literature.
Next I shall observe significant (and most often occurring) motifs connected with folklore in writings of Roerichs.
In focus of them are sacred land (Shambhala, Belovodye) and miraculous stone (treasure of the world, norbu rinpotše, tšintamani, lapis exilis), whereas the first is widely represented in works of Nicholas Roerich, the second is popular in diaries of Helena Roerich.
1. Shambhala, Northern Shambhala, Belovodye.
During the long Asian expedition (1924-1928) Nicholas Roerich collected stories about Shambhala.
Besides the land of wise and righteous men connected with the kalachakra doctrine he brings Russian Belovodye – sacred land where real believers and wise men do live, where one can escape from false doctrine of Antichrist.
For Roerich Belovodye seems to be national variant of Shambhala. Shambhala itself is treated simultaneously as notion of spiritual sphere and real locus.
For example in Shambhala, the Resplendent, written in form of dialogue, a seeker of knowledge asks lama: ”So, do not speak to me about the heavenly Shambhala only, but also about the one on earth; because you know as well as I, that on earth Shambhala is connected with the heavenly one. And in this link, the two worlds are unified. (Шамбала сияющая.)
The region seems to have two centers, around which all folklore motifs and revelations are connected – mount Belukha in Altai and Kanchenjunga in Himalaya.
Nicholas Roerich writes in his diary: “On the seventeenth of August we beheld Beluha. It was so clear and reverberant. Verily, Zvenigorod!
Beyond Beluha there appears the crests of Kunlun so beloved to the heart, and beyond that "the mountain of the Divine Queen" and "Five Treasure Troves of the Snows."
And herself, "the Queen of the White Snows”, and all the written and unwritten, the spoken and the unspoken. (Roerich 1990: 213.)
Zvenigorod (City of ringing bells) is the utopia of Roerichs, the city to be found on the foot of mount Belukha in Verkhnii Uimon Valley, planned to be capital of the New Land (or States of Asia or Sacred Union of the East). In diaries of Helena Roerich Zvenigorod is often called the city of knowledge.
About mount Belukha Nicholas Roerich presents next story: “The name of Orion is often connected with the narrative about Gesar Khan: On Altai, the mountain Beluha is called Outch-Sure. Outch means Orion; Sure, the dwelling of Gods; thus correlating to the Mongolian, Sumer and Hindu Sumeru. Upon the mountain Outch-Sure one ascends by a White Khatak.” (Roerich 1990: 66.)
For Roerichs constellation of Orion is important as the home of miraculous stone, but about it afterwards.
Altai is like the vestibule or gate of Shambhala, because Roerich believes that Russian Belovodye tradition points toward Himalaya.
Among Uimon old believers Nicholas Roerich writes down their stories about Belovodye.
A trip to Belovodye is described like this: “From here, you go between the Irtysh and Argun rivers. After a hard journey, if you do not lose your way, you come to the salt lakes.
This path is very dangerous! Many people have already perished on them. But if you choose the right time, you will be able to traverse these dangerous grounds. Then you arrive at the Bogogorsh mountains.
From there, begins a still more dangerous path to Kokushi. After, take the path over the Ergor itself and follow it up to the snowy land.
There, in the highest mountains, is a sacred valley.
This is Belovodye. If your spirit is ready to reach this place through all dangers, the people of Belovodye will greet you.
And if they find you worthy, perhaps they will even permit you to remain with them.
But this happens very seldom.” (Roerich 1990: 312-313.) Russian text shows that text is really put down from people’s mouth.
Old believers tell to Roerichs about concrete men or women who left to seek Belovodye.
In “Shambhala” we find example where is told about the group that went seek Belovodye only six years ago (in 1920): “… but when we passed the Altai in 1926, a letter was received through a native Oirot from one woman member of this party.
She had written to her relatives that they had not yet reached the sacred place.
But they still hoped to reach it. She could not say where they were living at the moment, but they lived well. Thus again, legend and fairy tale are interwoven with realities.
These people know of Belovodye—Shambhala—and they whisper of the path to the Himalayas.” (Roerich 1990: 313.)
To the question “do you know about Belovodye long time” follows answer: “The message came from the Kalmucks and the Mongols; originally they told our forefathers who lived according to the old belief and devotion.”
And Nicholas Roerich reflects on the topic: “Which means that at the base of information about Belovodye lies a communication from the Buddhist world. The same center of teaching of life is interpreted by the Old Believers.
The way between the Argun and Irtysh leads on to the same Tibet.” (Roerich 1990: 207.)
Publishing only one possible origin of the legend and not discussing about other variants certifies, that Roerich was intended to show the tenacity of Belovodye and Shambhala traditions.
In the book he presents side by side Russian and Eastern texts. One example amongst the last: “On the summits of Sikkim, the foothills of the Himalayas, among the blooming rhododendrons and inhaling the fragrant Balu—the healing plant—a lama, looking like a carved image of the middle ages pointing towards the five summits of Kanchenjunga, told us: “There is the entrance to the holy land of Shambhala.
By passages through wonderful ice caves under the earth, a few deserving ones even in this life have reached the holy place, where all wisdom, all glory, all splendor are gathered.” (Roerich 1990: 299.)
Tunnels or caves connect Shambhala and Belovodye for Nicholas Roerich with the stories about mythical people Chuds who went underground.
In the same context legends about sunken cities and monasteries are mentioned: “Recall, now, the Russian legend about the mysterious "Tchud" which went underground to escape the persecution of the evil forces.
To this secreted place also leads the sacred legend of the subterranean Kitege.
Everything comes from the North. The whole world tells its tales of underground cities, treasure troves, temples merging under water!
The Russian and Norman peasant relates about this with equal surety.
So, too, does the inhabitant of the desert know of the treasures which sometimes glimmer from under the sand waves and then—until the ordained time—recede again under the earth.
Around one beacon-fire are gathering those who remember the predestined dates.
We do not speak of superstitions but of knowledge.” (Roerich 1990: 28.)
What connects legends about Kitege city sunk in lake Svetlojar with the Chud subterranean and believers left to Belovodye? In legends Kitege contrasts with pagan army of Batu-Khan, and transforms on the background of unfair attack to the stronghold of justice and religion, that escapes from barbaric enemy sinking under ground or in the lake.
Old believers escape from false doctrine of Antichrist behind high mountains on the land of justice and right religion.
But we also know stories of burning or burying themselves in villages, and perhaps this connects inside the old believers’ tradition sunken cities with legends about Chuds. Pay attention – Roerich says that Chud went under earth in order to escape from evil forces.
Unlikely he considered Christian Russian settlers as evil force, but legends about the Chud formed namely in the region where pagan Finno-Ugric peoples encountered Slavic Christian world.
Anyway, these legends are widely spread in Northern Europe.
In Komi folklore common conceptions about the Chuds may be divided in three major groups: (i) the Chuds were a people living on the upper course of the River Kama and the Vychegda River long before the Komi; (ii) the Chuds were the Komi before their conversion into Christianity; (iii) the Chuds were the Komi heros (Gribova 1975: 93). The Chuds objected to the arrival of tall people.
They hid themselves in saunas and holes, and threw stones and coals at the newcomers.
The holes of the Chuds are still there: they probably fell down through them (ibid: 95).
They were the Komi, only unbaptised like the Chuds. When they were Christianised, they believed it was something bad and hurt themselves: they built dugouts, descended to these dugouts and severed through the beams supporting the ceilings…(ibid: 96).
But Chuds were also supernatural beings: “According to the Komi-Permyak beliefs the Chuds are …small anthropomorphic black creatures, who live in dark places: in abandoned houses, saunas, drying barns, cellars, inside the house behind the oven and under the floor, in the woods and in water.
They are, in fact, called the sauna-Chuds, barn-Chuds, etc.” (Gribova 1975: 107). So in Komi folk religion Chud is connected with pagan ancestors or devil-like beings, who could be the same ancestors, but in demonized form.
In several regions the Chud is connected with people who lived in the region before new agricultural people appeared, and sign of approaching the new times often was appearing of birch trees.
And stories of the kind are presented also by Roerich: “An old man leads us to a stony hill and solemnly pointing at the stone circles of ancient tombs, says: “Here, the Chud went under the earth.
When the White Tzar came to Altai and when the white birch tree began to bloom in our region, the Chud were unwilling to remain under the White Tzar.
They went underground and closed the passage, with mighty stones.
There you can see it. But the Chud did not pass forever.
A new era will come, when the people from Belovodye will return and will give to the people a new knowledge, then the Chud will return with all their acquired treasures.”
(Roerich 1990: 314.) I think that old believers who escaped in Altai from different regions of Russia carried with them also legends of their old homelands about Chuds, and in new living place these legends were connected with local and more spectacular antiquities (like kurgans).
Nicholas Roerich says that stony Chud burial places were shown them in Uimon village (Roerich 1990: 207).
Old believers’ village Uimonskaya or (now Verkhnii Uimon) is mentioned in manuscript Belovodye “travel guide book”as Uimon, Umaiska, Ummoiska, Umonka, Umomenska etc.
It was important milestone on the way to Belovodye, and a monk Yossif or John lived there, who, according to legend, went to Belovodye and knew the way. (Krinitšnaja 2004: 843-844.)
Now we will speak about the manuscript “travel guide books” that were popular among the old believers in 19th Century.
Neonila Krinichnaya is seen in the process of forming these manuscripts patterns of fairy tales, Old Russian travelogues (such as „Хождение“ Игумена Даниила” from 12th Century) and apocryphal texts (as Хождение Агапия в рай – Krinitšnaja 2004: 830-831).
Reality of these ”travel guide books” ends in Altai. What follows is 40 + 4 days long journey through China and Kukania or Titania, in variants also 12 days by ship over the sea. Anyhow, Belovodye is situated on the other side of the water (river, sea or ocean).
Many old believers tried to find Belovodye by the help of such manuscripts.
For example Cossacks from Ural Mountains travelled from May 22nd till September 24th of 1898 according the next route: Odessa, Istanbul, Cyprus, Beirut, Jerusalem, Port-Said, Sues canal, Sri Lanka, Sumatra, Singapore, Saigon, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Nagasaki, Vladivostok, Chita, Irkutsk, Krasnoyarsk (Krinitšnaja 2004: 849).
Stories about Belovodye are not gone even today.
Feklka Semenovna Bochkareva from Verkhnii Uimon told in 1982: “One has to seek Belovodye, there are springs with healing water. Not everybody finds it. There will not pass unworthy with unrighteous spirit.
There is told that Belovodye lays between Buhtarma and China. Such a large place.
Zinovya Kharitonova Sokolova, called as Sokolikha by all in her village went together with her sons (boys were 15 – 17 years old and she herself also not young – maybe fifty) to seek Belovodye.
People told that she sent letter, but did not add her address. Old men told: „Belovodye exists, of course.
It is not easy to go there. People are gone very close, on the other bank cocks are crying and cows are mooing, but mist is very thick, almost blue, it covers all...
You can pass if you have no sins.“ (Кучуганова Р.П. Уймонские староверы. С. 24.)
In conclusion of the topic about Belovodye or Shambhala we can say, that Nicholas Roerich presented in several works authentic traditions collected during the expedition, but all the material was used in suitable context for illustrating his ideas.
We find very different picture when observing text passages connected with the miraculous stone.
2. Miraculous stone (treasure of the world, norbu rinpotše, tšintamani, lapis exilis).
We find Chintamani on paintings of Nicholas Roerich. In some occasions it is outlined in traditional eastern manner - three flames on the back of white horse.
But there are more paintings with sacred casket (also made by Svetoslav Roerich), and we can state on the basis of Helena Roerich’s diaries that the casket contains the stone.
Nicholas Roerich writes about the stone in his “Altai – Himalaya”: “There exists a legend about a Black Stone, which appears at the dates of great events.
If you compare all the verbal dates of India, Tibet, Egypt and Mongolia, then their coincidence will remind you that apart from the record of historians, there is being set down another history of the world.
Especially significant is it to compare the testimony of completely unrelated nationalities.” (Roerich 1990: 210.)
We can read more about the stone in “Shambhala”: “Many other similar wonders were related to us by educated Buriats and Mongols.
They spoke about a mysterious light which shines above the Khotan stupa; about the coming re-appearance of the lost Chalice of Buddha.
They also spoke of the miraculous stone from a distant star, which is appearing in different localities before the Great Advent.
The Great Timur, it is said, temporarily possessed this stone.
The stone is usually brought by completely unsuspected strangers.
In the same way, at certain times, it has disappeared to be again discovered some time later in an entirely different country.
The greater portion of this stone remains in Shambhala, while part of it is circulating throughout the Earth, retaining its magnetic link with the main Stone.
Endless stories are told about this Stone.
King Solomon and the Emperor Akbar also are said to have possessed it.
These sagas involuntarily remind one of the Lapis Exilis, sung by the famous Meistersinger Wolfram von Eschenbach, who ends this song with the line: “Und dieser Stein ist Gral genannt!” - And this stone is named the Grail! (Roerich 1990: 316.)
All grand old men named in the passage as owners of the stone (Timur, Solomon, Akbar) exist in the same context in the diary of Helena Roerich, where one can find legend about the stone, dictated by Mahatma Morya.
In spite of telling how important is collecting and comparing legends of different peoples, he presents tradition about the stone in vague and indefinite way, if connected with legends about Shambhala and Belovodye.
My opinion is that all the legend originates from diary of Helena Roerich, where the stone is firstly mentioned in May 8th of 1921, when Allal-Ming says: “If you ask, shall I really give you the stone.”
Consistent dictating of the legend starts on August 24th 1923 in France: “Through the desert I come—I bring the Chalice covered with the Shield. Within it is a treasure—the Gift of Orion.”
So the beginning words of the legend sound. In the chalice under the shield lays stone from Orion that began its earthly journey somewhere in Chinese Uiguria not far from Lop Nur lakes.
Afterwards it was in temple of Jerusalem, was owned by mystical Passedvan, then appeared in hands of Indian ruler, was taken to Sri Lanka and from there to Great Timur.
Then the stone went to the west, lied on Ararat Mountain, and was treasure of King Solomon.
It was owned by Tamerlan and Chinese emperor, appeared again in Europe in hands of Langobards. And now the embassy of Roerich is taken it back to the East.
On August 28th 1923 Mahatma Morya says: “Let’s collect parts of the legend, then I shall give a sign for printing it in America.”
Since August 31st passages of the legend appear in diary under the note “And now the legend”.
On September 15th follows order to Oyana (Ester Lichtman): “Take the legend with you. It can be printed in Marc of 1925.” But some days later (in September 24th M.M. finds that year 1925 is too late deadline. Dictating of the legend continues.
In October 8th Helena asks, is the introduction of the legend wrote well, and get answer: “Yes, it is.” In October 20th, just before the trip to India the last long passage of the legend was dictated: “Many are the envoys from the East. The camels bring the Stone to Tibet.
Across the desert they carry It and with It a new power.
And Its last flight to the West lighted up an unheard-of kingdom of an unsuccessful union of western nations.
In each ray of the East they already seek the Stone.
The time will come; the dates will be fulfilled.
Designated is the ordained way when of Itself the Stone will come from the West.
We affirm to await and understand the way of the Stone. We affirm to understand the predestined carriers of the Stone who go homewards.
The ship is ready.” Here we get a hint that the stone was possessed also by Napoleon. In February 10th of 1924 from Darjeeling (Dalai Potang) went order: „Write in America. The legend can be printed.”
Very last strokes of the legend follow: “The New Country shall go forth to meet the seven stars under the sign of three stars which sent the Stone to the world.
Prepared is the treasure and the enemy shall not take the Shield covered with gold.
Await the Stone! Print as interesting prophecy in five languages – English, Russian, Jewish (sic!), Italian and Czechoslovakian. Don’t lose the time!”
Legend about the stone was published in book “On Eastern Crossroads” (Криптограммы Востока) under pseudonym J. Saint Hilaire (Сент-Илер, Ж.) in Paris.
In order to explain the last passage is necessary to say that in the self mythology of Roerichs Nicholas was incarnation of fifth (so called great) dalai-lama, whose destiny was to take in Tibet the light of teaching reformed in the West (for that was created the symbol of stone).
Mahatma Morya announces in the diary of Helena Roerich in December, 19th 1922: “Embassy consists of Russians, Tibetans, Turks, Hindus, Persians and Chinese. On the right cheek of the ambassador is constellation of Great Bear.
When the embassy reveals My will, My hand will descend to foreheads of selectees.
It is time to begin study your way. It is time for fairy tale to turn into true.”
In the passage is mentioned the birth mark similar to Great Bear on the cheek of Nicholas Roerich.
How respect tradition of the kind that originated directly from White Brotherhood?
I bring some possible parallels that help us better understand the phenomenon.
A Khakass singer of epics khaiji has special spirit khaiji eezi who gives him gift of singing and helps remember long song texts.
Modern singer Slava Kuchenov describes his artistic process in the same way that the khaiji of the past did: “I close my eyes and see scenes unrolling, which I then describe.
” Khaiji have long been known for their clairvoyant abilities, although in some tales a storyteller and a clairvoyant are brothers.
(Van Deusen 2004: 78.) In Tibet there are five different types of singers of theGesar epic.
Some of them are characterized by shaman-like attributes – headgear, costume, bronze mirror.
First type is possessional singers who claim that they learned their songs from supernatural beings and are helped during performance by special spirits.
(Paper of Chao Gajin on the ISFNR congress in Athens 2009).
How we can differ from them Helena Roerich who claimed that her writings were dictated by mahatmas of White Brotherhood? Most general answer is that they are different by tradition.
Performance of both Khakass and Tibetan singers, although believed taking place by help of spirits, is traditional and, as such, comparable with the performances of other singers of the kind.
Often the texts of such performances are so similar that folklorists of past spoke about them as about variants of one ideal type.
Like in the case of our own runo songs similarity of texts is so big that is noticeable even by ignorant.
Singers use traditional plots poured in traditional form with help of traditional means of expression.
The tradition is transmissed orally, and special state of mind during performance helps to remember long texts. Helena Roerich was representative of totally different culture.
We know that already in childhood she knew different languages and read a lot.
Her background is written culture, interpreting of which gives us very original creation.
We can’t speak here about the variants of some ideal type, because the work of Helena Roerich is as unique as poems of Juhan Liivi, Jaan Kaplinski or Dylan Thomas.
- Jelena Roerichi päevikud: Дневники-манускрипты Е.И.Рерих в печатном виде.
- Рерих Н.К. Шамбала сияющая.
- Сент-Илер, Ж. Криптограммы Востока.
- Gribova 1975 = Грибова Любовь Степановна. Пермский звериный стиль (проблемы семантики). Москва: Наука.
- Deusen 2004 = Kira van Deusen. Singing story, healing drum. Shamans and storytellers of Turkic Siberia. McGill-Queen’s University Press. Montreal & Kingston, London, Ithaca.
- Krinitšnaja 2004 = Криничная Неонила Артемовна. Русская мифология: Мир образов фольклора. Российская Академия наук, Карельский научный центр, Институт языка, литературы и истории. Москва: Академический Проект; Гаудеамус.
- Roerich 1990 = Nikolai Roerich. Altai-Himaalaja. Aasia süda. Tallinn: Olion.
- Šapošnikova 2008 = Ljudmilla Šapošnikova. Meister. Tallinn: Ilo.