Rukmini Devi Arundale

Feb 29

Rukmini Devi Arundale was an Indian theosophist, dancer, choreographer, and an activist for animal rights and welfare. She specialized in the Indian classical dance form Bharatnatyam, and is considered the most important revivalist of this dance form.

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Rukmini Devi was born on 29th February 1904 in an upper class Brahmin family in Maduri. Her father Neelakanta Sastri was an engineer with the Public Works Department and her mother Seshammal was a music enthusiast. Due to a transferable job of her father, the family moved around frequently. In 1901 her father was introduced to the Theosophical Society. His keen interest and influence by the Theosophical Movement urged him to move to Adyar, Chennai after retirement. During her days in Chennai, Rukmini Devi was first exposed to the theosophical thought, new ideas on culture, theater, music, and dance.

She was introduced to Dr. George Arundale, a British theosophist, during her time in Chennai. They went on to get married in 1920 much to the shock of the conservative society. Post marriage she travelled all over the world. She went on to become the President of the All-India Federation of Young Theosophists in 1923, and the President of the World Federation of Young Theosophists in 1925.

With George Arundale; Image Source:<em>Devi</em>Arundale

With George Arundale; Image Source:

In 1928 Rukmini Devi and her husband went to see the performance of the famous Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova in Bombay. They later happened to be on the same ship to Australia. Over the course of the journey their friendship grew, and Rukmini Devi started learning dance from Anna’s leading solo dancer, Cleo Nordi. Anna then pushed Rukmini Devi to focus on discovering traditional dance forms.

In 1933 her pursuit for dance become more vigorous and Rukmini Devi went on to learn dance from Mylapore Gowri Amma, and E. Krishna Iyer. In 1935 she gave her first public performance at the Diamond Jubilee Convention of the Theosophical Society. In 1936 she along with her husband established Kalakshetra – a school for dance and music – in Chennai. Today the academy is a deemed university under the Kalaksheta Foundation as is set over 100 acres in Tiruvabmiyur, Chennai since 1962.

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Bharatnatyam owes its current name to E. Krishna Iyer and Rukmini Devi who have been instrumental in modifying the dance from the original Pandanallur style of Bharatnatyam and bringing it to a global platform. They were instrumental in removing the inappropriate dressing and erotic**erotic 
➤ (n) an erotic person 
➤ (s) giving sexual pleasure; sexually arousing 
 elements from the dance form, which were the legacy of its Devadassi association in the past. Rukmini Devi introduced music instruments, better set design, innovative costume, make up and temple jewellery to the art form.

Rukmini Devi went on to get nominated as a member of the Indian Parliament’s Council of State in April 1952, and was re-nominated in 1956. She was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1956 for her contributions. She was instrumental in the legislation of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, and setting up the Animal Welfare Board of India under her chairmanship in 1962. In 1977 Morarji Desai offered to nominate her for the post of President of India, which she declined.

Image Source:<em>Devi</em>Arundale

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On 24th February 1986 she died in Chennai at the age of 81. She features on ‘India Today’s’ List of 100 People Who Shaped India’.

Google's Tribute To Rukmini Devi on her birth anniversary 29th Feb 2016; Image Source:

Google’s Tribute To Rukmini Devi on her birth anniversary 29th Feb 2016; Image Source:


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