Biography, Autobiography, Journal and Anecdotes
Part II - Autobiography
Russia, 1913 - 1914
While in France I was offered an opportunity to go to Russia, which I gladly accepted. By every means I saw the divine hand leading my way towards the spread of the Message. I first visited Moscow, and found that the opportunity which had been offered me, to display my music, was an incongenial one. I found the place I had been told of was a place of gaiety, where people came for the whole night for their merriment, and yet for me it was a sight to observe how the different temperaments change from the everyday pitch at the moment they are engaged in merriment. It was somewhat troublesome for me to stay up all night, and yet it was an opportunity of studying all the different classes of Russia, all the wealthy classes, and it showed me how the dream of life had absorbed so many of them, and where it would lead Russia in the end. It was as though God wanted to show me, before disaster came upon Russia, how even nations are led to destruction when they of their own will choose that path. Had I known beforehand what the offered engagement was, I would certainly not have accepted it. However God's glory is everywhere to be found.
The people there welcomed me at the Ethnographical Museum, where I had the opportunity of speaking to a large audience on music and there met with great response generally. My friend Mr. Ivanov, the poet, showed great interest, and his wife translated my lectures, sentence by sentence most wonderfully. I was invited then to the Imperial Conservatory of Music where I expounded the ideal of Indian music, with musical illustrations. The response was so great that cheers expressed the enthusiasm, not only in the building of the Conservatory, but following us as far as the gate. I made the acquaintance of the principal of the Conservatory and Princess Sirtolov Lavrovsky became a great friend of mine, and introduced me to the musical circles of Russia. I also became acquainted with Madame Switalovsky, the teacher of music, who became my great friend. I was invited to visit the Imperial School of Opera and Ballet, a marvelous institution. The great development that the art of dancing had attained in Tsarist Russia, was something most amazing, it seemed almost to touch perfection.
One evening I was asked for supper to a friend's house, where Chaliapin, the great singer, had been invited to meet us, and it reminded me of India to find that the supper lasted the whole night. We returned home from there in bright daylight. Those present patiently heard all I had to say and responded to it. Russia reminded me of my country, and the warmth that came from the heart of the people, kept us warm in that cold country where snow lies in the streets for days together, where every house is a Mont Blanc. One day I had several people at my hotel, among them Count Serge Tolstoi, a son of the great Tolstoi. He, being a musician, was most drawn to our music and was taken also by philosophy, I met an officer in the army, Henry Balakin, who became my mureed and took great interest in translating "A Sufi Message of Spiritual Liberty" into Russian. This translation was published in a place where, even for the printing of a visiting-card, one had to get the permission of the police. Later the book was published in English by the Theosophical Publishing Society.
While in Russia, I was once taken by a Finnish philosopher. Dr. K. W. Lybeck, to talk of my ideals to friends of his, whose names he would not tell. On the appointed day he came to fetch me. We drove in a sleigh, a thing I always enjoyed, especially when the air was dry, and we arrived at a mysterious edifice. When we had entered that house, the large portals were immediately closed. It seemed that I was expected, and there I found myself in the midst of many priests or monks. I do not know, even now, to which order of monks they belonged, or whether they were a group of priests of the Greek Church. I was given no explanation whatever. There was only one woman in the whole audience, and she had been admitted because among the whole assembly she alone knew English, and so she could translate for me. I was requested to speak on my ideas. I accepted the kind offer most thankfully, and gently began to explain my ideas. At times, when I went a little beyond the boundaries of their religious conventionalities in which they were accustomed to talk, I found them slightly chilled, but I have never seen such comprehensive minds, in which all that is spoken as wisdom and truth so easily finds accommodation. They were interested by the idea, and the only wonder to them was, how could the truth exist in such a perfect form, as I did present, outside their Church, which alone they had so far believed to be the center of all truth. They were wise people, with awakened sympathy, with the love of Christ and appreciation of truth. To me their contact was a wonderful experience. No end of questions were cast at me, but politely and the answers to those questions, gently given, went straight to their hearts and sank into their souls. No further argument ensued after they had received one satisfactory answer. I took leave of all present after finishing my work, and it seemed I took with me the friendly feelings which I received through their sympathetic glances.
Among the Russians I found many strict followers of their religion, a thing so little to be found in the more civilized parts of the West. In their churches there is an atmosphere quite like in the temples of India. And yet I found minds philosophically inclined. Once I was invited by a philosophical society, where I gave an address and then was asked different questions on philosophical subjects. I was not asked one question which was a worthless one. Every question, it seemed, was rich in its meaning, and deep, and of importance. I found no desire on their part to argue after once they had received a satisfactory answer.
Professor Corsh, the great linguist of Moscow, became a great friend of mine, and at his house I met some Persians. I saw in Moscow the ambassador of Bokhara, who urged me very much to go with him to meet the Amir of Bokhara, but as my work was destined to the West, I could not have gone to the East. I met many Tartars, and some inhabitants of Kazan, and was invited to the house of Bey Beg, the leader of the Muslims in Moscow.
I gave an address at that meeting on the subject of brotherhood which met with great response, and a musical evening was arranged by them which will always remain in my memory as a most remarkable occasion, where Turks, Tartars, Siberians, Bokharians, Persians, all displayed their national art of music, and the hall was crowded by people of every country of the East. It was something that is so rarely seen, and for me, who had come from far away in the East, leaving my country thousands of miles away, this was a vision of home and yet not home. It was something new and yet akin to my nature, something that I did not know and yet that my soul knew, something so far from my knowledge and yet so near to it.
At the house of the poet Ivanov I met Skriabin, who is so well-known in the West. I found his personality not only that of a fine artist, but of a thinker and of a mystic. He seemed dissatisfied with the Western music and thought that there was much in the East which could be introduced in the music of the West, in order to enrich it. I agreed with him, I thought if this idea was ever carried out, although it would be most difficult in the beginning, yet in the end such music would become a world music. And what could be a better means for uniting humanity in a universal brotherhood than the harmony of music, which is loved everywhere in the East or West?
Olga Tucki, a Russian singer, became a devoted mureed. I wrote a play during my stay in Russia, called "Shiva". My friend Serge Tolstoi collaborated with me in rendering the music which I wrote for that play in Western harmony. It was being arranged that the Message might be carried to Tsar Nicolas in the form of music; only it was a matter of waiting some time which I could not very well do, for I was to represent Indian music at the musical congress of Paris in 1914, and this brought me back to Paris after a short visit to Petersburg.
I had become very much attached to Russia and its people and but for the climate, which is too cold for one born in tropical lands, I would certainly have decided to settle in Russia at least for some years. I so much liked their language which seems so near to Hindustani and on inquiring into the subject I found that it comes from Sanskrit. I saw in the people of Russia religion, devotion, the idealistic temperament. They are hospitable and affectionate people with a tendency to appreciate and enjoy all beauty, they are gifted in art, inclined to mysticism, seekers of philosophy, ready to become friends and minded to let friendship last.