Remembering Rukmini Devi Arundale

Rukmini Devi Arundale was an Indian theosophist, dancer and choreographer of the Indian classical dance form of Bharatanatyam, and an activist for animal welfare. Let us revisit our memories of her on the occasion of her birthday.

Rukmini Devi was born on 29 February 1904 in Madurai of Tamilnadu. Her father, Neelakanta Shastri, was deeply influenced by the Theosophical Movement and was as a follower of Dr Annie Besant. A young Rukmini was exposed to not just theosophical thought, but also to new ideas on culture, theatre, music, and dance. (Theosophy is a religion established in the United States during the late 19th century. It was found primarily by the Russian immigrant Helena Blavatsky and draws its teachings predominantly from Blavatsky’s writings)

Rukmini met the prominent British theosophist Dr George Arundale. They married in 1920. After marriage, she travelled around the world. Later, Rukmini Devi turned her attention to discovering traditional Indian dance forms which had fallen to disrepute and dedicated the rest of her life to their revival.  In January 1936, she along with her husband, established Kalakshetra, an academy of dance and music, built around the ancient Indian Gurukul system, at Adyar, at Chennai.

Originally known as sadhir, the Indian classical dance form of Bharatanatyam owes its current name to E Krishna Iyer and Rukmini Devi Arundale, who have been instrumental in modifying mainly the Pandanallur style of Bharatanatyam and bringing it to global attention.

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. She was the first Indian woman to be nominated to Rajya Sabha. Keenly interested in animal welfare, she was associated with various humanitarian organisations, and as a member of the Rajya Sabha, was instrumental in the legislation for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act and for later setting up of the Animal Welfare Board of India, under her chairmanship in 1962. She remained on the board until her demise in 1986.

She was awarded Padma Bhushan in 1956. In 1977, she was offered the nomination for the post of President of India, which she turned down. She died on 24 February 1986 in Chennai

-Staff Reporter

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