Rukmini Devi - The Ace Dancer

People take the art form for a career. In her case, the Indian classical art form “Bharatnatyam” took form in the ace dancer Rukmini Devi who dedicated her life and advocated the cause of Bharatnatyam which then was considered as a low and vulgar art.

Rukmini Devi initially learnt Bharatnatyam from Mylapore Gauri Ammal, and her other master was Pandanallur Meenakshisundaram Pillai who on Rukmini’s request came to the then Madras to teach her the art form. Learning from two veterans, Rukmini Devi first performed at the Diamond Jubilee celebration of the Theosophical Society. Exactly, within a year after this first performance, Rukmini formed the Kalakshetra which is a brain child of herself and her husband Dr. George Arundale. The name Kalakshetra was selected and decided by Pandit S. Subramania Sastri who was a member of the Academy.

Kalakshetra adorned itself with renowned dancers like Meenakshisundaram Pillai, Muthukumara Pillai and Karaikkal Saradambal Ammal as teachers.

In 1917, Rukmini Devi met Arundale, an active member of the Theosophical Society and concurrently was in-charge of the newspaper “New India”, run by the society. Observing Rukmini Devi’s indulgence in the welfare and rights of animals and adoring Rukmini’s humanity, Arundale married Rukmini in 1920 with the consent and blessings of her family.

Rukmini Devi was the Vice President of International Vegetarian Union for more than three decades, until her death in 1986.

Rukmini Devi met the legendary ballerina Anna Pavlova on a ship to Australia and was Rukmini Devi was enraptured by the great artiste. She attended various performances of Pavlova Australia, and learnt “Ballet” on Pavlovas request.

Rukmini Devi was awarded the Padma Bhushan In 1956 and the "Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship" in 1967. She is also featured in India Todays list of "100 People Who Shaped India".

The reputed dancer and choreographer of Bharatnatyam was born to Shri Neelakanta Sastri and Seshammal on February 29, 1904. Neelakanta Sastri was an Engineer with the Public Works Department and a member of the Theosophical Society instituted by Dr. Annie Besant.

Rukmini Devi’s niche contribution to the revival of Indian Classical music and dance are a deed carved in the history.

February has embraced Rukmini Devi twice, first on her birth on 29 February 1904, and on her death on 24 February 1986. The latter date has done so, with a reason for remembering a noble soul every year.

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