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Rukmini Devi Neelakanda Sastri (29 February 1904 – 24 February 1986) was an Indian, dancer and choreographer of the Indian classical dance form of, and an activist for animal rights and welfare.

She also is the first ever woman in Indian history to be nominated as the Rajya Sabha member. She is considered the most important revivalist in the Indian classical dance form of Bharatanatyam from its original 'sadhir' style, prevalent amongst the temple dancers,, 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, which was considered a low and vulgar art in the early 1920s. Recognising the beauty and the spiritual value of this art form, she not only learned the dance, but also presented it on stage despite strong public protests.

Rukmini Devi features in 's list of '100 People Who Shaped India'. She was awarded the in 1956, and in 1967.



Early life and marriage[]

Rukmini Devi was born on 29 February 1904 in an orthodox Brahmin family in. Her father Neelakanta Sastri was an engineer with the and a scholar, and Seshammal was a music enthusiast. He had a transferable job and the family moved frequently. He was introduced to the in 1901. Deeply influenced by the as a follower of Dr, Neelakanta Sastri moved to Adyar, Chennai upon retirement, where he built his home near the headquarters of the. 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 —a close associate of Annie Besant and later the principal of the in —led to her building a lasting bond with him.

They married in 1920, much to the shock of the then conservative society. After marriage, she travelled all over the world, meeting fellow theosophists and also forging friendships with the educator, and the poet. 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.

In 1928, the famous Russian ballerina 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. 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.


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

In January 1936, she along with her husband, established, an academy of dance and music, built around the ancient Indian system, at, near. 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, Chennai, where it shifted, in 1962. Amongst its noted students are, Sarada Hoffman, Anjali Mehr,,,, and.

Originally known as sadhir, the Indian classical dance form of owes its current name, to E Krishna Iyer and Rukmini Devi Arundale, who has been instrumental in modifying mainly the of and bringing it to the global attention, and removing the extraneous sringaar and erotic elements from the dance, which were the legacy of its association in the past. Soon she changed the very face of the dance, by introducing musical instruments, like violin, set and lighting design elements, and innovative costumes, and jewellery inspired by the temple sculptures. 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 's and 's. Starting with famous dance dramas like, 'Sita Swayamvaram', 'Sri Rama Vanagamanam', 'Paduka Pattabhishekam' and 'Sabari Moksham', followed by 'Kutrala Kuruvanji', 'Ramayana', 'Kumara Sambhavam', photo of lal bahadur sastri 'Gita Govindam' and 'Usha Parinayam'.

Schools based on the were first started in India, when Dr George Arundale invited Dr 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 campus.

Later years[]

Rukmini Devi was nominated as a member of the Indian Parliament's Council of States (the ) in April 1952 and re-nominated in 1956. She was the first Indian woman to be nominated in Rajya Sabha. 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 and for later setting up of the, under her chairmanship in 1962. She remained on the board until her demise in 1986.

She was a strict vegetarian and did much work to promote in the country. She was Vice-President of for 31 years from 1955, until her death.

In 1977, offered to nominate her for the post of, which she turned down. In 1978, 'Kalamkari Centre' (pencraft) was set up at Kalakshetra to revitalise the ancient Indian craft of textile printing. Rukmini Devi Arundale died on 24 February 1986 in Chennai.

In January 1994, an Act of the recognised the Kalakshetra Foundation as an ''.

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, 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. 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 released a photo-biography, written and compiled by Dr with a foreword by former president.

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

Awards and honours[]

  • (1956)
  • (1957)
  • Desikothama (1972), Viswa Bharati University
  • 1967
  • Prani Mitra (1968), Friend of All Animals, ()
  • Queen Victoria Silver Medal,,
  • (1984), Govt of
  • Addition to the roll of honour by The World Federation for the Protection of animals,
  • Honorary Doctorate,, United States
  • Scrolls of Honour, County and City of

See also[]

  • References[]

    1. ^
    2. (PDF). Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. 2015. Retrieved July 21, 2015. 
    3. .. March 2004. 
    4. 12 March 2008 at the.
    5. 12 March 2008 at the.
    6. Khokar, Ashish Mohan (28 December 2017).. The Hindu. Retrieved 29 July 2018. 
    7. 15 February 2010 at the. Ministry of Law And Justice.
    8. .. 27 January 2003. 
    9. . The Hindu. 4 March 2004. 
    10. .. 22 February 2004. 
    11. .. 27 February 2003. 
    12. nartaki.com
    13. .. 29 February 2016. 
    14. . Google. February 29, 2016. Retrieved March 1, 2016. 
    15. Santhanam, Radhika (February 25, 2016).. The Hindu. Retrieved 2016-03-30. 

    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.  .
    • 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;  .
    • (2010). Rukmini Devi: A Life, Delhi: Penguin Books, India,  

    External links[]


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