I feel truly blessed to have Smt. Rukmini Devi Arundale as my Guru. Time spent with her are definitely the most precious and memorable moments of my life. Here is how my heart and soul can express my Guru.
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"Reflections on my Guru. Smt. Rukmini Devi Arundale" - "Legacy, Lessons & Life" by Prof. Uma Rao
My association with the KALAKSHETRA is a Long & happy one of nearly 24 years!!
My Guru. Smt.Rukmini Devi strode like a colossus in the Kalakshetra campus organising & directing the creative & innovative cultural programmes and at the same time attending to the details of administration. She was indeed a picture of dedication having no life apart from the temple of Art she was building "KALAKSHETRA" an institution of the arts for times to come. Lauded as a major 20th century revivalist of Arts in India She was a creative genius who synthesised modernity with tradition .Rukmini Devi's life was replete with multi-faceted achievements and multisplendoured glory. She became a Legendary figure in her very life times. The beauty of KALAKSHETRA performances are enhanced by the meticulously chosen & planned costumes, jewellery, stage settings and lighting.
Rukmini Devi was such a genius that she designed each one of the items to perfection. She was a perfectionist. She neither spared herself from doing the best nor tolerated mediocrity in others. All her former direct students bear testimony to this great quality of hers. The Dance-Drama production of Rukmini Devi was exquisitely choreographed so as to cast a spell on the audience. Rukmini Devi’s goal was something higher than mere advance in Music & Dance. She established KALAKSHETRA & wanted that efforts should be made to enable artistes to find creative fulfillment not only on the stage but in life too.
She therefore provided .the right environment- Physical Cultural & Spiritual in the Kalakshetra. Under the Banyan tree, in the beautiful ambience created by her, she brought great dance Gurus, great Musicians, artists & artisans together. They inspired each other, they interacted and great Art was born. Kalakshetra is as much a tribute to Smt.Rukmini Devi as a valuable repository of the Arts to be handed down to generations to come. ATHAI in her passing away in 1986 has left behind a Legacy that she ensured would continue through the many lamps lit by her inspired soul-*her legion of students [wherever in the world they may be] . Rukmini Devi's KALAKSHETRA epitomises the cultural & spiritual traditions. It is not an institution it is an inspiration , it is not merely a college it is a culture.
A glimps into Athai - "There are several Lessons one can learn from the Legendary figure Rukminidevi Arundale" the most important being that no great Art is born in isolation & no artiste can remain an island in oneself & above all . Art is a spiritual experience and a Prayer in itself..
While she composed dances for her productions her mind was always absorbed in the atmosphere she wanted to creat on the stage & her creative genius flowed like a fountain. We, who were blessed to be working with her creative process in many of her great Dance-Drama productions were amazed by her originality. She would close her eyes listening to the songs [as in contemplation] and intuitively ideas came forth & instantly she could perceive the whole sequences .Many a time she would demonstrate the character in the productions,
Shakuntala pretends to pluck the thorn from her feet to shyly glance at Dushyana
Yashodara holding the garland to offer to Prince Sidhartha in Budhavatara
Patra Pravesha of Kalyani in Ajamila Upakyana
The movement of Boat in Matsya Avataram
Princes Damayanti catching the Swan in Damayanti Swayamvara
Movement with veil of Sita in Agni Pravesha scene as she approaches Sri Rama in Mahapattabhisheka and one can go on and on!!
Athai's approach to art was to elevate the ordinarily beautiful to the inspiringly beautiful. In her productions there was a flow of beautiful uplifting influence which was the special quality of her choreography. Her emphasis was always on refinement so that the dance form could lead to aesthetic sensitivity.[ Krishnamari Kuravanji, Naga Natanam , the graceful movements of snake choreographed on Jayashri who enacted the role of Devi Karumari ]
It is not enough to mechanically do the Mudras, the Abhinaya & Tala .The artiste must be able to metamorphose oneself, be it a deity or demon, a shy maiden or a cruel human, a deer or a swan .For instance , the artiste should be able to interiorise the throbbing of the swan shot by the arrow and the compassion pouring out of Buddha. [Bhudhavatara Swan Scene]
Aharya -The weaves of the colours & the harmony of it all [ Never the gaudy pink or bright yellow, the difference a dash of magenta could make to pink or beautiful muted yellow become when toned down to oil mustard ] , jewellery-traditional & non-traditional, The aesthetic use of space on stage settings and lighting.
Athai used to surprise her students sometimes by visiting their homes & at such times it pleased her immensely to see tidy homes ,because she believed that the artistic nature in a person should reflect in every aspect of life, be it- housekeeping , dressing, speaking & in general behavior. She instilled in us certain good principles like reverence for elders, compassion towards the needy, equal love for all living being. She said once in a conversation - "Be true to your Nation, your parents, your teacher, to your students & last but not least, be true to yourself.”
While she believed that the inner of a person shines through the Arts, she strongly resented anything that was depicted in a crude manner without finesse .Refinement in expression [subtlety] & suggestiveness were her ultimate. which was evident in all her productions For eg-* the portrayal of Kuravanji [Gypsy] as a mediator who links the "jeevatma" with "paramatma" & Lord Hanuman who is normally visualised as huge being with extraordinary long tail, but Athai chose to suggestively attach the tail to the crown worn by Hanuman & picked a short but highly talented artiste Balagopalan who brought out the character of Hanuman so brilliantly that whoever witnessed him saw only Rama Dhoota Hanuman in Balagopalan portrayal & The Rama-Ravana Yudham [battle] in Mahapattabhishekam wherein beautifully clad Apsaras describe the war bringing beauty & grace to the scene which otherwise would have involved force fighting.
In Kurmavatara production- the beautiful scene of godess Lakshmi choosing Lord Vishnu as her divine partner was composed in short time span amazingly ,with Lord Vishnu enacted by M.R.Krishnamurthy [ Kittu Anna & myself as Lakshmi ] just walking majestically across the stage in a slow gait ,thus captivating the heart of godess Lakshmi & the colourful wedding evoked subtle romance. Athai selected this elegant scene to be a part of B.B.C. Documentery production
In 1976 when my Late father Mr. B.S.S.Rao & Myself established our Institution Sri Lalitha Kala Academy at Mysore my Guru. Rukmini Devi kindly accepted our invitation to Inaugurate the Academy. She also visited my home in Mysore many a time. During my long stay@ Kalakshetra [ specially in later years] I have been blessed to have spent many a personal moments with Dear Athai . As a member of Kalakshetra troupe travelling in China along with Athai [her last tour with the troup] I had few final hours in conversation with her. She gave me a gift for my Birthday & blessing me said "Uma, I am always with you wherever you go.. Remember you are NEVER alone if you have Nature, Books, Music & small children as your company"
The affection the galaxy of stars & students bear towards "ATHAI" [Aunt] Rukmini Devi defies description. It is my earnest wish that all kalakshetrians should grow & expand on the path chalked out by ATHAI . It is for all those who have imbibed Rukmini Devi's spirit to continue to march along the path - "Gurubhyo Namah".