Issue20 - FEB 2012       Back to newsletter | to TOS website

Rukmini Devi Arundale – an inspirational Theosophist


The month of February saw both the birth and death of an inspirational Theosophist, Rukmini Devi Arundale. She was born in 1904 into a Brahmin family. Her father, an engineer, and his musical wife were strongly influenced by theosophical ideas to which they had been introduced in 1901. When her father retired, he settled in Chennai close to the headquarters of the Theosophical Society.

At the age of 16, Rukmini took the controversial step of marrying Dr George Arundale, an Englishman destined to become the third International President of the Theosophical Society. In partnership with him and under the influence and inspiration of Annie Besant, she became very active in the theosophical movement.

In 1923 she became the President of the All India Federation of Young Theosophists, and the President of the World Federation of Young Theosophists in 1925.



Travelling throughout the world with her husband, Rukmini Devi met many influential people such as the visionary educator and doctor, Maria Montessori, the poet, James Cousins and the ballet dancer, Anna Pavlova.
Anna Pavlova awakened Rukmini Devi’s interest in dance. After first learning European ballet, Rukmini was inspired to discover and learn classical Indian dance, Bharatnatyam, which had fallen into disrepute.
In 1935, Rukmini Devi gave her first public performance at the Diamond Jubilee Convention of the Theosophical Society.

Rukmini Devi dancing


The following year, she and George Arundale established Kalakshetra, an academy of dance and music, built around the ancient Indian Gurukul system. The school has many renowned graduates including Radha Burnier.

Rukmini Devi was also an innovative choreographer who collaborated with classical musicians and other artists. She left a legacy of pioneering dance-dramas based on Indian epics such as the Ramayana and Gita Govinda.

In January 1994, an Act of the Indian Parliament recognised the Kalakshetra Foundation as an 'Institute of National Importance'.


Because of their shared commitment to education and to the Montessori method in particular, Rukmini Devi and George Arundale have left a legacy of schools in India, including The Besant Arundale Senior Secondary School, The College of Fine Arts, The Besant Theosophical High School, and The Craft Education and Research Centre, all within the Kalakshetra Foundation Campus. The Foundation also has a resource centre and three libraries, including the Swaminatha Aiyar Library which houses a rare collection of Tamil literature.


Rukmini Devi was committed to improving the welfare of animals in India and worked tirelessly to promote an awareness of the sanctity of all life. She wrote and spoke regularly about animal welfare, saying that we need to be the voices of those who cannot speak for themselves. “Animals need our kindness, not our exploitation,” she said.

She was instrumental in establishing the legislation for The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960 and for later setting up the Animal Welfare Board of India, under her chairmanship in 1962. She remained on its board until her death in 1986.
Rukmini Devi was a strict vegetarian and did a great deal of work to promote vegetarianism within India. She was Vice-President of the International Vegetarian Union for 31 years from 1955, until her death in 1986.

She received numerous awards for her animal welfare work, including Prani Mitra, Friend of All Animals, from the Animal Welfare Board of India, the Queen Victoria Silver Medal from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, London and was listed on the roll of honour by The World Federation for the Protection of Animals, The Hague.

An air-conditioned mobile surgery
donated by the Rukmini Devi Arundale Trust

Rukmini Devi (left) at the International Vegetarian
Congress 1967


As part of her commitment to social welfare and the recognition of Indian culture, Rukmini Devi also worked for the re-establishment of traditional Indian arts and crafts, including sculpture and the ancient Indian craft of textile printing.

In recognition of her contribution to Indian culture and society, Rukmini Devi was nominated as a member of the Indian Parliament's Council of States, the Rajya Sabha in April 1952 and re-nominated in 1956.

In 1977, the Prime Minister, Morarji Desai, offered to nominate her for the post of President of India, which she graciously declined.




Rukmini Devi Arundale died on 24 February 1986 at Chennai. You can read a translation of her obituary at:

She is still recognised today in India, and features in India Today's list of '100 People Who Shaped India'.

The video presentation, Remembering Smt. Rukmini Devi Arundale, uses her words to talk about art, dance, animal welfare and vegetarianism, the Theosophical Society and the spirit of the artist. You’ll find it on:


You can find more details about her work in dance by reading the Welcome Address as Chairman, Kalakshetra Foundation at the Inauguration of Centenary Celebration of Smt. Rukmini Devi at Kamani Auditorium New Delhi on 29.02.2004:

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