President Pranab Mukerjee on Wednesday paid rich tributes to a person who was almost President once: Rukmini Devi Arundale. It was in 1977 that the then Prime Minister asked Rukmini Devi if she would be President. The legend goes, she asked, "Of what?" She turned down the offer, choosing to work for Kalakshetra, the institution she not only founded, but also deeply cherished.
“If she had agreed then, surely she would have been elected unanimously, as indeed Neelam Sanjiva Reddy was,” Mr. Mukherjee added, to applause. Her refusal to take up the office of President of the nation spoke volumes about her character, wisdom, sagacity and spirit of renunciation, he said, delivering the first Rukmini Devi Memorial Lecture, here. Kalakshetra was a hallowed ground made holy by the vision of Rukmini Devi and further sanctified by its adherence to all things glorious in our heritage, Mr. Mukherjee said.
Among the early supporters of her vision to revive India's priceless artistic traditions was Rabindranath Tagore. In fact, it is also believed that he was so captivated by the name ‘Kalakshetra’ that he reportedly remarked had the name occurred to him when he founded Shantiniketan, he would have chosen it instead. Mr. Mukherjee added “What Kalakshetra is to Tiruvanmiyur, Shantiniketan is to Bolpur. What Kalakshetra is to Chennai, Shantiniketan is to Kolkata. They are havens of peace, temples of the arts, and beacons for humanity.”
These institutions were set up to protect the arts and provide a nourishing womb for their development. They also provided a moment of pause from the loud cycles of life and that connect with nature that is essential for creativity. “The accumulation and aggregation of human thought and exaltation of aesthetics, coupled with refinement of thought, word and movement over millennia, have given us streams of classical culture. This is also our link with the past. Today the task before us is to preserve the living traditions of our country, revived by Rukmini Devi and others in her generation, and aid their flourishing in the best possible manner”, he added.
Governor K. Rosaiah said Rukmini Devi was a pioneer in reviving not only arts but also craft forms, and traditional dyeing techniques. To honour and cherish the legacy of such a versatile personality was our bounden duty, he added.
Gopal Gandhi, chairman, Kalakshetra Foundation, said the institution was a twin to Shantiniketan and Viswabarathi. He also recounted the charming inside story behind Rukmini Devi's decision not to take up the offer to be President of the country. Apparently, she said, she had turned it down because she could not walk barefoot on the corridors of the Rashtrapathi Bhavan and could not bear security guards. Priyadarshini Govind, who took over as director of Kalakshetra two days ago, delivered the vote of thanks. Sita Swayamvaram, a performance originally choreographed by Rukmini Devi, was presented.