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Arundale, Rukmini Devi

(1904-1986). Nee Sastry. A theosophist noted for her significant contributions to the revival of Indian classical dance and as a campaigner for animal welfare. Born in Madura in South India on February 20, 1904. Her father Nilakanta Sastry, was a professional consulting engineer to an Indian Prince. Rukmini Devi was educated at a Madras (now Chennai) College. At the age of 16 years she married George Arundale, the third International President of the Theosophical Society. Due to the obvious cultural differences and considerable difference in age the liaison caused controversy and to avoid as much publicity as possible the couple elected to be married in Madras with a simple civil ceremony.

Now married to a prominent theosophist Rukmini quite naturally attracted considerable attention and in her early twenties theosophists named her “Mother Goddess.”

From an early age she showed exceptional talent as a dancer and Anna Pavlova, the celebrated ballerina, encouraged her to pursue a career in Indian dance. In January 1936 she founded the International Academy of the Arts at Adyar, known as Kalakshetra. The Sanskrit compound is derived from kalā meaning “arts” and kshetra meaning “sacred place.” On March 15, 1936, Arundale performed a dance recital in the Adyar Theatre which was an interpretation of theosophy as Beauty; critics acclaimed the performance a work of genius.

Having established the Academy, Rukmini systematically addressed the existing problems in respect of Indian dance. The current practitioners of the art were not held in high regard and so she used her artistic sensibility to enhance the image of the traditional dance. She replaced the existing style of costume with those of better quality and design and added a lavish amount of jewelry. She persuaded first-class musicians and dance instructors to join the faculty where they found an environment dedicated to artistic excellence.

Apart from her work to establish Indian dance Rukmini was an energetic campaigner for animal rights at a time when this was not a particularly popular cause. She was also a strong advocate of vegetarianism.

When the then prime minister Moraji Desai, in 1977, suggested to Rukmini that she accept nomination for the office of President of India, she refused. It seems that she was of the opinion that her time could be better spent in devotion to those causes for which she had for long toiled.

Rukmini died in a hospital in Chennai on February 24, 1986. The body was brought to Arundale House at the International Headquarters in Adyar, and was then cremated in the cremation grounds of the TS situated in the part of the estate known as Besant Gardens.




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