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Rukmini Devi (A Life By Leela Samson)
Rukmini Devi (A Life By Leela Samson)
Description
From the Jacket

On 30 December 1935 thirty one year old Rukmini Devi created history with her performance of Sadir later known as Bharata Natyam which had until then been confined to temple precincts and was the preserve of devadasis. A celebrated artist and dancer she was also a theosophist a composer of acclaimed dance dramas an educations and a nominated member of the Rajya Sabha. This rich biography illuminates her many lives.

Rukmini’s early life was in the districts of Madras presidency where her father an engineer was posted and it took many dramatic turns her marriage in 1920 to George Arundale a theosophist and family friends caused public outrage particularly among the Madras Brahmins. She was closely associated with Annie Besant, who became her mentor and her meeting with Anna Pavlova inspired her to learn dance. Rukmini wet on to establish Kalalshetra an academy of the arts in 1936 which grew and flourished and is renowned to this day for its classicism in dance training and performance a tribute to her skill as an institution builder.

Rukmini revered tradition revered tradition but did not hesitate to innovate whenever necessary. She reinterpreted traditional natakas for some of her dance dramas she introduced women to nattuvaangam traditionally a male preserve and adapted the traditional Kerala theatre the kootamnalam to modern needs of performance at kalashetra. Hr liberalism was not confined to the arts. Believing in oneness of all living creatures she successfully piloted a bill which became the prevention of cruelty to Animals Act in 1960. She was also president of the Indian Vegetarian Congress in 1957.

Leela Samson draws on the oral evidence of Rukmini’s Family friends’ associates and stalwarts of dance and music the reminiscences of such luminaries as Annie Besant, J. Krishnamurti C.W. Leadbeater Maria Montessori C. Rajagopalachari Tagore, Pandit Nehru and the Dalai Lama as well as hitherto unseen personal correspondence and photographs. The book offers an intimate and rounded portrait of an extraordinary woman and Indian, whose life embodied a vision of a modern India while also celebrating its rich civilization.

Leela Samson is a dancer a tracer a writer and a choreographer of Bharata Natyam. She has been deeply influenced by the philosophy and the work of Rukmini Devi. In 1995 she formed a dance group called Spanda to review the traditional vocabulary of Bharata Natyam – both pure dance and interpretive dance – and its findings were seen as path breaking by critics. She has been the subject of two documentary films sanchari and the flowering tree.

She is the recipient of the Sanskritti and the Sangeet Natak Akademi awards and has been honored with the Padma Shri and Nritya Choodamani. In any 2005 Leela took over as director of the Kalakshetra foundation. She loves music books and animals.

Preface

In the summer of 1992 I took a sabbatical from work in Delhi to spend a year in Madras researching the life of my guru. The experience was unforgettable. I had the unstinted support of a man I dearly loved and admired. K. Sankara Menon had been Rukmini Devi’s right hand man from the very inception of the Besant theosophical high school and the kalashetra in Chennai. He was her anchor in all she did and arguably her greatest confident. An aristocrat form an affluent family of Kerala a man of letters as comfortable with English and Sanskrit as he was with Malayalam an advaita scholar an educationalist and authority on the Montessori method of education a philosopher whose command over Sanskrit was legendary and whose love of the Bhagvad Gita and discourse on it drew pundits from far and near he was the pillar of the institute. I cannot imagine kalashetra achieving what it did without him. While the inspiration came from Athai there is no doubt that the smooth running of the Academy handling of staff and students suggesting curriculum managing Rukmini Devi’s affairs and the crucial business of maintaining standards in the schools and Arts. Academy was solely due to his wise counsel. Why even Rukmini Devi’s old mother was cared for lovingly by him back home while she was abroad on her long sojourns.

There were others like Dr. D. Padmasani and her brother M.D Mani who between them took care of the hostel the large estate the engineering needs the theatre and lights the gardens and the workers in the institutes. They too were an extraordinary pair – motivated and utterly devoted. Dr. Padmasani single was a tall stern woman who looked after the children the food the medical needs and the security in the hostels. Soon after graduating form medical college she began working as a doctor on the premises in uroor. Her father was responsible for acquiring the lands down the coast to which kalashetra later moved from Adyar. Yet Padmasani went home but rarely. She helped Rukmini Devi prepare for her shows in the early years often traveling with her. A good singer a talent she had inherited from her father and uncle. She also conducted the bhajanai sessions on Friday evening in the hostel. Over the years ‘Paddu teacher’ became the most versatile and dependable person on campus. Rukmini Devi had several people like this all with a theosophical background who admitted her and stood by her throughout her life and beyond till the end of theirs. They never took a salary bur lived on campus and spent every day of their loves in service to the institute.

Kamala Trilokekar was another quiet worker. Small and gentle of build Kamala teacher not unlike Rukmini Devi herself married a man thirty five years her senior. A disciple of Annie Besant C. S. Trilokekar was a professor and later principle of the Madanapalle College started by her. Kamala teacher was a student there. She was from an orthodox Brahmin family he was a confirmed bachelor and wanted no attachments. He was dedicated to his work. I refused to return to my parents after I finished college. I did not budge until he married me. The silent one of the couple Kamala teacher was not usually given to such confessions. When she admitted this I was suitably shocked. All these years we knew her but never guessed sadly Trilokekar sir’s was an untimely demister and after that Kamala teacher went into a deep depression. She had no family and stayed on in Adyar to help Rukmini with the work. However Radha and Padmandbhan a young couple who she and her husband had almost adopted became her family and once every few years they came with their children two boys and two girls to visit her. Kamala teacher looked after the Montessori teachers training programme and Athai’s office. Uncommunicative most people feared her. An exception was Sankara menon. He would draw her out of her shell. She was efficient and good to the servants and lived quietly at western end of the hundreds acre campus while Dr. Padmasani held up the hostels at the eastern end neat the beach.

When I asked question on my return some quite pertinent I had the food counsel of all threes of these stalwarts. There was little to look forward to in kalakshetra without them. They lent the campus their particular grace and wisdom. Sankara Menon sir was the one with unerring memory for detail and nuance. He was also unattached and was able to view the journey with him and could judge kalakshetra Atahi’s life and theirs as though he were an outsider to the party. Paddu teacher and Kamala teacher would shy away from anything they saw as being slightly controversial or not for my ears and would say Ask Sir. He remembers the details. This amused me no end because I always talked to his first. He would look me in the eye and tell me things which were sometimes shocking often times sad but mostly reveling. And there was also some that he need not have told but did. Although old and beaten literally an metaphorically – his story will unfold in the pages ahead hoes clarity of though was truly amazing years dates people places he and them all stored in a memory that defies description. He guided me every step of the way.

My notes were drawn form a collection of Rukmini Devi’s own papers speeches, writings, diaries, theosophical journals and books that were housed in Kalakshetra. The papers need sorting and this I did in spite of rattle snake that loved in them! Sankara menon spoke on tape about the concerts and the struggle that they endured. Some observations were not for the book and go into my lessons for life diary. I those have helped me understand my job may not have been a sure judge of people his was the eye of a philosopher compassionate and true.

When I retuned to tale over the reins of kalakshetra thirteen years later every document I had pit aside and stored was missing and her diaries eaten by white ants. All but those that sir had permitted me to take for the book! This was returned to the institute what buy due is hers.

Contents

Preface viii
Acknowledgements ix
1The Early Year 1
2Adyar and Annie Besant 25
3Marriage and After 43
4Exploring Theosophy and Dance 57
5The Rebirth of Sadir 75
6An Academy of Arts 95
7The kalakshetra Bani 113
8Stirrings within 129
9Thiru Valmiki Oor 151
10Between Kalakshetra and Parliament 173
11the Spreading Banyan185
12The Last Year 207
Epilogue 229
Glossary 232
List of Dance Dramas 234
Bibliographical Note 236
Index 237

Rukmini Devi (A Life By Leela Samson)

Item Code:
IHG063
Cover:
Hardcover
Edition:
2010
Publisher:
Penguin Books Ltd.
ISBN:
9780670082643
Size:
9.3 inch X 6.3 inch
Pages:
254,(49 B/W Illustrations)
Price:
$30.00   Shipping Free
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From the Jacket

On 30 December 1935 thirty one year old Rukmini Devi created history with her performance of Sadir later known as Bharata Natyam which had until then been confined to temple precincts and was the preserve of devadasis. A celebrated artist and dancer she was also a theosophist a composer of acclaimed dance dramas an educations and a nominated member of the Rajya Sabha. This rich biography illuminates her many lives.

Rukmini’s early life was in the districts of Madras presidency where her father an engineer was posted and it took many dramatic turns her marriage in 1920 to George Arundale a theosophist and family friends caused public outrage particularly among the Madras Brahmins. She was closely associated with Annie Besant, who became her mentor and her meeting with Anna Pavlova inspired her to learn dance. Rukmini wet on to establish Kalalshetra an academy of the arts in 1936 which grew and flourished and is renowned to this day for its classicism in dance training and performance a tribute to her skill as an institution builder.

Rukmini revered tradition revered tradition but did not hesitate to innovate whenever necessary. She reinterpreted traditional natakas for some of her dance dramas she introduced women to nattuvaangam traditionally a male preserve and adapted the traditional Kerala theatre the kootamnalam to modern needs of performance at kalashetra. Hr liberalism was not confined to the arts. Believing in oneness of all living creatures she successfully piloted a bill which became the prevention of cruelty to Animals Act in 1960. She was also president of the Indian Vegetarian Congress in 1957.

Leela Samson draws on the oral evidence of Rukmini’s Family friends’ associates and stalwarts of dance and music the reminiscences of such luminaries as Annie Besant, J. Krishnamurti C.W. Leadbeater Maria Montessori C. Rajagopalachari Tagore, Pandit Nehru and the Dalai Lama as well as hitherto unseen personal correspondence and photographs. The book offers an intimate and rounded portrait of an extraordinary woman and Indian, whose life embodied a vision of a modern India while also celebrating its rich civilization.

Leela Samson is a dancer a tracer a writer and a choreographer of Bharata Natyam. She has been deeply influenced by the philosophy and the work of Rukmini Devi. In 1995 she formed a dance group called Spanda to review the traditional vocabulary of Bharata Natyam – both pure dance and interpretive dance – and its findings were seen as path breaking by critics. She has been the subject of two documentary films sanchari and the flowering tree.

She is the recipient of the Sanskritti and the Sangeet Natak Akademi awards and has been honored with the Padma Shri and Nritya Choodamani. In any 2005 Leela took over as director of the Kalakshetra foundation. She loves music books and animals.

Preface

In the summer of 1992 I took a sabbatical from work in Delhi to spend a year in Madras researching the life of my guru. The experience was unforgettable. I had the unstinted support of a man I dearly loved and admired. K. Sankara Menon had been Rukmini Devi’s right hand man from the very inception of the Besant theosophical high school and the kalashetra in Chennai. He was her anchor in all she did and arguably her greatest confident. An aristocrat form an affluent family of Kerala a man of letters as comfortable with English and Sanskrit as he was with Malayalam an advaita scholar an educationalist and authority on the Montessori method of education a philosopher whose command over Sanskrit was legendary and whose love of the Bhagvad Gita and discourse on it drew pundits from far and near he was the pillar of the institute. I cannot imagine kalashetra achieving what it did without him. While the inspiration came from Athai there is no doubt that the smooth running of the Academy handling of staff and students suggesting curriculum managing Rukmini Devi’s affairs and the crucial business of maintaining standards in the schools and Arts. Academy was solely due to his wise counsel. Why even Rukmini Devi’s old mother was cared for lovingly by him back home while she was abroad on her long sojourns.

There were others like Dr. D. Padmasani and her brother M.D Mani who between them took care of the hostel the large estate the engineering needs the theatre and lights the gardens and the workers in the institutes. They too were an extraordinary pair – motivated and utterly devoted. Dr. Padmasani single was a tall stern woman who looked after the children the food the medical needs and the security in the hostels. Soon after graduating form medical college she began working as a doctor on the premises in uroor. Her father was responsible for acquiring the lands down the coast to which kalashetra later moved from Adyar. Yet Padmasani went home but rarely. She helped Rukmini Devi prepare for her shows in the early years often traveling with her. A good singer a talent she had inherited from her father and uncle. She also conducted the bhajanai sessions on Friday evening in the hostel. Over the years ‘Paddu teacher’ became the most versatile and dependable person on campus. Rukmini Devi had several people like this all with a theosophical background who admitted her and stood by her throughout her life and beyond till the end of theirs. They never took a salary bur lived on campus and spent every day of their loves in service to the institute.

Kamala Trilokekar was another quiet worker. Small and gentle of build Kamala teacher not unlike Rukmini Devi herself married a man thirty five years her senior. A disciple of Annie Besant C. S. Trilokekar was a professor and later principle of the Madanapalle College started by her. Kamala teacher was a student there. She was from an orthodox Brahmin family he was a confirmed bachelor and wanted no attachments. He was dedicated to his work. I refused to return to my parents after I finished college. I did not budge until he married me. The silent one of the couple Kamala teacher was not usually given to such confessions. When she admitted this I was suitably shocked. All these years we knew her but never guessed sadly Trilokekar sir’s was an untimely demister and after that Kamala teacher went into a deep depression. She had no family and stayed on in Adyar to help Rukmini with the work. However Radha and Padmandbhan a young couple who she and her husband had almost adopted became her family and once every few years they came with their children two boys and two girls to visit her. Kamala teacher looked after the Montessori teachers training programme and Athai’s office. Uncommunicative most people feared her. An exception was Sankara menon. He would draw her out of her shell. She was efficient and good to the servants and lived quietly at western end of the hundreds acre campus while Dr. Padmasani held up the hostels at the eastern end neat the beach.

When I asked question on my return some quite pertinent I had the food counsel of all threes of these stalwarts. There was little to look forward to in kalakshetra without them. They lent the campus their particular grace and wisdom. Sankara Menon sir was the one with unerring memory for detail and nuance. He was also unattached and was able to view the journey with him and could judge kalakshetra Atahi’s life and theirs as though he were an outsider to the party. Paddu teacher and Kamala teacher would shy away from anything they saw as being slightly controversial or not for my ears and would say Ask Sir. He remembers the details. This amused me no end because I always talked to his first. He would look me in the eye and tell me things which were sometimes shocking often times sad but mostly reveling. And there was also some that he need not have told but did. Although old and beaten literally an metaphorically – his story will unfold in the pages ahead hoes clarity of though was truly amazing years dates people places he and them all stored in a memory that defies description. He guided me every step of the way.

My notes were drawn form a collection of Rukmini Devi’s own papers speeches, writings, diaries, theosophical journals and books that were housed in Kalakshetra. The papers need sorting and this I did in spite of rattle snake that loved in them! Sankara menon spoke on tape about the concerts and the struggle that they endured. Some observations were not for the book and go into my lessons for life diary. I those have helped me understand my job may not have been a sure judge of people his was the eye of a philosopher compassionate and true.

When I retuned to tale over the reins of kalakshetra thirteen years later every document I had pit aside and stored was missing and her diaries eaten by white ants. All but those that sir had permitted me to take for the book! This was returned to the institute what buy due is hers.

Contents

Preface viii
Acknowledgements ix
1The Early Year 1
2Adyar and Annie Besant 25
3Marriage and After 43
4Exploring Theosophy and Dance 57
5The Rebirth of Sadir 75
6An Academy of Arts 95
7The kalakshetra Bani 113
8Stirrings within 129
9Thiru Valmiki Oor 151
10Between Kalakshetra and Parliament 173
11the Spreading Banyan185
12The Last Year 207
Epilogue 229
Glossary 232
List of Dance Dramas 234
Bibliographical Note 236
Index 237
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