Saturday, June 3, 2023

Mongolia | False Lama of Mongolia: The Life and Death of Dambijantsan

Who was Dambijantsan?

A Buddhist monk; a freedom fighter for Mongolian independence; the descendant of Amursanaa (1723–1757), the Western Mongol who led the last great uprising against the Qing Dynasty of China; the incarnation of Mahakala, the Buddhist god of war; bandit, torturer, murderer, or evil incarnate? During his lifetime no one was sure who he really was, and even today the controversy about his life continues.

Born in what is now the Republic of Kalmykia, part of the Russian Federation, Dambijantsen traveled throughout Tibet, India, and China before arriving in Mongolia in 1890 where he tossed gold coins to bystanders and announced to one and all that he had come to free Mongolia from the yoke of the Qing Dynasty of China. After disappearing almost twenty years he returned to lead the attack on Khovd City, the last Chinese outpost in Mongolia. Honored by the Eighth Bogd Gegeen, the theocratic leader of Mongolia, for his efforts in achieving Mongolian independence, he went on to establish his own mini-state in western Mongolia, which he hoped to use as a base for establishing a Mongol-led Buddhist khanate in Inner Asia. His dictatorial nature and unbridled sadism soon came to the fore and he was finally arrested and imprisoned in Russia. After the Russian Revolution he returned to Mongolia, gathered new followers around him, and established a stronghold at the nexus of old caravan routes in Gansu Province, China. He robbed caravans, grew opium, and once again dreamed of creating a new Mongolian khanate in Inner Asia. Finally the new Bolshevik government in Mongolia, fearful of his rising power, issued orders for his assassination. Dambijantsan died in 1922, but in Mongolia legends persist to this day that his spirit still rides on the winds of the Gobi and continues to haunt his former lairs.

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Mongolia | Khentii Aimag | Burkhan Khaldun Khora

8,040-foot Burkhan Khaldun in the Khentii Mountains is one of the most sacred mountains in Mongolia. It is mentioned several times in the Secret History of the Mongols, a thirteenth-century account of the rise of the Mongols under Chingis Khan, and it was here, many believe, that Temüjin—the future Chingis Khan—hid from the Merkit tribesmen who had kidnapped his wife and wanted to capture him. According to legend, he also came here to pray before embarking on his military campaigns. Chingis Khan instructed his descendants to worship the mountain: “Every morning I shall sacrifice to Burkhan Khaldun, and every day I will pray to it. The seed of my seed shall know this,” he said, according to the Secret History. Eventually the mountain would inextricably bound up in the cult of Chingis Khan and also become a pilgrimage site for Buddhists. Still later some would claim that Chingis Khan was born near Burkhan Khaldun and was buried on its summit . . . Continued.

Monday, May 22, 2023

India | Mongolia | Shambhala Thangka

When I first visited the Zanabazar Fine Arts Museum in 1996 I saw a large thangka depicting the Kingdom of Shambhala. It  was the first such thangka I had seen outside of depictions in books. Subsequently I would see dozens if not hundreds of thankgas and wall paintings depicting Shambhala in temples and museums around the world but the one in the Zanabazar Museum remains the best example I have ever seen. The last time I was in the Zanabazar Museum the thangka was no longer on display. A museum docent said simply that it was “in storage.”

Eventually I decided I wanted  a Shambhala thangka of my own. During the late 1990s and early 2000s I visited dozens of shops and galleries featuring Buddhist art in Mongolia, China, Tibet (Lhasa and Shigatse), India, Nepal, and elsewhere but was never able to locate one. People in the shops and galleries either protested ignorance or insisted that such thankgas were no longer made. A well-known lama and artist in Ulaanbaatar was familiar with the thangka but claimed that no one in Mongolia was capable of making one. I doubted this at the time and subsequently I would meet Mongolian artists who were certainly capable of creating a Shambhala thangka. The first lama-artist I had spoken to had disparaged my interest in Shambhala and was openly antagonistic to non-Mongolians, especially Americans. I had a feeling he simply did not want me to have a Shambhala thangka. 

In the meantime, I wandered by Darjeeling, India, where I made a pilgrimage to the grave of eccentric Hungarian wanderer-scholar Csoma de Koros (1784–1842), who had been instrumental in introducing the Shambhala Mythologem to the Occident. Of course I also wanted to sample the region’s justly famous teas (I will admit I was  then partial to Chinese Puerh Tea, but I was willing to give Darjeeling black teas a try). 

Tomb of Csoma de Koros

Csoma de Koros

Tea bushes on the outskirts of Darjeeling

Black tea for sale

The receptionist at the hotel where I was staying turned out to be a emigre from Tibet. I mentioned to him  that I was interested in Buddhist art, specifically thangkas. He suggested I visit a Tibetan artist of his acquaintance. I was directed to the studio of the artist, a man in his early forties named Dawa Bhutia, in a wooded area on the outskirts of Darjeeling. He had been born in Lhasa and later moved to India. In the course of our conversation about Buddhist art I mentioned that I had looked everywhere for a Shambhala thangka but had been unable to find one. Dawa Bhutia was familiar with Shambhala thangkas but had never made one himself. I asked if me could make me one. I could tell he was intrigued by the idea. He said he would first have to do a lot of research on the subject matter before doing the actual painting. The whole process would, he said, take to eight to ten months. We agreed on a price—half up front and the other half upon completion of the thangka—and subsequently kept in touch via email. I was back in Mongolia when I got word ten months later that the thangka was completed. It soon arrived via FedEx. After the usual hassles with getting it through customs—the officials did not know how to evaluate it and I pleaded total ignorance—I finally was able to display the thangka on the wall of my apartment. 

The complete thangka on display in my apartment (click on photos for enlargements)

The painted portion of the thangka

Buddha at upper left hand corner of thangka

Buddha at upper left hand corner of thangka

Kalachakra deity at upper right hand corner of thangka. Shown here in sexual union with his consort Vishvamata. The Kalachakra deity has four heads with three eyes in each head, and twenty-four arms. 

The Kingdom of Shambhala, with eight cities surrounding  the capital of Kalapa 

One of the eight cities of Shambhala

Residents of Shambhala

Kalapa, the capital of Shambhala, with the palace of the King of Shambhala in the middle

The King of Shambhala in his palace

The King of Shambhala

Below the Kingdom of Shambhala is depicted the Shambhala War with the La-Los, or Barbarians, described in some Mongolian sources as Muslims, although this remains a highly contentious issue.  Tibetan tradition asserts that the warrior on the blue horse is Rudra Chakra, the 25th Kalki King of Shambhala.  According to the Shambhala Mythologem, in 2424 Rudra Chakrin will initiate a war against the enemies of the Dharma and after their defeat usher in a new Golden Age when peace and prosperity will reign on the earth. Some Mongolian sources claim, however, that the figure on the blue horse is General Hanuman, the final incarnation of the Bogd Gegeens of Mongolia. In any case, General Hanuman is one of the leaders of the Shambhala Army. 

Rudra Chakrin, or perhaps General Hamuman

The Shambhala Army engaging the barbarians

Detail from above depictions. Not sure who this man is. 

Another officer in the Shambhala Army

Officers in the Shambhala Army leading war elephants and horse-drawn wagons carrying archers into battle

Soldiers in the Shambhala Army

Vanquished foes of Shambhala

Denisons of the realms outside of Shambhala

Detail of Denisons of the realms outside of Shambhala

An Asura?

I subsequently donated this thangka to the Lam Rim Temple, just outside of Gandan Monastery in Ulaanbaatar, where it can now be seen. 

In conclusion, it should be pointed out that as of 2023 Shambhala thankgas, including some supposedly made by Tibetan artists now living in Hong Kong, are available on eBay and other outlets on the internet.

Uzbekistan | Seven Saints of Bukhara

According to the thirteen-century Persian historian Ata-Malik Juvaini, Bukhara, the city in what is now the country of Uzbekistan, “is the cupola of Islam and is in those regions like unto the City of Peace [Baghdad] . . . Since ancient times it has in every age been the place of assembly of the great savants of every religion.”

In the twelfth, thirteenth and fourteenth centuries seven remarkable men lived in Bukhara and the surrounding Bukhara Oasis. These men were known as the Khwajagan, or Masters of Wisdom. The Seven Khwajagan are: Abd al-Khaliq al-Ghujdawani (1103–1179); Arif ar-Riwakri (1136-1239); Mahmud al-Injir al-Faghnawi (d.1317);Ali ar-Ramitani (d.1315/1321); Muhammad Baba as-Sammasi (d.1354); Sayyid Amir Kulal (1287?–d.1370); Bahauddin Shah Naqshband (1318–1388?)

The Khwajagan remain to this day revered as the Seven Saints of Bukhara, and their mausoleum complexes continue to be visited by pilgrims and travelers from all over the world.

Zanabazar | First Bogd Gegeen of Mongolia

Zanabazar (1635–1723) was, according to most reckonings, the sixteenth incarnation of Javsandamba. The first incarnation is believed to have appeared around the time of the Buddha. As a small boy he was recognized as the spiritual leader of Mongolia and awarded the title of Bogd Gegeen. He would go on to play a role in the religious and political life of Mongolia analogous to that of the Dalai Lamas of Tibet. Zanabazar built temples and established monasteries, including one at what is now the site of Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, and was a polymath who invented new scripts for writing the Mongolian language, designed new clothes for monks, studied the medical properties of hot springs, and much else. He is most famous for his bronze statues which are now the centerpieces of three museums in Ulaanbaatar. “During his lifetime, he was the greatest Buddhist sculptor in Asia,” opines art historian K. Youso about Zanabazar.” Indeed, he is often called the Michelangelo of Mongolia. Zanabazar was the first of Mongolia’s nine Bogd Gegeens. The Ninth Bogd Gegeen transmigrated on March 1, 2012.  During a visit to Mongolia on November 23, 2016, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama announced that the Tenth Bogd Gegeen had been born and that attempts were being made to identify him. Update: The Tenth has now been named. See Tenth Incarnation.

See The Life of Zanabazar

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Mongolia | Roerich Expedition

In 1998 I did a 100-mile horse trip from the upper Kherlen River valley to Yestiin Hot Springs in the Khentii Mountains, one of several hot springs complexes frequented by Zanabazar (1635–1723), the First Bogd Gegeen of Mongolia. I had rented horses from a sixty-year old man named Zevgee, who had been to Yestiin Hot Springs before and who also acted as my guide on this trip. I had met Zevgee the year before when he had served as horseman and guide on a Horse Trip To The Headwaters of the Onon River and to Burkhan Khaldun, the mountain which according to tradition had been worshipped by Chingis Khan.

Yestiin Hot Springs (click on photos for enlargements)

On the final day of the horse trip to Yestiin Hot Springs we were slowly riding down the valley of a tributary of Kherlen River. We were in no hurry and expected to reach Zevgee’s ger well before suppertime. Where else would I like to visit in Mongolia? Zevgee wondered as we rode along side by side. Well, I said, I would really like to do a camel trip into the Gobi Desert, but I do not know how to arrange it. “No problem,” said Zevgee, “I was born in Bayankhongor Aimag and three of my brothers and my sister still live there. Two of my brothers and my sister’s husband have herds of camels and are very experienced camel men. We can do a camel trip with them.” This was news to me. I had always had the impression Zevgee was from Töv Aimag, where he now lived. It turned out his wife was from Töv. He had moved here only after he had gotten married. He added that since I had already visited the sacred mountain of Burkhan Khaldun I should also visit Segs Tsagaan Bogd Uul, which he claimed was the most sacred mountain in Bayankhongor Aimag. By the time we reached Zevgee’s ger we made plans for a camel trip to the mountain.

We did do the camel trip that autumn, traveling by jeep to the village of Shinejinst in Bayankhongor Aimag 420 southwest of Ulaanbaatar as the crows flies. From here we traveled by jeep south another twenty-six miles ATCF to the ger of Zevgee’s brother younger brother Davaakhüü. From there we rode camels fifty-five miles south ATCF to Ekhiin Gol, an oasis deep in the Gobi Desert. Ekhiin Gol is linked to Shinejinst by a tenuous dirt road through the desert, but we had swerved far to the east across trackless desert, in part so we could visit the Zevgee’s sister and her husband, who were living with their goat and camel herds about thirty miles from any other people. From Ekhiin Gol we continued on by camel south thirty miles ATCF to 7787-foot Segs Tsagaan Bogd Uul, located just sixteen miles north of the Chinese border. This trip whet my appetite for travel in the Gobi Desert and upon parting with the local camels guys I asked them if they would be willing go do more camels trips. They said they were. 

Gobi Desert north of Ekhiin Gol Oasis

Ekhiin Gol Oasis

Segs Tsagaan Bogd Uul from near Ekhiin Gol

7787-foot summit of Segs Tsagaan Bogd Uul

That winter I traveled to Nepal with the intention of trekking to Gorak Shep, the last village before the Everest Base Camp used by climbers. While preparing for the trek in Thamel, Katmandu’s tourist district, I happened to wander into the famous Pilgrims Book Store, which contains a treasure trove of books about the Himalayas, Asia in general, Buddhism, and much else. Perusing the stacks I saw a copy of a book called Trails to Inmost Asia by George Roerich. I remembered reading this book, along with half a dozen other books by his more famous father, the artist Nicholas Roerich, when I was in college back in the early 1970s, although I could not now remember the details.
The book described a three-year-long expedition the Roerichs had made through Inner Asia in the 1920s. Beginning in Srinagar, India, in 1925, they made a vast clockwise circuit through East Turkestan, Russia, Mongolia (passing through Ulaanbaatar), China, and Tibet, and finally ended up in Darjeeling, India. Having just come from Ulaanbaatar, I was particularly interested in what Roerich had to say about the city. Of even more interest was a foldout map appended to the back of the book. From Ulaanbaatar the expedition had traveled southwest towards the China border.

Roerich Expedition Map with modifications

Detail of Roerich Expedition Map

The map was not terribly detailed, but it did have the Roerichs passing by Orog Lake, just north of the huge massif of 12,982-foot Ikh Bogd Uul. They then veered south towards the Chinese border. Orog Lake, Ikh Bogd Uul, and all the territory to the south are in what is now Bayankhongor Aimag. A closer perusal of the map showed that their route passed by “Yum Beise Khura”, a monastery, and continued on to a place called Shara Khulusun. Going back to the text I discovered that George Roerich gave a lengthy description of Yum Beise Monastery and even included a photograph of one of its temples. Shara Khulusun, it turned out, was an oasis six camel stages south of Yum Beise, Roerich also left a detailed account of this place. In addition he mentioned a place he called Dzogo-usu where the expedition camped for one night while on the way to Shara Khulusun:
The place of the camp bore the significant name of Dzogo-usu, which means “the tasted water.” Dzogo is a polite Mongol expression meaning to “partake.” The formal term is used because the Dalai Lama had camped here during his memorable flight from Lhasa in 1904. His Holiness followed the same route but in the opposite direction. The local Mongols remember this important event and have given the former camps of the Dalai Lama fanciful names to distinguish them.
I was aware that the Thirteen Dalai Lama had fled from Lhasa to Mongolia after the British invasion of Tibet by the so-called Younghusband Expedition in 1904 but I did not know the details of his sojourn in Mongolia. Now it appeared that the Thirteenth Dalai Lama and the Roerich Expedition had used the same caravan track through Bayankhongor Aimag. I immediately decided that I would try to retrace their route. The exigencies of life, intervened, however, and I was not able to put my plan in motion for several years.
In the summer of 2003 I made a jeep trip to Bayankhongor Aimag. I had several goals in mind. I had heard it was possible to ride horses to near the summit of 12,982-foot Ikh Bogd Uul and climb the rest of the way on foot. I was able to hire horses and ascend the mountain. When we reached what I was told was the summit, however, I was a bit disconcerted to look across an immense chasm and see what appeared to be an even higher summit. According to my GPS the summit we were on was at least five hundred feet lower than the summit shown on typographical maps. Why had we come to this summit? I asked my horsemen. The summit we were on was the one people came to when they wanted to pay their respects to the mountain, they explained. No one ever goes to the higher summit, but they could not say why.
Ascending Ikh Bogd Uul

My main goal, however, was to track down the location the Yum Beise Monastery mentioned by George Roerich. We stopped in several tiny villages and also at numerous gers of herdsmen and asked if they knew about Yum Beise. No one had ever heard of it. I first assumed that it had been totally destroyed by the communists in the late 1930s. But it still seemed odd that no one recognized the name. In my experience local people were usually very much aware of monasteries that had been destroyed in the 1930s even when very little if any physical trace of them remained. Then in the town of Bayangov, sixty miles northeast of Shinejinst, I happened to bump into a very knowledgeable man who traveled all over Bayankhongor as a cashmere buyer—he claimed to have met every herder in the entire aimag—and he explained that Yum was the name of a man and beise was a title—“Prince of the Fourth Rank”—given by the Qing Dynasty of China to Mongolian noblemen. Yum Beise was a local nobleman and the monastery was located on his territory, known as Yum Beise sum; thus non-Mongolians, perhaps due to faulty translations, began incorrectly calling it Yum Beise Monastery. He claimed that this name was seldom if ever used by Mongolians. Its correct name was Amarbuyant Monastery. 

I soon discovered that everyone in Bayankhongor Aimag and, as I later learned, many people in Ulaanbaatar knew about Amarbuyant, which was once again an active monastery after being shut down in the late 1930s. I then asked him if he knew about Shara Khulusun. At first he did not seem to recognize the name. I explained that it was an oasis about six days by camel south of Amarbuyant. “You mean Shar Khuls!” he said. Shara Khulusun was apparently Roerich’s garbled version of the name. He added that everyone in Bayankhongor Aimag knew about Shar Khuls (Yellow Reeds), although few had actually been there. It is extremely remote and difficult to access. The nearest village was Ekhiin Gol Oasis sixty-miles to the east, and the entire area south of Amarbuyant was too dry to support goats or sheep and thus there were no herders in the area. Shar Khuls had recently become better known, at least in scientific circles, as the one of the habitats of the extremely rare Gobi Bear ((Ursus arctos gobiensis; Mongolian = mazaalai). At the time it was said there was only thirty of these bears in existence, and some of them were found at Shar Khuls. Would it be possible to ride camels from Amarbuyant to Shar Khuls, a distance of about one hundred miles, I wondered? It should be possible he said, but it would be difficult because there was little if any water the way. Make sure you hire reliable camel men, he added, the Gobi Desert south of Amarbuyant is no place for inexperienced people. It just so happens I know some reliable camel men, I told him. 
As soon as I got back to Ulaanbaatar I hired a jeep to take me to Zevgee’s ger on the upper Kherlen River. It was a four hour trip one way but back in those days there was no other way to get in touch with him. He knew about Amarbuyant Monastery. In fact, he said, he had been born not far away. He had never been to Shar Khuls, but he knew where it was and he was pretty sure his two brothers had been there. He suggested we ride to Shar Khuls and then instead of retracing our route back to Amarbuyant we ride east to Ekhiin Gol, the oasis we had visited on our first camel trip. We could arrange to have a jeep met us there for the ride back to Ulaanbaatar. Zevgee figured six days from Amarbuyant to Shar Khuls—the same time it had taken the Roerichs—three days’ rest at Shar Khuls, and then a four day camel ride to Estiin Gol—thirteen days total by camel. I could tell Zevgee was already getting excited about the trip. Then his wife Tümen Ölzii piped up and said she wanted to come along. She would do the cooking. This sounded like a great idea to me. I had intended to hire a female cook anyhow, as I did not trust the cooking of men, at least not camel herders. Now not only would we be guaranteed good vittles on the trip, but Tümen Ölzii could also if necessary rein in Zevgee, who could get obstreperous, especially when he had been drinking. In a week or two Zevgee would go the town of Baganuur, thirty-eight to the south, which back then had the phones nearest to his ger. He would call his brother in Shinejinst—actually he was the mayor of Shinejinst—and this brother would contact the two brothers with the camels. The final plan was for all of us, camels included, to rendezvous at Amarbuyant Monastery on October 1.

Monday, May 15, 2023

George Roerich In Love

George Roerich was born on August 16, 1902, in the village of Okulovka, located in the Russian province of Novgorod, where his father and mother were taking part in an archaeological expedition. Like his father, he was artistically inclined and began to draw at an early age. When he was six years old, in 1908, a show featuring works by the children of members of the World of Art Association, to which his father belonged, displayed his youthful efforts. “A significant number of drawings are related to military clashes, knightly tournaments, and warlike angels and saints”, we are told. ”According to his mother, “such an interest was not accidental . . . At the genetic level, Yuri Roerich preserved tribal memory; the ancestors laid the warrior magnetism in him.” As we have seen, his mother was the grandniece of General Mikhail Illarionovich Kutuzov, the commander-in-chief of the Russian army that defeated Napoleon in 1812. Yet another relative on his mother’s side claimed to be descended from Batu Khan, grandson of Chingis Khan and founder of the Golden Horde, and it was later claimed that he was an reincarnation of the fourteenth-century warlord Tamerlane. After the Russian Revolution, however, when the Roerichs were living in Finland, George’s interests took a more scholarly bent, and he began to study Eastern literature and languages. It was in these fields that he would excel. 
When the Roerichs moved to England in 1919 George enrolled in the Indo-Iranian Department of School of Oriental Languages at the University of London, where he   studied under famed linguist Edward Denison Ross, who could read in forty-nine languages and speak in thirty, including Tibetan. The first languages George studied were Persian and Sanskrit. He also organized the anti-Bolshevik group known as the Russian Youth Circle. Like his father, his views on Bolshevism would change by the time he arrived in Mongolia. It was in London, of course, that his mother first encountered Master Morya, who would put the Roerichs on the path to Inner Asia and Shambhala. To further prepare for this epic journey in the spring of 1920 George applied to Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In his application he stated that wanted to “‘continue and complete” his education in Eastern languages and philosophy. 
The Roerichs arrived in New York on October 3, 1920. On October 21 George began classes at Harvard, where he studied under acclaimed scholar Charles R. Lanman, founder of the “Harvard Oriental Series”, which featured English translations of Indian classics.  George took courses in Sanskrit, Pali, Greek, and Chinese and was soon recognized as a prodigy. He was able to get a degree in two years. He now set his sights on studying at the Sorbonne in Paris. 
In August of 1920, apparently just after the Roerich family’s stay on Monhegan Island, George proceeded to Paris and enrolled at the Sorbonne. He took up residence with the Chklaver family, headed by Gavriil Grigorievich Chklaver, who had been a successful businessman and banker back in Russia before the revolution. Nicholas and Elena had crossed paths with him several times and he was now happy to assist George. Gavriil Grigorievich’s own son George was also a student at the Sorbonne, and the two Georges became thick friends. In addition to his linguistic studies, which by now included the Tibetan and Mongolian languages, George took courses in military science, studying under the Russian ex-general N. N. Golovin, and jurisprudence. As we have seen, George had been obsessed by martial themes as a young boy.  But why we might ask was the scholar of languages interested once again in military science and also in jurisprudence? His biographer explains:
As an alleged descendent of the Scandinavian Vikings, Yuri [George] claimed that he sensed a militant spirit in his veins, and the fact was further confirmed by the Master [Morya] who revealed that he had been Tamerlane in one of his former lives and prophesied that he would again lead the Mongolian hordes in the future apocalyptic . . . Shambhala War. So Yuri apparently wanted to prepare himself for the battles he would wage for the sake of the Messiah. As for jurisprudence, he might need it as a participant in the Roerichs’ mission or “spiritual embassy” to the ruler of Tibet.
Meanwhile George continued his language studies with the influential French Indologist Sylvain Lévi (1863–1935); Jacques Bacot (1871–1965), the leading Tibetologist in France at the time; Paul Jules Antoine Meillet (1866–1936) a pioneering French linguist; and renowned Sinologist Paul Eugène Pelliot (1878–1945). In the winter of 1923 he was elected to the prestigious Linguistic Society and the magazine “French Pages” began publishing his weekly column entitled “Literary and Political Views”. George’s career in Paris appeared to be a roaring success. Meanwhile back in New York his parents were putting in motion plans for their long awaited Khora around Inner Asia, in which George was to play a leading role. Then a monkey wrench was thrown into the whole works. George had fallen in love.  
Curiously enough—in light of later events—it was Nicholas Roerich who had instructed his son to look up the Manziarly family when he arrived in Paris. Stefan de Manziarly was of French-Italian descent but a citizen of Russia. Headquartered in Kharkov, in what is now Ukraine, he had made a fortune mining coal in the Donetsk  Basin and was among the business elite in pre-Revolutionary Russia. The family had emigrated from Russia just before World War I and ended up in Paris. We hear little more about Stefan—he transmigrated in 1920—but his wife Irma made quite a splash. She was in communication with some of the leading intellectuals of the period, including the Russian philosopher, theologian, and Christian existentialist Nikolai Berdyaev (1874–1948), and was herself a formidable scholar who translated classical Indian texts, including the Upanishads, a part of the Vedas, the oldest scriptures of Hinduism, from Sanskrit into Russian. Irma was also a hard-core Theosophist who was active in the French section of the Theosophical Society and  who led a group which met to study Madame Blavatsky’s magnum opus The Secret Doctrine. She befriended Annie Besant, who had been named president of the Theosophical Society in 1907, and had made several trip to Adyar, the headquarters of the society in India. She soon became a patron of Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895–1986), whom Annie Besant had grandiosely declared was the World Teacher, the  Eastern successor to the Nazarene Messiah. 
Amid all this activity she also found time to have four children: three daughters—Marcelle, Iolanthe, Marseille—and a son, Alexander. The children were introduced into the Theosophical milieu and they along with their mother were soon taking vacations in Italy, France, and Switzerland with the World Teacher Krishnamurti. It was all very heady stuff for the young girls. Of the daughters, Marcelle, or Mara, as she known to her family and friends, was perhaps the most accomplished. Born on October 13, 1899, she would twenty-two when George turned up on the Manziarly’s doorstep on September 30, 1922. George, born on August 16, 1902, would have been just over twenty. Sina Lichtmann, however, repeated the Roerich line that, “She [Mara] is four or five years older than Yury, and the two of them [Mara and her mother] have completely beguiled the boy.” The claim that Mara was four or five years older than George is also made by various biographers. Despite her youth, Mara had already composed musical works that had been played to acclaim in France and Holland. Upon hearing her music, George declared that it expressed an ”occult something.” 
Also, both Mara and her mother were, like the Roerichs themselves, devotees of Master Morya, the Himalayan Mahatma. George noted in his diary:
6 November 1922. I am eagerly waiting for messages from M.M. [Master Morya] Here something miraculous is happening to us. We [George and Mara] write automatically, see visions, etc. Before the writing we often see how the atmosphere is getting filled with blue stars and spheres.
It was beginning to sound like love. Then came the kicker. Master Morya, speaking as Allal Ming, declared that in an earlier life, when George had been incarnated as Tamerlane, an earlier incarnation of Mara had been his wife. This inspired Mara to start work on a large orchestral poem to be called “Tamerlane”. Soon it was clear that George had gone head-over-heels for Mara. He had found his soulmate, or as he himself put it, somewhat infelicitously, “my own Ego dressed in [a] skirt.” In a letter to his parents he gushed: “I am so madly happy!!! . . . Not a trace is left of the Harvardian Roerich.” This was apparently George’s first foray onto the battlefield in the war between the sexes and it could be excused if he got a little carried away. In another letter he enthused:
I would like to tell you about Mara. She is a remarkable person in many ways. She is different from her sisters, being very profound, mystical and sensitive. A close friend of Krishnamurti, and what’s most important she is devoted to our cause and the Service. She is an excellent musician, and I am so happy that I will have music in my life. Today her “Trio” was played in concert and it had great success. On December 11 a Russian choir will chant her “Songs without words”. I have already heard them and they are wonderful. Soon her ballet will be staged; it is called “Nataraja”, a God who manifests himself through the world dance.
On November 17, 1922, six weeks after they had met, George proposed to Mara and she accepted. Mara’s mother Irma was all in. She had earlier opined that Nicholas was ““a prophet and saint”” and that Elena was ‘saint’s wife.’” Now her daughter was gaining entry into this illustrious family. The marriage was scheduled for January 19, 1923. Now all George had to do was inform his parents. “‘Today, on the 17th, I declared my feelings to Mara and it turned out that we both deeply love and feel for each other. In a word, I decided to marry and go to India as a married man,’”  he wrote to his parents. Furthermore, he declared that if permission to marry was not granted he would “go and sacrifice myself in some crazy expedition into Africa or Indo-China.”
Back in New York Nicholas and Elena were shell-shocked. Nicholas had sent George to the Manziarlys with the best intentions, thinking that Irma would help him set up a branch of Corona Mundi, his art association, in Paris, and provide them access to the World Teacher Krishnamurti, whom they hoped to meet with when they arrived in India. Nicholas also envisioned opening a “Lodge of Morya” in Paris with the help of the Manziarlys. He had not foreseen George getting swept off his feet by Irma’s daughter. Elena had a conniption fit. If only he had hooked up with some inconsequential French tart of the kind young man are prone to the matter could have easily been dismissed and George set back on the straight and narrow. But Mara Manziarly was no fly-by-night floozy. She was a formidable competitor for George’s affections.
Suddenly the whole khora around Inner Asia was called into question. Master Morya had declared that the four Roerichs—Svetoslav was included in early plans—were to lead the Western Buddhist Mission. There was no place for a fifth wheel, assuming that Mara would ever agree to such a multi-year journey into the wilds of Inner Asia. Yet how could George leave a new bride behind? There was an added complication. When the Roerichs eventually arrived in India they hope, to meet with with Besant, then head of the Theosophical Society in Adyar, and the newly anointed World Teacher Krishnamurti. To seek the favor of the Theosophists in India Nicolas offered to dedicate a painting, “The Messenger”, to Helena Blavatsky, founder of the Theosophical Society. The problem was, in his various meetings with the Manziarly family Krishnamurti had come to the conclusion that Mara was destined for a spiritual life that included celibacy (whether he himself remained celibate is a matter for some dispute).  For Mara to enter into married life with George would be viewed by him as a betrayal. At the time it was still crucial to the Roerichs’ plans to remain in the good graces of Krishnamurti, but a married George and Mara would hardly be welcomed in Adyar by the new Messiah. George, however, showed no signs of acquiescing to his parents’ objections. Instead he announced that not getting married to Mara would result in “‘spiritual death.’” On December the Roerichs, with heavy hearts, sent George a wire saying that they accepted his decision to marry. 
Then Nicholas and Elena got some breathing room. The still-wet-behind-the-ears George had not yet turned twenty-one, and it soon discovered that he could not be married in France unless his parents were present or had provided written permission notarized by the French consul in New York.  Bureaucratic complications ensued— Nicholas and Elena may have dragged their feet—and various documents flew back and forth to no avail.  Meanwhile, Madame Chklaver, who was still hosting George in Paris, wrote to Elena claiming that the Manziarlys were an “immoral family” and that Irma and her daughter were scheming to entrap the obviously unworldly and naive George into marriage. What’s more, George was cutting his classes at the Sorbonne and he and Mara were frittering their time away at parks and other leisure spots. 
Master Morya seemed to concur with Madame Chklaver. Sina Lichtmann noted in her diary:
January 4, 1923 We visited the Roerichs and had a séance. E.I. is alarmed by the events. The night before they had a very sad séance at which it was Said [by Master Morya, hence the capitalization]: “The son’s reputation, needful to Me, is perishing.” After the séance we had a talk about the current serious times and E.I. mentioned that they’re having significant difficulties with Yury [George], who is the target of Madame Manziarly’s matrimonial ambitions for her daughter. She is four or five years older [sic] than Yury, and the two of them have completely beguiled the boy.
Elena wrote to George informing him that according to his horoscope January was a bad time to get married. She also relayed numerous messages from Master Morya, including: ““Udraya [George] should take care to avoid hasty decisions,’” and “Udraya, learn to act your age.’” Master Morya had earlier told George that in previous lives he and Mara had been married and thus their love was preordained, but now the Mahatma had apparently changed his mind as far as marriage was concerned. Elena’s constant harping finally wore George down, and finally it was decided that since the Roerichs were planning on coming to France in the spring of 1923 while on their way to India the whole matter of marriage could be postponed until then. 
In the meantime, Irma Manziarly, who by now was viewed by the Roerichs as nothing less than the Wife of Potiphar herself, had turned up in New York City. It seemed that the Roerichs had earlier, when they were still trying to enlist the Manziarlys in their various schemes, invited Iolanthe Manziarly, Mara’s sister, to New York to teach a class in eurythmics at the Master Institute.  Iolanthe (Io  to her friends) had met with Elena earlier. On November 16, the day before George proposed marriage in Paris, Sina Lichtmann met with Elena, who told her about a disturbing dream she had had a few days before: 
She awoke at about 3:00 a.m., saw a blinding light; her head was filled with images of crazily spinning circles, and she felt a huge weight that was rolled all over her body. She said that she had a terrible feeling of fear for her body. She felt totally exhausted afterward.
The very next day Iolanthe Manziarly paid Elena a visit. Iolanthe intimated that all was not well in the Manziarly household. According to Sina:
She [Iolanthe] painted her mother in a completely different light than what E.I. [Elena] had imagined: as a woman who had abandoned her children and had lived only for the sake of others, while at the same time causing her children to suffer terribly. That story made a great impression on E.I. She told me that she understood: she too should not become so absorbed into herself and her own world that she forgets her children, and that she was quite close to that.
Irma Manziarly arrived in New York City in late January. According to Sina, Elena “was dreading the upcoming visit by Mme. Manziarly . . . and how hard it will be to have a conversation with her after all the trouble she caused with Yury in Paris.” The first meetings between the two matriarchs did not go well. According to Sina, Irma “had made quite a poor impression. It was difficult for E.I. to be around her; she suffered from headaches and other ailments for two days after her visit. Only one thing has made E.I. accept her: her loyalty to the Master [Morya] and submission to His will.”
Shortly after her first meeting with Irma Manziarly Elena wrote to George:
Are you ready to cross out all achievements and lose the access to the Teacher? Right now I see a star lighten up in front of me. This is the sign of communication with the Teacher. This is the sign of harmony. Yurik, my very own, find the strength to resist this early marriage—don’t kill yourself . . . Mara is only the fact of current time, but she can change your karma. Your karma is brilliant, it leads to us. You should go with us and be our heir.
On January 29 Sina reported:
Spent the evening at the Roerichs’. E.I. is going through a very difficult time; she has to see Madame Manziarly frequently, whom she apparently quite dislikes. She threatened E.I. with the death of her son if she separates him from her daughter. E.I. recalled a recent dream in which she kept a small, gray snake on her hand under the glove, thinking that it would not bite her. And on her hand there was a small cut, and suddenly she felt the snake bite her directly into that cut. She had already realized that this snake was Manziarly. Of course, now she will be trying to harm the Roerichs at every opportunity. 
But that wasn’t all. Master Morya now declared that unlike the Roerichs, all of whom claimed to be reincarnations of illustrious figures dating back to the time of the now sunken continent of Atlantis, Irma Manziarly in a past life had been a “Frau Necht, a vegetable seller in the nineteenth century, most insignificant.” 
In late March Irma Manziarly further infuriated Elena by having a notice of the upcoming nuptials of George and Mara published in the London Theosophical magazine Herald of the Star. On March 20 Sina reported:
Incidentally, N.K. said that now the vision (or a dream, I don’t remember) of E.I. in which she was hiding a little snake in her glove, which suddenly bit her in the scratch on her hand, has become clear. That snake is Madame Manziarly, who bit them again in the already existing wound by announcing Yury’s engagement to her daughter in a theosophical magazine and not in a newspaper so that this news would spread in theosophical circles.
Krishnamurti was now aware that his disciple Mara was planning to marry George Roerich. It is not quite clear what his reaction was. Perhaps he had his mind on loftier matters. In any case, it was going to be awkward if the Roerichs met up with Krishnamurti in India.
The Roerichs—Nicholas, Elena, and Svetoslav—arrived in at Cherbourg, France on May 14, 1923, and George, sans Mara, was there to greet them. The whole family was in Paris a few days later. Nicholas, Elena, and Svetoslav checked in at the Hôtel Lord Byron on rue Lord Byron while George remained with the Chklavers. Nicholas had a raft of activities involving the Great Plan lined up, but first and foremost the George and Mara matter had be resolved. Master Morya began bombarding Elena with messages which she relayed to George. On May 20 the Mahatma pronounced: “Urusvati [Elena] is right. Manziarly should be told about friendship only.” This enigmatic message may have meant that while the Master would countenance friendship between the two love birds marriage was out of the question. The next day Morya weighted in again: “We don’t see marriage . . . Udraya has disobeyed the Order, stirred up the waves of old karma . . . a good lesson for Tamerlane [George].” Since Sina Lichtmann, Elena’s mouthpiece, was not present we learn very little more of what actually transpired between George and his parents. 
We do know that on May 25 Louis and Nettie Horch arrived in Paris for an extended stay. Apparently they and the Roerichs had planned beforehand to make a grand tour of the continent. A few days later the Roerichs, including George, and the Horchs set out to see the sights in France and then proceeded on to Italy and Switzerland. Mara was not invited. George’s parents may have wanted to separate the two so they could talk some sense into him without her around. Meanwhile Mara showered George with letters. By August she had apparently realized that the marriage was not going to happen, at least anytime soon.  “I can’t imagine my path without you,” she wrote George. “In a few years, maybe in Russia, we shall live together.” 
Not much more is known about the relationship between George and Mara, except for the fact that by the time the Roerichs returned to Paris the marriage was definitely off. It may have been a sore subject, the less said about the better. Popular semi-hagiographical biographies of the Roerichs make no mention whatsoever of the Manziarlys, George’s infatuation with Mara, or their proposed marriage. It’s as if the whole episode never occurred. One thing is for sure. When the Roerich family departed from France for India on November 16, 1923, George was with them and Mara remained behind. Not long afterwards Irma and her daughters, including Mara, themselves departed for India. They proceeded to Adyar, where they hoped to met up with Krishnamurti. Adyar had been on the itinerary of the Roerichs but then they changed their minds and the two families did not cross paths. 
Mara probably never saw George again after their last meeting in Paris. While in India she threw herself into her work, composing music for piano and orchestra. She finally completed the symphonic poem “Tamerlane”, which George had inspired her to write, but by then it had become, in the words of George’s biographer, “a hymn to unfulfilled love.” She eventually returned to Paris, where she lived until the outbreak of World War II, when she decamped to the United States. She ended up the Theosophical enclave in Ojai, California, where Krishnamurti would also take refuge. Famous American composer Aaron Copland (1900–1990) dedicated a song  to her entitled "Heart, We Will Forget Him", apparently a reference to George Roerich. Krishnamurti, who decades before had marked Mara as his disciple, transmigrated at Ojai on February 17, 1986. Mara transmigrated at Ojai on May 11, 1989, just a few months shy of her ninetieth birthday.
Mara never married and the available short biographies of her life make no mention of any relationships after George. George apparently entered into some sort of long-term conjugal relationship with Lyudmila Bogdanova, the Russian woman the Roerichs had hired in Ulaanbaatar as a cook and who went on to serve the Roerich family for thirty-some years. This may have qualified as a common-law marriage. In any case, George never had any children. George and Mara had sacrificed their love for the sake of the Masters and the Great Plan. Perhaps Master Morya will unite them again in another lifetime. 
George Roerich