Born: February 29, 1904
Passed Away: February 24, 1986
Devi Arundale was a reputed dancer and choreographer of Bharatnatyam, an
Indian classical dance form. Her charismatic personality and
contribution to the renaissance of Indian Classical music attained her
niche in the arena of Indian culture. It is believed that Rukmini Devi
had declined the chair of the President of India, once offered by
Morarji Desai, the then Prime Minister of India. Rukmini Devi was also
known for her efforts towards the protection of animal rights and their
Rukmini Devi Arundale was born on February 29, 1904, to Neelakanta
Sastri and Seshammal. Her father, an engineer with the Public Works
Department, was a dedicated member of the Theosophical Society formed by
Annie Besant. After his retirement, Neelakanta Sastri shifted to Madras
(now, Chennai). The family built their house, near the headquarters of
Theosophical Society at Adyar. Her father's involvement in the
Theosophical Society paved the way for Rukmini to come under the
umbrella of Annie Besant's influence, at an early stage.
Rukmini Devi first met Dr George Arundale, in 1917. He was an active
member of the Theosophical Society. Arundale was also in-charge of the
organization's paper, "New India". Fascinated by Rukmini
Devi's love for the mankind and humanity, Dr Arundale, in 1920, married
her with the approval and support of her family. The marriage created a
huge uproar in the society, especially the conservatives. They couldn't
accept the fact that a Brahmin girl can marry outside the prevailing
Though she belonged to the upper-caste, Rukmini Devi advocated the
cause of Bharatnatyam, considered as a low and vulgar art during that
period. She began to learn dance performances from Mylapore Gauri Ammal.
She also convinced proficient Meenakshisundaram Pillai to come to Madras
to teach her. Rukmini Devi gave her first performance at the Diamond
Jubilee celebrations of the Theosophical Society in 1935.
Within a year after her first performance at the Theosophical Society,
Rukmini Devi and Dr George Arundale formed the Kalakshetra. The name was
decided by Pandit S. Subramania Sastri, a Sanskrit scholar and member of
the academy. All the members were deeply committed to the Theosophical
society and as well as Kalakshetra. S. Sarada, Radha, Leelavati
(Rukmini's niece) were among the first to join Kalakshetra. Many
renowned dancers including Meenakshisundaram Pillai, Muthukumara Pillai
and Karaikkal Saradambal Ammal joined the Kalakshetra as its teachers.
After her marriage, Rukmini Devi met the legendary ballerina, Anna
Pavlova on a ship to Australia. Rukmini Devi was enthralled by the great
artiste. Ever since, she began to attend different performances of
Pavlova's in Australia. It was on Pavlova's request that Rukmini Devi
Rukmini Devi was against the custom of killing and sacrificing of
animals. She also acted as the Vice President of International
Vegetarian Union for 31 years, until her death in 1986.
In 1956, Rukmini Devi was awarded the Padma Bhushan and in 1967,
received the "Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship". She also
featured in India Today's list of '100 People Who Shaped India'.