A Theosophist noted for her significant contributions to the revival of Indian classical dance and as a campaigner for animal welfare, Rukmini Devi was born in Madura in South India on February 20, 1904. Her father, Nilakanta Sastry, was a professional consulting engineer to an Indian prince. Rukmini Devi was educated at a Madras (now Chennai) College. At the age of 16 years, she married George Arundale, the third International President of the Theosophical Society.
From an early age, Rukmini Devi showed exceptional talent as a dancer; Anna Pavlova, the celebrated ballerina, en-couraged her to pursue a career in Indian dance. In January 1936, she founded the International Academy of the Arts at Adyar, known as Kalakshetra (Sanskrit kala meaning "arts" and kshetra meaning "sacred place"). Through her Academy, Rukmini systematically promoted Indian dance. The then-current practitioners of the art were not held in high regard; so she used her artistic sensibility to enhance the image of the traditional dance.
She replaced the existing style of costume with those of better quality and design and added a lavish amount of jewellery. She persuaded first-class musicians and dance instructors to join the faculty, dedicated to artistic excellence. In addition to her work in reforming Indian dance, Rukmini was an energetic campaigner for animal rights and also a strong advocate of vegetarianism.
Rukmini died in a hospital in Chennai on February 24, 1986. Her body was brought to Arundale House at the international Theosophical headquarters in Adyar and was cremated in the part of the estate known as Besant Gardens.