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Rukminidevi Arundale, dancer, scholar and co-founder of Kalakshetra, Chennai

(1904 – 1986)

In 1977 Rukminidevi's name was proposed as the President of India. She refused to accept the offer politely. She would rather continue her activities in the field of art and culture. But the fact remained that she was eminently qualified to the highest position in India. She was already a member of the upper house of India's Parliament. Founder of the most famous center of arts – Kalakshetra of Adyar in Chennai, an expert dancer, a scholar in the art of music, an acclaimed art critic, holder of a doctorate from an American university and another doctorate from the Hindu University of  Benares, winner of the Kalidasa Samman, and the Central Academy Award, winner of the Queen Victoria Jubilee Award for her endeavors to prevent cruelty to animals, and the Padmabhushan, one of the top civilian honors of India, Rukminidevi Arundale was a person of great achievements and talents of the highest order.

She was born in 1904 in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, as the sixth child of a very conservative family. Her father Neelakanta Shastri was an engineer and scholar in Sanskrit. She learned dancing right from her childhood. Dr. George Arundale, an Australian co-worker of Annie Besant in the Theosophical Society she founded, developed a fascination for Rukmini's brilliant dancing and married her in 1920. The couple undertook a world tour during which she met Pavlova, the famous Russian ballerina and picked up new vistas of dancing from her as well as from Cleo Norde, another famous dancer.

It was Rukmini who rechristened the so-called devadasi dance as bharatanatyam. The International Center for Arts which the Arundales set up in Adyar in 1936 was later named as Kalakshetra and it grew into a great center of not just Bharata Natyam, but other dances including Kathakali of Kerala and other dance dramas. This school of arts, which began with just one student, soon became famous all over India, attracting a large number of students, and some of the greatest singers and dancers of India were on the faculty.

Dr. George Arundale died in 1945 and Rukminidevi in 1986 after doing yeoman service to the promotion and popularization of arts in India.