Nicholas Roerich, Chintamani and ‘Le Sacre du Printemps’

A strong case can be made that Nicholas Roerich depicted the main Chintamani stone in a number of versions in his sketches and designs for Act One of ‘Le Sacre du Printemps’.

Roerich had learnt about the Chintamani stone by at least the year 1912 from the high lama Agvan Dorjiev. The lama is said to have obtained a fragment of the Chintamani stone ‘from Shambhala’ and to have concealed it in the foundations of the Buddhist Temple then being built under his supervision in the Staraya Derevnya district of St Petersburg. It was at that same time, while Roerich was a member of the committee advising the Temple project, that he also learnt from Dorjiev about the ‘future importance’ of Shambhala. In these circumstances, it seems very likely that Roerich received from Dorjiev, or one of his circle, an impression of the size and appearance of the main stone.

Up to that time, Roerich’s scenic design for Act One of ‘Le Sacre du Printemps’, a ballet inspired by rituals to revivify Spring in ancient Russia, featured the depiction of a large tree. When this was criticised by Diaghilev, Roerich chose to replace it with the depiction of a large boulder or stone. This would now act as the centrepiece for the sacred dance.

Roerich’s sketches dated 1912, and those for subsequent productions of the ballet, show the evolution of this design. Versions of it were used for the premiere in 1913; for the 1929 design, produced in 1930; and the 1944 design, produced in 1948.

All these depictions of the stone exhibit a remarkable resemblance to the great meteorite lying in the foothills of the Altai Mountains in Mongolia, which, following from information contained in the Roerichs’ books, can be identified in the scientific record as the main mass of what was called the Chintamani stone. The last photo in the sequence is one of only two which are known of this great meteorite insitu. It therefore also shows the place which was understood by the Roerichs to be the ‘foundation of Shambhala’.

After Roerich left Russia in 1917, the contemporary realisation of the Shambhala idea in Central Asia became a mission which gave direction to many of his activities. In Paris in 1923, Roerich and his wife Helena received a talisman intended to protect and guide them during their travels in Asia and their subsequent work. It was a piece of a meteorite which was also identified with the name Chintamani, and this is one of the reasons for inferring that Roerich’s Stone was likely to have derived from the same main stone as the piece earlier obtained by Dorjiev.

Whether Roerich personally visited the site of the great meteorite during his six-month sojourn in Mongolia is an open question. The location of the stone, which was never recorded accurately in the scientific record, was however well known to one of the closest co-workers of both Roerich and Dorjiev in the Shambhala idea, the scholar Dr Tsyben Zhamtsarano.

Sacre decor 1912, ‘Kiss to the Earth’, with tree

Sacre decor 1912, ‘Kiss to the Earth’, with stone

Sacre decor 1913

Sacre decor 1930

Sacre decor 1944

Insitu photo of the great meteorite in Mongolia, identifiable as the main mass of the Chintamani stone

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