NICHOLAS P. BANYKIN
A boy named Nicholas was born on October 9, 1874, in St. Petersburg, Russia, to the family of a notary, Konstantin F. Roerich. Four years and four months later, in the same town, in the family of an architect, a girl was born, who was called Helena. She came from a distinguished generation: Helena’s maternal great-grandfather was the great Russian general, M. I. Kutuzov, and her uncle was the great Russian composer, M. P. Mussorgsky.
The two children grew up in the same town. But no one at the time could have imagined that twenty years later they would meet and create a family that would exert a great influence on the destiny of humanity. This was known only by the Great Teachers of Light.
Nicholas spent his childhood in a house on the bank of the river Neva and at the suburban estate of his father, which was called Izvara. Everything interested the inquisitive boy: complex designs of the ship masts, a small boat ploughing the flat surface of the river, the words of an ancient song of the times about Tsar Peter the Great (which his grandmother would sing to the children).
He received even more impressions at the suburban estate, Izvara, seeing beautiful, patterned clouds floating in the sky; migrating birds adding to the hubbub of the lake (which lay near the estate and never froze over); a herd going to the pasture; the mysterious distant forests, fields and meadows; and in the estate itself — pictures.
In front of one of them, especially, small Nicholas — the future Great Artist — often stopped. In the picture one could see high mountains, flaming in the beams of the setting sun. Later on he found out that it was one of the sacred Himalayan summits — Kanchenjunga.
So from early childhood, his destiny extended a thread to the sacred Himalayas and to the great land of India, places that would be closely connected to the future life of the artist and his family.
The interests of the boy were quite diverse. He learned to read very early and was fond of literature, poetry and theater. The boy also painted with enthusiasm. At the age of nine Nicholas participated in the archaeological excavations.
Through his childhood he experienced great pleasure traveling. When he was five years old, he took his first journey with his parents to the ancient Russian cities of Pskov and Ostrov. This journey created a great impression on him, which he would remember all his life.
In the same years in St. Petersburg, in a house on the Sergiyevskaya Street, Helena was growing up. The girl was exceptionally sensitive and susceptible to beauty in all its manifestations. The beauty of nature, especially, imprinted itself on her heart. She loved every living thing and suffered from seeing any kind of cruelty or injustice.
When Helena spent the summer at Bologoye, her aunt’s estate, in the mornings when she would go out of the house, all the domestic animals and birds would rush to welcome her: a sick chicken; a crane with a wounded wing that needed to be dressed. All of them sought her defense and felt her care and love.
Helena learned to read independently at a very early age. Soon she knew her French and German ABCs; and at the age of six, Helena read fluently in three languages. From her earliest years, books became her best tutors and friends. Bending under the weight of the huge illustrated Bible, the little girl would carry it to her room and, with a sinking heart, contemplate the beloved Image of Jesus Christ. Among her favorite books were “The Story of a Slice of Bread” and “Travel Through Central Asia and the Far East.”
From early childhood, the girl showed unusual capabilities — she could see the things that other people couldn’t. At the age of seven, she saw a vivid and colorful picture in the sky. Helena cried out enthusiastically, “Momma, Momma! Look at the huge banner that is stretched across the sky and curled up into a loop!” But no matter how much her mother looked, she could not see anything.
At the age of six, Helena had an extraordinary vision, which became imprinted in her heart for life. Early in the morning, the girl ran toward a small pond in the park. It was an exceptional morning. Standing on the bank, the girl, with all her essence, absorbed the beauty and joy of life. She fixed her eyes on the opposite bank, and suddenly, against the background of a blossoming apple tree, Helena saw a tall man’s figure, dressed in white. She instantly remembered that somewhere very far off lives the Teacher of Light. The girl’s heart palpitated and her joy turned into delight; with all her heart, she reached for this Image so beloved and Beautiful.
Up until her ninth year, such visions occurred also during illnesses, which were accompanied by high temperatures. The girl saw two tall men, in Hindu garments, enter her room, sit at the foot of her bed and start to wind into a ball a thread that they extracted from her heart. Sometimes when they were close, she couldn’t see anything but their heads, which bent over the girl and looked at her attentively.