The centenary year of one of the greatest exponents of Bharatanatyam was celebrated this month of February in the year 2003. And who was she? She was Rukmini Devi who became Rukmini Devi Arundale after getting married in 1920 to a British educationist, Dr G.S. Arundale.
Born in Madurai in a Tamilian family on February 29, 1904, Rukmini with her six siblings grew up in an environment of rich cultural heritage. Her father was a renowned Sanskrit scholar. All the members of her parental family were fond of some creative activity or other. As a young girl she was rather quiet by nature and very fond of animals. She was always surrounded by squirrels, kittens and puppies. Once, when she was not at home, her parents sold off their cow. When Rukmini returned, she found the cow missing. She cried and cried for the cow, till her father went to the person to whom he had sold it. Meanwhile, the cow escaped from her buyer'sshed and returned home to Rukmini. Rukmini'shappiness knew no bounds. Here it may be appropriate to mention that later on in life, when she became a member of the Rajya Sabha (Upper House of Parliament), she spearheaded the Bill for prevention of cruelty to animals and was appointed the first chairperson of the Animal Welfare Board.
As a child, she did not enjoy going to school because the children were meted out corporal punishment. Later on in life, she became impressed with the Maria Montessori'sconcept of learning in an open environment without any restrictions imposed on young children. She even succeeded in establishing two Montessori schools for young toddlers.
Since childhood she was drawn to cultural activities. It was however, when she became 23-years old that she took up to learning the classical form of dance called Bharatanatyam. So adept did she become in this traditional form of dance that her fame spread everywhere. She founded the Kalakshetra College of Fine Arts in Chennai in 1936 where not only dance, all kinds of fine arts were taught. She began this school with just one teacher and one student, both teaching and learning respectively under a tree. Today this institute is considered the best for learning the fine arts and for Bharatanatyam particularly. In her passing away in February 1986 at the age of 82, she has left behind an invaluable legacy?her students.