Rukmani Arundale - the first woman who brought Bharatanatyam out of the temple premises!!

Rukmini Devi Arundale Cultural India
For centuries women have fought various battles in our conservative society to prove that skill and talents - wise, they are no longer inferior to men. In the past several decades, the social scenario has changed in their favor. Thanks to countless men who stood  by them like solid rock and encouraged them to fight for their rights. While one group of highly spirited women were working hard to remove the misconception and impediments  for their upward mobility in the society, there was a group of bold and innovative women who daringly broke the social norms and iron fritters on the society and brought to light  certain  wonderful  arts forms practiced by certain communities at the lower rung  of  what is purported to be called social ladder.  As far as certain  well-focused and determined women were concerned, no force could stop them from reaching their goal.  A woman with true vision and dream can empower other bold women and help them accomplish their dream and be innovative and achieve more. In this respect the late famous Bharata Natyam dancer Rukmani Devi Arundale had achieved something extraordinary which other women failed to do.
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Rukmini Devi Arundale (29 February 1904 – 24 February 1986), an Indian theosophist, dancer and choreographer of the Indian classical dance form of Bharatanatyam was a woman with indomitable spirit. Being the first woman in Indian history  who sat in the Rajya sabha as a nominated member, she took keen interest in  classical Indian arts and crafts and their revival.
Rukmini Devi Arundale
Rukmani Devi is believed to be  the most significant  revivalist in the Indian classical dance form of Bharatnatyam. Unfortunately prior to 1920s, for unknown reasons, Bharata Natyam  was considered an inartistic  and vulgar art  mainly practiced by temple dancers (Devadasis) in what is called Sadhir style.  Not many people realized that hidden in the temple dance  forms were various wonderful styles, facial expressions carrying spiritual and religious connotations. Rukmani Devi, being inquisitive and innovative found such temple dances unique  and should not be confined  to within the four walls of the temples.  To make such dance forms widely visible across the society, she took the first step by learning the intricacies of such dances  from 'Mylapore Gowri Amma', and finally with help of E Krishna Iyer from 'Pandanallur Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai'. Once she learned the nuances,  she did an extraordinary thing which other women in those days would hesitate to do it. Coming from the Brahmin caste of  Tamil Nadu (she hailed from Madurai) unmindful of the public protests, she boldly presented them on stage ' That day 30 December 1935 was an important turning point in the Indian history of performing arts. The venue happened to be  the 'Diamond Jubilee Convention of the Theosophical Society - same Kalashetra, Adyar, Chennai. An orthodox brahmin girl publically performing the dance of Devadasis became a big scoop for the news -hungry Indian media. Though she was subject to comments  and criticisms, an audience comprising more than 1000 people were mesmerised by her beautiful presentation, foot movements matching the jadhi and right facial expressions and mudra. On 6th January, 1936, for the first time, the Kalashetra began teaching Bharatanatyam

Born on 29 February 1904 in Madurai, Rukmani Devi's father  was Neelakanta Sastri, an engineer with the Public Works Department and a scholar, and  her mother Seshammal was a music lover.  Her father took a liking for theosophy and  was introduced to the Theosophical Society in 1901. Dr. Anne Besant gave him inspiration and upon retirement he chose his residence near the HQ of Theosophical society. Rukmani also took keen interest in theosophy  and also in theater, art and culture. In this regard, her frequent meetings with the prominent British theosophist Dr George Arundale—a close associate of Annie Besant and later the principal of the Central Hindu College in Varanasi  blossomed into love  and their wedding in 1920 again created another storm among the people from the upper class. She was hardly 16 years of age and George Arundale was about 40 years old.
Indian postal stamp Rukmani Devi. Kamat's Potpourri
Despite the age difference, they  got  married in 1920, much to the shock of the then conservative society. During her overseas travel she came across many eminent people, in particular,  educator Maria Montessori. Her active involvement in theosophical society saw her holding key positions - the President of the All-India Federation of Young Theosophists (1923) , and the President of the World Federation of Young Theosophists in 1925. She also developed close friendship with the famous Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova (1928)  and took interest in western dance as well.
For certain  technical reasons Kalashetra moved over to its own land in Thruvanmayur  in the 1950s which Rukmani Devi and others bought in peace-meal. It is a residential institution with all facilities like auditorium for performances, administrative buildings, class rooms, etc.

Rukmani Devi  was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1956, and Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship in 1967. When Indian dance forms were falling to disrepute and was facing the danger of becoming a forgotten art form, it was Rukmani Devi who breathed a new life into it and made the conservative communities  understand the hidden beauty that is part of our culture. Across India and also abroad there are countless dance schools imparting Indian classical dances of various types. If the Indian dances are recognised world over and  are enjoying  freedom innovation and respect,  it is because of Rukmani Devi who believes it is the dance of the Indian people and is no longer confined to one particular society. Its venue is not only temple but also public halls where
the artists can exhibit their talents and skill. Her 114th  birthday was celebrated last month. The present form of  Indian classical dance of Bharatnatyam was introduced  by E. Krishna Iyer and Rukmini Devi Arundale. They took so much pain in  modifying mainly the Pandanallur style (Pani) of Bharatanatyam that got the  attention of the global audience.