On her 112th birth anniversary, Bharatnatyam exponent Rukmini Devi Arundale is honoured by Google, which designed a doodle on the danseuse. The doodle features a depiction of Rukmani Devi in traditional dance attire with flowers in her hair holding up a mudra amidst trademark lettering of the search giant in trailing pink.
Rukmani Devi, who passed away in 1986, five days before what would have been her 82nd birthday, is considered the most important revivalist of Bharatnatyam from its original ‘Sadhir’ style prevalent among Devadasis (temple dancers).
Born in Madurai, the danseuse honed her dancing skills under the watchful eyes of ‘Mylapore’ Gowri Amma and perfected her technique under the guidance of ‘Pandanallur’ Meenakshi Sundaram Pillai.
In 1935, Rukmini Devi gave her first public performance at the Diamond Jubilee Convention of the Theosophical Society. Rukmini Devi and her husband established Kalakshetra, an academy of dance and music, at Adyar, Chennai in January, 1936. In 1962, the academy moved its campus to Thiruvanmiyur.
Today, it is a deemed university under the Kalakshetra Foundation, which counts amongst its noted students Radha Burnier, Sarada Hoffman, Anjali Mehr, Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay, Sanjukta Panigrahi, C V Chandrasekhar, Yamini Krishnamurthy and Leela Samson.
Bharatnatyam, an Indian classical dance form, owes its current name to E Krishna Iyer and Rukmini Devi. The latter has been instrumental in modifying the Pandanallur style and removing the extraneous ‘sringaar’ and erotic elements from the dance, which were the legacy of its Devadasi association.
She is credited with introducing musical instruments such as violin, set and lighting design elements, innovative costumes and jewellery inspired by temple sculptures.
Rukmini Devi also created some of the pioneering dance dramas based on Indian epics such as the Ramayana and Gita Govinda.
She was nominated to Rajya Sabha in 1952 and re-nominated in 1956. As a member of the Rajya Sabha, she was instrumental for the legislation for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act and for setting up of the Animal Welfare Board of India under her chairmanship in 1962. She remained on board until her demise in 1986.
She was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1956, and Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship in 1967 for her immense contribution to the Indian classical dance.
In January 1994, an Act of the Indian Parliament recognised the Kalakshetra Foundation as an ‘Institute of National Importance’.