Rukmini Devi Arundale
Rukmini Devi.jpg
Born Rukmini Devi
February 29, 1904(1904-02-29)
Madurai, Tamilnadu, India
Died February 24, 1986 (aged 81)
Chennai, Tamilnadu, India
Years active 1920-1986

Rukmini Devi Arundale (Tamil:ருக்மிணி தேவி அருண்டேல்) (February 29, 1904 – February 24, 1986[1] ) was an Indian theosophist, dancer and choreographer in Indian classical dancer form of Bharatnatyam, and also an activist for animal rights, animal welfare and vegetarianism.

She is considered the most important revivalist in the Indian classical dance form of Bharatnatyam from its original 'sadhir' style, prevalent amongst the temple dancers, Devadasis,[2][3] she also worked for the re-establishment of traditional Indian arts and crafts.

Though she belonged to the Indian upper-caste she espoused the cause of Bharata Natyam, which was considered a low and vulgar art in the early 1920s. Recognizing the beauty and spiritual value of this art form, she not only learned the dance, but also presented it on stage in spite of strong public protests.

Rukmini Devi features in India Today's list of '100 People Who Shaped India'.[4] She was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1956, and Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship in 1967.


Early life and marriage

Rukmini Devi was born on 29 February 1904 at noon time, in an upper class Brahmin family in Madurai. Her father, Neelakanta Sastri was an engineer with the Public Works Department by profession and a scholar, and Seshammal was a music enthusiast. His was a transferable job and the family moved frequently. he was introduced to the Theosophical Society in 1901. Deeply influenced by the Theosophical Movement, as a follower of Dr. Annie Besant, upon retirement, Neelakanta Sastri shifted to Adyar, Chennai where he built his home near the headquarters of Theosophical Society Adyar. It was here that young Rukmini was exposed to not just theosophical thought but also new ideas in culture, theatre, music and dance, and later met prominent British Theosophist Dr. George Arundale, who was a close associate of Annie Besant and later the principal of the Central Hindu College in Varanasi, and soon build a lasting bond with him. [5].

In 1920, they got married, shocking the then conservative society. Post marriage, she travelled all over the world, meeting fellow theosophists and also forging friendships with educator Maria Montessori, and poet James Cousins.[6] In 1923, she became the President of the All India Federation of Young Theosophists, and the President of the World Federation of Young Theosophists in 1925.[7]

In 1928, famous Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova came to Bombay, the Arundale couple came to her performance, and later happened to travel on the same ship as her, to Australia where she was to perform next; over the course of the journey their friendship grew, and soon Rukmini Devi started learning dance from one of Anna's leading solo dancers, Cleo Nordi.[8] It was later at the behest of Anna that Rukmini Devi turned her attention to discovering traditional Indian dance forms, which had fallen to disrepute and dedicated the rest of her life into their revival.[9]


File:Rukmini Devi George Arundale Finland 1936.jpg

In 1933, at the Annual Conference of Madras Music Academy, she saw for the first time, a performance of the dance form called Sadhir.[10] Later she learnt the dance from 'Mylapore Gowri Amma', and finally with help of E. Krishna Iyer[11] from 'Pandanallur Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai'. In 1935, Rukmini Devi gave her first public performance at the 'Diamond Jubilee Convention of the Theosophical Society.[12]

In January 1936, she along with her husband,[13] established Kalakshetra, an academy of dance and music, built around the ancient Indian Gurukul system, at Adyar, near Chennai. Today the academy is a deemed university under the Kalakshetra Foundation and is situated in its new in 100-acre (0.40 km2) campus in Tiruvanmiyur, Chennai, where it shifted, in 1962.[14] Amongst its noted students are Radha Burnier, Sarada Hoffman, Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, Sanjukta Panigrahi, C.V. Chandrasekhar, Yamini Krishnamoorthy and Leela Samson.[15]

Originally known as sadhir, the Indian classical dance form of Bharatnatyam owes its current name , to E.Krishna Iyer and Rukmini Devi Arundale,[16] who has been instrumental in modifying mainly the Pandanallur style of Bharatanatyam and bringing it to the global attention, and removing the extraneous sringaar and erotic elements from the dance, which were the legacy of its Devadasi association in the past, thereby raising it to the status of puritan art form.[17] Soon she changed the very face of the dance, by introducing musical instruments, like violin,[18] set and lighting design elements, and innovative costumes, and jewellery inspired by the temple sculptures.[19] Just as for her teacher she approached noted gurus in various arts and classical dances, for her productions, Rukmini Devi approached noted scholars for inspiration and classical musicians and artists, for collaboration, the result was the creation some of pioneering dance dramas-based on Indian epics like the Valmiki's Ramayana and Jayadeva's Gita Govinda.[20] Starting with famous dance dramas like, 'Sita Swayamvaram', 'Sri Rama Vanagamanam', 'Paduka Pattabhishekam' and 'Sabari Moksham', followed by 'Kutrala Kuruvanji', 'Ramayana', 'Kumara Sambhavam', 'Gita Govindam' and 'Usha Parinayam'.[21]

Schools based on the Montessori method were first started in India,[22] when Dr. George Arundale invited Dr. Maria Montessori to start courses in the 'Besant Theosophical High School' in 1939, and later also established, the 'Besant Arundale Senior Secondary School', The College of Fine Arts, The Besant Theosophical High School, The Maria Montessori School for Children, The Craft Education and Research Centre and the U.V.Swaminatha Iyer Library, within the Kalakshetra campus.

Later years

Rukmini Devi was nominated as a member of the Indian Parliament's Council of States, the Rajya Sabha in April 1952 and re-nominated in 1956.[23] Keenly interested in animal welfare, she was associated with various humanitarian organisations, and as a member of the Rajya Sabha, was instrumental for the legislation for the 'Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act (1960)', and for later setting up of the Animal Welfare Board of India, under her chairmanship in 1962, she remain on its board, until her demise in 1986.

She was a strict vegetarian and did much work to promote vegetarianism in the country. She was Vice President of International Vegetarian Union for 31 years from 1955, until her death in 1986.[24]

In 1977, Morarji Desai offered to nominate her for the post of President of India, which she turned down [.[25] Rukmini Devi Arundale died on February 24, 1986 at Chennai. In 1978, 'Kalamkari Centre' ("pencraft) as set up at Kalakshetra to revitalise the ancient Indian craft of textile printing.[26].


In January 1994, an Act of the Indian Parliament recognised the Kalakshetra Foundation as an 'Institute of National Importance' [27][28].

Year long celebrations, including lectures, seminars and festivals marked her 100th birth anniversary, on February 29, in 2004 at Kalakshetra and elsewhere in many parts of the world [29], also on Feb 29, a photo exhibition on her life opened at the Lalit Kala Gallery in New Delhi, and on the same day, President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam released a photo-biography, written and compiled by Dr. Sunil Kothari with a foreword by former president R. Venkataraman [30][31][32].

Awards and honours

Further reading

  • Art and culture in Indian life. Kerala University Press, Trivandrum 1975
  • Sarada, S.: Kalakshetra-Rukmini Devi, reminiscences. Kala Mandir Trust, Madras 1985
  • India’s 50 Most Illustrious Women by Indra Gupta. Icon Publications, 2003. ISBN 81-88086-19-3.
  • Selections, Some selected speeches & writings of Rukmini Devi Arundale. Kalakshetra Foundation, Chennai 2003.
  • Rukmini Devi Arundale : Birth Centenary Volume, edited by Shakuntala Ramani. Chennai, Kalakshetra Foundation, 2003,
  • Kalakshetra Foundation (Hrsg.): Shraddanjali, brief pen portraits of a galaxy of great people who laid the foundations of Kalakshetra. Kalakshetra Foundation, Chennai 2004
  • Photo Biography of Rukmini Devi, Sunil Kothari. Chennai, The Kalakshetra Foundation, 2004.
  • Meduri, Avanthi (Hrsg.): Rukmini Devi Arundale (1904-1986), A Visionary Architect of Indian Culture and the Performing Arts. Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi 2005; ISBN 81-208-2740-6.

See also


External links

hi:रुक्मिणी देवी अरुंडेल

ml:രുഗ്മിണി ദേവി അരുണ്ഡേല്‍ta:ருக்மிணி தேவி அருண்டேல் te:రుక్మిణీదేవి అరండేల్

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