Song of Surrender

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Radha Burnier

By G. Sundari

Radha Burnier was the seventh president of the Theosophical Society. She was born on 15 November 1923 and passed away on 31 October 2013 in Chennai. She was the daughter of N. Sriram and niece of Rukmini Devi. Radha had been more than a sister to me since I knew her from the age of four, and we were neighbours. I was comforted a bit as she looked very peaceful in death.

I also visited Radha just a couple of days before she passed on. She was fully aware that her end was nearing, and told me she was not going to the Indo-Pacific Theosophical Conference in Bali because she was coming to her end. “They will probably announce my death at the conference,” she told me. I just smiled and kept quiet. She passed away at 9 pm in the night and the vice president of the Theosophical Society and the International Secretary who were about to board the plane for Bali, returned to organise things.

Radha had her early schooling in the National Girls High School founded by Annie Besant. Later, when the Besant Memorial School was started by Dr. G.S. Arundale, she joined it and completed her SSLC. After this she joined Kalakshetra as a dance student. Leelavati was the first student and Radha was the second. Leelavati and Radha danced in between Rukmini Devi’s performances when she changed costumes at least twice. Radha was a powerful dancer who could execute adavus with precision in the faster movements too. Leelavati was a graceful dancer, and they complemented each other. 

Radha had her arangetram at the Kalakshetra theatre, and was the first student to receive the Kalakshetra diploma. Later she continued her university education in Gwalior and Benares. She acted and danced in the film called The River produced by Jean Renoir in 1948. She married Raymond Burnier who was deeply interested in Indian culture.

She studied Sanskrit and this helped her in guiding the work of the Adyar Library and its publications when she was its Director for 20 years. She became the General Secretary of the Indian section of the library and worked really hard when it was facing trials; its Indian section is probably the largest in the world. She was awarded a doctorate by the Banaras Hindu University for her contributions.

Radha was a good speaker and impressed her listeners. Her writings on philosophical and other matters inspired the readers. Because of her depth of knowledge and understanding of various subjects, she became the International President of the Theosophical Society in 1980. She traveled widely, giving lectures and organising.

She was connected with Krishnamurti Foundation India. J. Krishnamurti was fond of her and visited her almost daily when he was in Madras. They would take walks on the Adyar seashore discussing various matters. Radha practised simple living and high thinking. She helped the needy and many welfare organisations unostentatiously. She breathed her last in the Parsi quarters in the Theosophical Society estate where she was born and lived. She will be remembered with love and gratitude by those who were fortunate to know her.

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