The Chintamani of the Roerichs: Tales of an extraterrestrial talisman: 9

The Stone identified in the scientific record

If instead of being the creation of theoretical processes in the constellation of Orion, the main mass is presumed to be a scientifically recorded meteorite, it is perfectly possible to arrive at a description of its characteristics adduced from written evidence in the Roerichs’ books and certain pictorial clues, which can then be used to search the scientific record for a matching stone. Much of this information can be derived from Nicholas Roerich’s book Himalayas – Abode of Light, published in 1947, which included the important chapter Legend of the Stone written by Helena Roerich and reprinted from her book On Eastern Crossroads, published in 1931. Even so, such a matching stone might only have been the parent of the piece Roerich believed he was given, since we can presently only make reasoned deductions about the origin of the object the Roerichs were sent according to what they said about it, and a definitive identification can only be made by a comparison based on an examination of the actual fragment.
     For the purposes of the search, the description needs to take into account the following pieces of information:

     1.  The Stone was a piece of a larger meteorite.
     2.  There was a link between the Stone and the main mass which was characterised as ‘magnetic’, suggesting this was an iron meteorite, the type that exhibits this property.
     3.  The Stone was associated with the idea of Shambhala as Roerich understood it. Roerich stated that the main stone ‘is lying in Shambhala’, while his wife wrote that its site became the ‘foundation of Shambhala’. Roerich’s main underlying aim for the Central Asian Expedition was to help bring about the ‘New Country’, sometimes now called the ‘Shambhala project’, intended to unite the Buddhist lands of Central Asia into a new theocratic entity. The signal for this would be some kind of ‘holy war’ of Shambhala, which was expected to begin in Mongolia, and which, according to prophecy, was to be accompanied by a new Buddhist manifestation.
     4.  It was part of Roerich’s mission to return with it to its ‘homeland’ which was ‘in the East’. Roerich’s utmost destination for the main Expedition in Central Asia was Mongolia. Roerich was told that following this return journey, there would be a ‘new development’ in the Stone’s ‘homeland’, seeming to foreshadow the expectations concerning Shambhala.
     5.  The Stone was known about by Buddhist and Mongol scholars – in other words, members of the Buriat intelligentsia – who would have been people known to Roerich, and who must have received their knowledge of it because of its cultural or geographical proximity. High Lama Agvan Dorjiev and the scholar Dr Tsyben Zhamtsarano were the pre-eminent figures in this group whom Roerich knew well, and who are identified with the Shambhala idea. This item of evidence, along with item 2 above, is inferred from the passage in Himalayas – Abode of Light quoted in Section 1.
     6.  The main stone was not hidden or concealed, but was said by Mme Roerich to lie ‘visible upon the web of its native land’ – the landscape of its homeland – that is, where it fell. If doubts discussed in Section 6 about the translation of this passage and about what the author had in mind can be put aside, this is a particularly significant statement: it tells us that the stone would have been too heavy to be moved, and is another reason for believing it was a large iron meteorite. It is extremely rare for meteoritic stones found in the landscape not to have been moved, and even rarer for those too heavy to be moved, to be found lying on the surface of the landscape.
     7.  The name ‘Orion’ used in connection with the Stone, and the use of the ‘triad’ symbol as a graphic device by the Roerichs, may, in addition to other meanings, indicate a link with Mongolia. These interpretations are not mentioned by other researchers as far as I know, and are discussed in Section 8.

     If this evidence is accepted, two questions immediately follow: what was the identity of the main mass of the meteorite, and what can be said about its location? All meteorites which are known about are entered in the scientific record, and this would certainly apply to larger stones known about in the twentieth century. The record is compiled in The Catalogue of Meteorites, now in its fifth edition which was published in 2000 by Cambridge University Press. At the time I consulted the Catalogue for a matching stone I used the fourth edition, published in 1985 by the Natural History Museum, but the relevant information about the ‘candidate’ meteoritic stones I shortlisted and in particular the details of the selected stone remain essentially unchanged in the current edition. I made the identification on a visit to the Library of the Museum on 19th February 1991.
     A search in the Catalogue for stones that match the above criteria reveals one outstanding ‘candidate’. This is a large iron meteorite now called Armanty, which fell in remote antiquity at a site in the vicinity of the Bulgan river in the foothills of the Altai mountains in Mongolia, about 300km south-east of the sacred peak Belukha. The stone weighs about twenty-eight tons, making it by far the largest known meteorite in Asia and the fourth largest on record. It was recorded in 1898 and first studied scientifically by Russians in 1939, who gave it the name now used. In Mongolia it was called Mongon-temee – ‘Silver Camel’, or Mongon tosh – ‘Silver Saddle’, because of its shape.

Two views of the Armanty stone insitu

                                                                                                                                                                                                              The upper part of the map of the Roerich Expedition published in Altai-Himalaya, shown in full in Section 4, enlarged and centred on the location of the Armanty meteorite as it was at the time of the Expedition. The site of the great meteorite lay just to the south of the range marked ‘Altai Mountains’, and happens to fall immediately to the left of the ‘M’ in that inscription and under the ‘M’ of the name of Mongolia above it. The Chinese-Mongolian frontier, not shown on the map, passes very close, to the west of the location. 

     Accounts of the stone in Mongolia tell that for the Mongol people it was a sacred stone, and the local population believed it to be an abode of earth spirits. As an iron meteorite, its magnetism was said to be such that up to a mile distant from the stone, a compass could be used to find it. The meteorite was believed to be composed of solid silver because of the bright crystalline appearance of the exposed interior of the metal, prior to the formation of a patina.  A modern description of the interior of the stone speaks of it as having a ‘whitish-grey interior that contains shining specks of metallic iron’, which brings to mind Mme Roerich’s description of her ‘finger-length’ Stone in Legend of the Stone as ‘of grayish luster’, while a recent observation of its exposed surface notes that its underside – the part originally in contact with the soil when insitu – is heavily corroded. The latter is characteristic of an ancient fall, and also suggests how the removal of pieces may have been facilitated. It is noteworthy that, as the stone is seen today, there are indications of large and small pieces having been prised off from the corroded underside, while more incisive methods including blowtorch work have been used to achieve this elsewhere on the exposed surface.

This photo is said to show the Widmanstatten structure of the Armanty stone. The Roerichs’ Stone, if it derived from the Armanty stone, and were it to be cut and polished, would be expected to show a similar crystalline structure.

      The details of the Armanty stone in the Catalogue were such that I was reasonably confident I had identified the stone correctly. Clearly the next step was to look for at least one other separate trail of evidence regarding the stone which might provide an independent corroboration of the identification. On my next visit to the Library I therefore sought relevant material about the stone published elsewhere. I discovered it in a pamphlet entitled Meteorites of Mongolia by Ochiren Namnandorj, first published in Ulan Bator in 1958 and republished in English in Miami in 1980. In fact the pamphlet provided a rich seam of additional information about the meteorite, and crucially named an individual who not only had an intimate knowledge of the stone, but was also known to have been a colleague of Nicholas Roerich: Dr Tsyben Zhamtsarano.

Dr Tsyben Zhamtsarano 

     Roerich would have first made his acquaintance in pre-Revolutionary St Petersburg, where Zhamtsarano was a university teacher. Namnandorj’s pamphlet is a crucial source of information about the scholar’s close knowledge of the great meteorite, and finding him mentioned in this context was confirmation from a new direction of a direct link between Roerich and the stone I had earlier identified solely on the basis of a description. As a geographer and ethnographer Zhamtsarano had a field knowledge of the stone and had written about it in a book on the Torgut Mongols. Namnandorj relates that in 1928 the scholar successfully opposed a proposal to have the stone melted down so that the metal – erroneously thought to be silver – could be used to augment the State Treasury in Ulan Bator. As the stone was treated as sacred by the people of Mongolia, it was generally forbidden to remove pieces of the great meteorite, although the present surface does show signs of such tampering, but interestingly, one of the very few people who may have been in a position of sufficient authority in Mongolia to permit pieces to be taken would have been Zhamtsarano.
     Following the initial identification of the Stone, I considered my discovery of Zhamtsarano’s close knowledge of the meteorite to be the most important evidential corroboration of its correctness. Subsequently I would suggest a further significant, though evidentially more tenuous, corroboration based on Roerich’s pictorial representations of the sacred stone in his set designs for Diaghilev’s ballet Le Sacre du Printemps. This arises from the circumstances of Roerich’s involvement in the construction of the Buddhist Temple in St Petersburg, his contact at that time with Dorjiev, and the the fact that during 1912-13 the artist was also working on the designs for the first production of the ballet. It seems that coincident with, or following soon after, receiving certain instruction from Dorjiev about Shambhala, Roerich changed the centrepiece of his scenic decor for Act One of the ballet from a large tree – this having been criticised by Diaghilev – to a stone which bears a notable resemblance to the Armanty meteorite as it appeared insitu. The pictorial evidence on which this is based is given in Section 10.
     In a rare autobiographical passage in his book Himalayas – Abode of Light, Roerich acknowledges Dorjiev as his informant on the subject of Shambhala: ‘It was during the construction of a Buddhist temple in the Russian capital that I first heard of Shambhala. Being a member of the committee, I met with a very learned Buriat lama who was the first to pronounce the name Chang Shambhala [Northern Shambhala]. It will be known some day why this name pronounced under such circumstances had such a great significance.’ This not only certainly refers to Dorjiev, but the latter statement must refer to the high lama’s aspirations for a ‘great Buddhist confederacy’ in Central Asia, an idea Roerich would adopt as his own after he went to America. It is hard to imagine he would not have learned about the Chintamani stone, the ‘chip’ obtained from it which, as mentioned in Section 1, the high lama had evidently installed in the Temple, and its role and purpose in the Shambhala idea, from Dorjiev himself at this time – and he may well also have received from him an impression of the stone’s appearance. Such information might also have been supplemented by Dr Zhamtsarano, who was also connected with the Temple, and who also shared Dorjiev’s theocratic aspirations. As previously stated, I consider Zhamtsarano’s knowledge of the Mongolian stone as an important corroboration of my identification, being the only known reference to an individual within Roerich’s circle who was familiar with the one meteorite which matches the information in the Roerichs’ books. In the event of Zhamtsarano having consented to the removal of a piece for the Roerichs, he would, like Dorjiev, have had a strong motive in his sympathy for Roerich’s aims, and, as a geographer, he knew its precise location, and therefore also knew that the Stone lay at the heart of the ‘New Country’ – Mongolia. Of course, a higher, spiritual authority would have been the Panchen Lama, from whom the first fragment was said by Constantin Ivanenko to have been obtained, but I know of no strong evidential leads from which to develop this line of enquiry.
      I would suggest that Roerich believed the Stone he received after he left Russia, in Paris in 1923 – and while he was formulating his own mission to Asia on behalf of Shambhala – was from the great meteorite in Mongolia, because he knew his talisman had a precedent – in other words, he not only already knew from Dorjiev about the main stone, but, following from the information Constantin has given us, he also knew that an earlier piece of it had been received by Dorjiev and installed by him in the foundations of the Buddhist Temple in St Petersburg. Roerich’s understanding would have been that both this first piece, and his own Stone, would have derived from the same main mass which Dorjiev called Chintamani: this has been identified in this research as the Armanty meteorite – though by what name Roerich might have known it other than Chintamani, is an open question. If Constantin’s account of the first piece of the stone is correct, we are also entitled to say that Roerich’s early interest in sacred stones, which was so eloquently expressed in his magnificent painting of 1905, Treasure of the Angels, would have received by 1913 a specific orientation from the personal contacts he would have made and the knowledge he received about Shambhala during the realisation of the Temple project, in which he played a part.

Treasure of the Angels

The idea that Roerich represented the main Chintamani stone, identified here as the Armanty meteorite, as the sacred stone in Le Sacre du Printemps, is described further in Section 10. Contingent on that result, the ideas arose that Sina Fosdick had knowledge of this identity, based on her selective use of Roerich’s images from the ballet in a Roerich Museum publication, and that Roerich also represented the meteorite on a wall painting in his studio at Kulu. These are discussed in Sections 15 and 10 respectively.  

     Roerich’s plans evidently involved both Dorjiev and Zhamtsarano, so we may infer he had kept in touch with them prior to returning to the Soviet Union. Certainly it is known that Dorjiev awaited the artist’s return and expected to meet him. Although Dorjiev had been in Moscow in 1926 to conclude an agreement to convert the Buddhist Temple into a Tibetan-Mongolian mission, the meeting with Roerich did not take place in the city, but at Verkhne-Udinsk when the travellers eventually reached Buryatia. Whether Dorjiev was in a position to assist Roerich at this time is an open question; while he would have been sympathetic to the idea of a new theocratic entity in Central Asia,  the conditions prevailing in the later 1920’s were such that he is said to have formed the opinion that the artist’s ambitions in this connection were now unrealistic. The full scope of Roerich’s collaboration with Zhamtsarano after the Expedition reached Mongolia is also an open question and an interesting one, given mention of their liasons there by George Roerich – the artist’s elder son – in his account of the Expedition, Trails to Inmost Asia. Conceivably the Roerichs’ relatively long sojourn of six months in Mongolia in 1926-27 may have been in part the result of an expectation of the arrival there of the Panchen Lama, to become the spiritual figurehead in the ‘New Country’, but mention of this subject, together with that of his parents’ esoteric interests, including all matters specifically relating to the Stone, finds no place in George’s scholarly book. Certainly the Roerichs’ prolonged stay in Mongolia would have allowed them ample opportunity to arrange a journey to the site of the great meteorite, but this must remain an open question until our knowledge chronicling Roerich’s actual programme of activities in Mongolia is complete enough to answer it.

     In 1998 I made known my initial findings regarding the identity of the Stone to the Roerich Museum in New York and the International Centre of the Roerichs in Moscow. The Directors of both these institutions were non-committal, as have been all the authors and researchers with whom I have since corresponded. However, no serious contrary evidence has become known to me subsequently which would cause me to doubt the identification.   

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