Helena Ivanovna Roerich was a Russian philosopher, writer, and public figure, a co-founder of the Agni Yoga Society.
Helena Roerich was born on February 13, 1879 under the name of Elena Ivanovna Shaposhnikova in St. Petersburg, Russia. Her mother was the grand-daughter of Mikhail Kutuzov, the field marshal who had led the Russian army against Napoleon; Modest Mussorgsky was another prominent relative. Her father was a prominent architect, academician of architecture of Saint-Petersburg Ivan Ivanovich Shaposhnikov.
From a very early age she took a serious interest in literature and philosophy. She also exhibited various psychic abilities.
In 1895, Helena was graduated from Mariinsky Gymnasium in Saint-Petersburg with gold medal. A brilliant pianist, she anticipated a career as a concert performer. Fate soon decreed otherwise.
In 1899, at the estate of her aunt Princess Y. Putyatina, Helena Shaposhnikova first met Nicholas Roerich, then twenty-five years old and a recent graduate of the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts. This was a strong alliance of two loving people united by deep mutual feelings and common views. 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". Many Roerich's paintings resulted from their common creativity. The artist called her "She who leads".
The marriage resulted in two sons, George, born in 1902, and Svetoslav, born in October 1904. Later George became a world-known scientist-orientalist and Svetoslav became the painter, thinker and public worker.
After the 1917 Revolution in Russia Nicholas and Helena Roerich moved to England. In 1920, while living in London, they joined the Theosophical Society, founded by their fellow Russian Madame Helena Blavatsky. On March 24, 1920, while in London, Helena allegedly met with Master Morya, one of the Mahatmas of the Himalayas who Madame Blavatsky had also claimed as a teacher. The communications Helena said she received from Master Morya served as the basis for Agni Yoga, her own synthesis of ancient Eastern beliefs and modern Western thought.
When 1920, N. K. Roerich was invited to the USA to take part in tour over the USA with exhibition of his paintings, the Roerich family moved to New York. While in the States Helena became an organizer and participant of cultural and enlightened creativity in the U.s., conducted under the guidance of her husband.
Along with her husband, she took part in expeditions of hard-to-reach and little-investigated regions of Central Asia (1924-1928). H.I. Roerich began to translate from English to Russian an extensive selection from "Mahatma's Letters" published in London in 1923. The selection was dedicated to description of Eastern doctrines and history of Theosophical Society foundation.
During the expedition Helena Roerich also published manuscript "Foundations of Buddhism". In this book the fundamental philosophical notions of Buddha's Teaching, such as reincarnation, karma, Nirvana were interpreted.
After finishing of Central-Asian expedition, Roerichs remained to live in India where they founded an Institute of Himalayan Studies "Urusvati". Helena Roerich was a Honorary President-Founder of the Institute and actively took part in organization of its work. Later "Urusvati" became a large international institute united well-known scientists from many countries. Main task of Helena Ivanovna's activity was in studying of ancient philosophic thought of the East.
Besides the thirteen published Agni Yoga books, she wrote numerous letters to disciples and aspirants all over the world. Some of these letters are published in her Letters of Helena Roerich, volumes I and II.
Helena Ivanovna was co-author of idea of the International Treaty for Protection of Artistic and Scientific Institutions and Historical Monuments (Roerich's Pact)
Helena Roerich was deeply interested in Russiannational history and culture. She collected works of art and antiquities. A beautiful family collection from more than 300 works was later transferred to the Hermitage Museum. Helena Ivanovna knew the archeology well. Together with husband she often leaved at excavations in Novgorod's and Tver's regions and took part in this work.
She mastered the art of restoration and together with Nicholas Konstantinovich recovered at some canvases the masterpieces of great masters: Rubens, Breugel, Vandyke, and van Orley, hidden by latest paint layers.
After the death of her husband in 1948 Helena Roerich and her elder son planned to return to Russia, however their visas were denied. Having Russian citizenship Helena did not have a possibility to return home and settled in Kalimpong India, until her death in 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".
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