Rukmani Arundale, Bharat Natyam dancer who revived the old temple art - dance form and gave it respectability

Bharat Natyam dancer Rukmanu Arundale,
Rukmani Devi and George Arundale.
The  pioneering woman, who shone like a beacon in the area of Classical Bharata Natyam and worked for its wide exposure across India and the globe was none other than Rukmini Devi Arundale (1904 - 1986) who  herself was a  well trained Indian Classical Dancer. She  revived this great classical Indian dance that was confined to  within Hindu temples, and only women belonging to one particular community  were exclusively practicing it.  A recipient of  Padma Bhushan, she was the first woman to be nominated in Rajya Sabha. Apart, she also worked hard for the animal welfare and rights.

 Born on February 29, 1904 at  Madurai, then Madras Presidency, British India ( Tamil Nadu, India), Rukmini Devi's father, Neelakanta Shastri, was an engineer with the Public Works Department (PWD) and a scholar  in Sanskrit, and Seshammal was a music lover. When Shastry moved over to Adyar in Madras, a chance meeting with Dr Annie Besant changed his perception over life and he became an active member of  the Theosophical Society in 1901. It was  a monistic (emphasizing unity in the diversity of all phenomena) spiritual organization with main office in Madras, though founded in New York City, USA. The young  Rukmini  also took keen interest  in theosophy and its new approach to Indian  culture, theater, music and dance. Her dad after retirement got a home close to the  Theosophicl Soc. office in Adyar. Here, Rukmani's  frequent meetings with the energetic  British theosophist Dr George Arundal e - a close associate of Annie Besant and later the principal of the Central Hindu College in Varanasi(UP) slowly blossomed into  a lasting bond with him.  She married George Arundale ( Co-founder and president) in 1920.
It was Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova  who advised Rukmani Devi to  study nuances of  native Bharata natyam, a type of South Indian classical dance  and promote it among the common people. It was traditionally performed  within the four walls of Hindu temples and  its resurrection became a necessity and the this art form was losing its sheen and was on  the decline. The female performers  known as Devadasis, were, in reality, dedicated to the deity of the temple and highly talented in music and other art forms . Unfortunately, certain hawks in the society got the  talented females involved in  prostitution over a course of time  and, in consequence of it, they  were not treated well in the society.  Rukmani Devi  Arundale took upon herself  the responsibility of  reforming the female artists and  devising new direction and dynamism to the dying  and boring stereotypical classical forms handed down to us after several generations.  She wanted to emphasis the underlying aesthetic and spiritual aspect of this age told traditional dance form that is the legacy of Indian culture. Rukmani Devi,  formally trained under Pandanallur  Pani - introduced by late Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai, a respected Nattuvanar (male bharata natyam director),  gave her debut public performance, at the Theosophical Society in 1935. That event not only revealed her  mastery over the  dance but also it happened to be  the first ever, public performance  staged  outside the temple premises (as opposed to a temple event). Thus a new trend had been introduced so that   upper-class Indian women  could learn and practise this traditional  dance form without any inhibition or hesitation. Prior to that event, the performers were  looked down by other communities as a sort of  widely stained low-class community.

To make the dances  more attractive and appealing to the audience Rukmani Devi  never failed to introduce   aesthetically designed costumes, jewelry, and stage scenarios suitable to the numbers. Her dance-drama  formats  and choreography  were aimed at promoting contemporary sophistication., in tune with modern trend without compromising on old social or traditional values.   Being innovative as she was,  she conceived  and choreographed numerous bharata natyam  episodes or pieces in the new style,  a series of  dances taken from the ancient Hindu Epic, the Ramayana, which have remained among her best-known works. She gave due importance to interplay of elements of stagecraft, lighting, costumes, music, and choreography  in the newly transformed art forms to  bring out the divinity  and devotional experience.   Her reason was quite clear. When you took the Indian art forms to the global platforms, the depth and nicety of Indian classical  dances could be appreciated by the global community  who wanted something new,  something not seen before that would appeal to their heart and soul.  In  1957 Rukmani Arundale  received the Sangeet Natak Akademi (India’s national academy of music, arts, and dance) Award and in 1993 the Indian Parliament declared her foundation as an institution of national importance.
Rukmani Arundale.
Rukmani was the  most important revivalist of Bharatanatyam from its original 'sadhir' style prevalent among temple dancers -the Devadasis in the past.  She removed the inherent eroticism of Sadhir  and brought to light the spiritual  and divinity aspects and made  them  suitable to all, in particular,  Indian upper caste elite. She won numerous awards; besides  Queen Victoria Silver Medal, Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, London, she won the following awards: the roll of honor by The World Federation for the Protection of animals, The Hague, Honorary Doctorate, Wayne State University, USA and Scrolls of Honor, County and City of Los Angeles'.  She died on February 24, 1986, Chennai, Tamil Nadu).
''I can only say I did not consciously go after dance; it found me.
— Rukmini Devi Arundale