Madras Week 2012: The Roads Project: Day 1: Rukmani Road

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Where is Rukmani Road?

Rukmani Road is at the end of Muthulakshmi Salai in Besant Nagar, the road on which the Kalakshetra Foundation is.

Who is Rukmini Devi ?

Rukmini Devi Arundale was born on February 29, 1904, to Neelakanta Sastri and Seshammal. Sastri was and engineer with the Public Works Department, and also a committed member of the Theosophical society. After his retirement, he shifted to Madras, to a house near the Theosophical Society in Adyar. Though her father, Rukmini came under the influence of Annie Besant at a very young age.

Rukmini Devi first met Dr George Arundale, in 1917. He was an active member of the Theosophical Society, and was in charge of their newspaper. Dr Arundale, in 1920, married her with the approval and support of her family. This inter-caste marriage created a furore in the Brahmin community.

Though she belonged to the upper-caste, Rukmini Devi took up the cause of Bharatnatyam, which was considered a vulgar art during that period. She began to learn dance from Mylapore Gauri Ammal. She also persuaded 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. There was a lot of overlap between the Theosophical Society and Kalakshetra – most of the people in Kalakshetra were committed to Theosophy as well. 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.

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’. Her  contribution to the arts have made her a notable figure in Indian Classical music as well as dance.

Rukmini Devi was also known for her efforts towards the protection of animal rights and their welfare.

Sources:

No author listed. (n.d.). Rukmini Devi Arundale. In WhereInCity. Retrieved May 6, 2012, from http://www.whereincity.com/india/great-indians/women/rukmini-devi.php.

Vishwanathan, L. (March 16, 2003). The Hindu: Rukmini Devi Arundale: A Catalyst to Change . In The Hindu. Retrieved May 6, 2012, from http://www.hindu.com/mag/2003/03/16/stories/2003031600400500.htm.

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