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Rukmini Devi Arundale

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Rukmini Devi Neelakanta Shastri
Rukmani Neelakanta Sastri

(1904-02-29)29 February 1904
Died24 February 1986(1986-02-24) (aged 81)
Years active1920–1986
(m. 1920)
AwardsPadma Bhushan (1956)
Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship (1967)
Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha
In office
3 April 1952 – 2 April 1962

Rukmini Devi Arundale (née Shastri; 29 February 1904 – 24 February 1986)[1] was an Indian theosophist, dancer and choreographer of the Indian classical dance form of Bharatanatyam, and an activist for animal welfare.

She was the first woman in Indian history to be nominated as a member of the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Parliament of India. The most important revivalist of Bharatanatyam from its original 'sadhir' style prevalent amongst the temple dancers, the Devadasis, she also worked for the re-establishment of traditional Indian arts and crafts.

She espoused the cause of Bharata Natyam which was considered a vulgar art. She 'sanitised' and removed the inherent eroticism of Sadhir to make it palatable to Indian upper-caste elites and the British morality of the era.[2]

Rukmini Devi features in India Today's list of '100 People Who Shaped India'.[3] She was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1956,[4] and the Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship in 1967.


Early life and marriage[edit]

Rukmini Devi was born in a Brahmin family[5] on 29 February 1904 in Madurai of Tamil Nadu. Her father, Neelakanta Shastri, was an engineer with the Public Works Department and a scholar, and her mother Seshammal was a music enthusiast. He had a transferable job and the family moved frequently. He was introduced to the Theosophical Society in 1901. Her brother, Nilakanta Sri Ram, later became the President of the Theosophical Society.[6] Deeply influenced by the Theosophical Movement as a follower of Dr Annie Besant, Neelakanta Shastri moved to Adyar, Chennai after retirement, where he built his home near the headquarters of the Theosophical Society Adyar. It was here that young Rukmini was exposed to not just theosophical thought, but also to new ideas on culture, theatre, music, and dance. Her meeting with the prominent British theosophist Dr George Arundale—a close associate of Annie Besant and later the principal of the Central Hindu College in Varanasi—led to her building a lasting bond with him.[7]

They married in 1920 when she turned 16 and he was 26 years her senior at 42, much to the shock of the then conservative society.[8] After marriage, she traveled around the world, meeting fellow theosophists and also forging friendships with the educator Maria Montessori, and the poet James Cousins.[1] 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.[9]

In 1928, the famous Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova visited Bombay and the Arundale couple went 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.[10] 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 to their revival.[11]


In 1933, at the Annual Conference of Madras Music Academy, she saw for the first time, a performance of the dance form called the Sadhir.[12] Later she learnt the dance from Mylapore Gowri Amma and finally with the help of E Krishna Iyer[13] from 'Pandanallur Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai'. In 1935, Rukmini Devi gave her first public performance at the 'Diamond Jubilee Convention of the Theosophical Society.[14]

Office of Kalakshetra Academy at Besant Nagar, Chennai

In January 1936, she along with her husband,[15] established Kalakshetra, an academy of dance and music, built around the ancient Indian Gurukul system, at Adyar, at 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.[16] Amongst its noted students are Radha Burnier, Sarada Hoffman, Anjali Mehr, Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, Sanjukta Panigrahi, C V Chandrasekhar, Yamini Krishnamurthy and Leela Samson.[17]

Originally known as sadhir (Tamil: சதிராட்டம்), the Indian classical dance form of Bharatanatyam owes its current name, to E Krishna Iyer and Rukmini Devi Arundale, who had 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.[18][19] Soon she changed the very face of the dance, by introducing musical instruments, like violin,[20] set and lighting design elements, and innovative costumes, and jewellery inspired by the temple sculptures.[21] 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.[22] 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'.[23]

Schools based on the Montessori method were first started in India,[24] 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[edit]

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 in Rajya Sabha.[25] 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 and for later setting up of the Animal Welfare Board of India, under her chairmanship in 1962.[26] She remained on the board until her demise in 1986.

She 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.[27]

In 1977, Morarji Desai offered to nominate her for the post of President of India twice, which she turned down.[28] In 1978, 'Kalamkari Centre' (pencraft) was set up at Kalakshetra to revitalise the ancient Indian craft of textile printing.[29] On encouragement from Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, she encouraged natural dyeing and weaving at Kalakshetra.[30] She died on 24 February 1986 in Chennai.[31]


Rukmini Devi on a 1987 stamp of India

In January 1994, an Act of the Indian Parliament recognised the Kalakshetra Foundation as an 'Institute of National Importance'.[15][32]

Year-long celebrations, including lectures, seminars and festivals marked her 100th birth anniversary, on 29 February, in 2004 at Kalakshetra and elsewhere in many parts of the world,[21] At the campus the day was marked by special function in which old students gathered from across India and the world, in a day of songs and recitals.[33] Also on 29 February, a photo exhibition on her life opened at the Lalit Kala Gallery in New Delhi, and on the same day, then President APJ Abdul Kalam released a photo-biography, written and compiled by Dr Sunil Kothari with a foreword by former president R Venkataraman.[34][35][36]

In 2016, Google honored Rukmini Devi on her 112th birthday with a doodle,[37][38] and later in the month marking the 80th year of the Kalakshetra Foundation held, 'Remembering Rukmini Devi’ festival of music and dance.[39] Google also featured her in the 2017 Google Doodle for International Women's Day.[40]

Awards and honours[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Sharma, Shoba and Gangadean, Ashok (January 31, 2004) Rukmini Devi Arundale Centenary Celebration at Haverford College, February 28, 2004. Naatya.org. Retrieved on 10 December 2018.
  2. ^ "Articles - Sensual sringara to bhakti boredom: The brahminisation of Bharatanatyam by Lada Guruden Singh".
  3. ^ Raman, N. Pattabhi. Rukmini Devi. India Today
  4. ^ "Padma Awards" (PDF). Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. 2015. Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 October 2015. Retrieved 21 July 2015.
  5. ^ "Know the Only Indian in Today's Google Doodle? She Could Have Been India's First Female President!". The Better India. 8 March 2017. Retrieved 16 January 2022.
  6. ^ "Historical Photos from the Surendra Narayan Archives (Adyar Archives) - Rukmini Devi Arundale". www.theosophyforward.com. Retrieved 1 October 2021.
  7. ^ "Rukmini Devi Arundale: A life dedicated to Art". Rediff.com. March 2004.
  8. ^ "A tribute to Rukmini Devi Arundale". specials.rediff.com. 8 March 2004. Retrieved 1 March 2020. Though Rukmini Devi's mother was supportive of her decision (her father had passed away by then), there were strong protests from relatives and the community. The public protest was so bad that the couple was forced to marry in Mumbai. Dr. Besant stood by them. At her instance, the governor of Madras hosted a reception for the Arundales when they returned. It amused Rukmini Devi to see all those people who opposed her marriage at the reception
  9. ^ Meduri, Avanthi (2 March 2001) Rukmini Devi, the visionary. The Hindu.
  10. ^ Swamy, K. R. N. (22 September 2002) Pavlova steered Uday Shankar towards Indian dancing. The Tribune.
  11. ^ Rukmini Devi. thinkquest.org
  12. ^ Kalakshetra and Rukmini at. Katinkahesselink.net. Retrieved on 10 December 2018.
  13. ^ Viswanathan, Lakshmi (13 June 1997) Rukmini Devi Arundale. Obituary from the Hindu.
  14. ^ Kothari, Sunil (7 August 2004) Revolutionising Sadir. Narthaki.com. Retrieved on 10 December 2018.
  15. ^ a b RUKMINI DEVI ARUNDALE. chennaibest.com
  16. ^ Doctor, Geeta (18 May 2007) Poetry in motion. livemint.com.
  17. ^ Shanker, V. Gowri (November 1993) The Lady Atop India's Top Arts Academy. Hiduism Today.
  18. ^ Bharatnatyam at indeembassyathens.gr. Indembassyathens.gr. Retrieved on 10 December 2018.
  19. ^ Eifler, Laurissa and Shivaratri, Maha (8 March 2005) Traditional Devadasi Sadir (Bharata Natyam) Archived 13 May 2014 at the Wayback Machine. Traditional Devadasi Sadir, Boulder, Colorado
  20. ^ Rukmini Devi. Encarta
  21. ^ a b Muthiah, S. (27 January 2003) Another centenary celebration[usurped]. The Hindu.
  22. ^ Rukmini Devi Arundale – A catalyst to change [usurped]. The Hindu. 16 March 2003
  23. ^ Warrier, Shobha (27 February 2004) Destined to dance. Rediff.com.
  24. ^ Great indians at. Whereincity.com (24 February 1986). Retrieved on 2018-12-10.
  25. ^ Indian heroes at. Iloveindia.com. Retrieved on 10 December 2018.
  26. ^ Viswanathan, Lakshmi (27 February 2020). "Rukmini Devi — a visionary artiste (February 29, 1904-February 24, 1986)". The Hindu. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 1 March 2020.
  27. ^ Profile at International Vegetarian Union. IVU. Retrieved on 10 December 2018.
  28. ^ 100 Tamils. Tamilnation.org. Retrieved on 10 December 2018.
  29. ^ November 1993, hinduismtoday.com Archived 12 March 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  30. ^ Sethi, Ritu (Winter 2012 – Spring 2013). "Catalysing Craft- Women who shaped the way". India International Centre Quarterly. 39 (3/4): 168–185.
  31. ^ Khokar, Ashish Mohan (28 December 2017). "Seed for the banyan tree was sown on this day: on Rukmini Devi". The Hindu. Retrieved 29 July 2018.
  32. ^ Kalakshetra Foundation Act 1993 Archived 15 February 2010 at the Wayback Machine Ministry of Law And Justice.
  33. ^ "A legend lives on... It was time to pay tribute to Rukmini Devi Arundale, the czarina of dance". The Hindu. 4 March 2004. Archived from the original on 19 April 2004.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  34. ^ "Her spirit still reigns". The Hindu. 22 February 2004. Archived from the original on 3 January 2013.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  35. ^ "Time to celebrate". The Hindu. 27 February 2003. Archived from the original on 29 August 2004.
  36. ^ Centenary celebrations nartaki.com
  37. ^ "Google Pays Tribute To Famous Bharatanatyam Dancer Rukmini Devi Arundale On Her Birthday". NDTV. 29 February 2016.
  38. ^ "Archived Google Doodle honouring Rukmini Devi". Google. 29 February 2016. Retrieved 1 March 2016.
  39. ^ Santhanam, Radhika (25 February 2016). "Kalakshetra celebrates its 80th year". The Hindu. Retrieved 30 March 2016.
  40. ^ International Women's Day 2017. Google.com (8 March 2017). Retrieved on 2018-12-10.

Further reading[edit]

  • 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.
  • Samson, Leela (2010). Rukmini Devi: A Life, Delhi: Penguin Books, India, ISBN 0-670-08264-3

External links[edit]