Australian Dictionary of Biography

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George Sydney Arundale (1878–1945)

by Jill Roe

This article was published:

George Sydney Arundale (1878-1945), theosophist, was born on 1 December 1878 at Wonersh, Surrey, England, son of Rev. John Kay, preacher, and his wife Mary Ann Elizabeth, née Arundale. His mother died in childbirth and his father went to Australia. Adopted by his aunt Miss Francesca Arundale, a wealthy theosophist, George took his mother's maiden name. Educated at school at Wiesbaden, Germany, and Linton House, London, Arundale graduated from St John's College, Cambridge (BA, 1898; LL B, 1899; MA, 1902), thus completing a gentleman's education.

Arundale joined the Theosophical Society in 1895, and in 1902, after experiencing 'soul-awakening' on hearing Annie Besant, dedicated himself to her service. He went to India in 1903 to teach history at her Central Hindu College, Benares, and became headmaster in 1907 and principal in 1909-13. In 1910-15—when his life was dominated by her adopted son Krishnamurti, identified by theosophists as 'Vehicle of the World Teacher' or 'Messiah'—Arundale was mostly in Europe. He instituted the preparatory Order of the Star in the East in 1911, editing its journal Herald of the Star until 1913.

During World War I Arundale assisted the British Red Cross Society in London, and was briefly general secretary of the Theosophical Society of England and Wales. In 1916 he returned to India to support Mrs Besant's Home Rule for India League, and was interned in 1917. They also founded the Indian Boy Scouts' Association and the short-lived theosophical National University, Madras, which conferred Arundale's honorary D.Litt. In 1924, a title that he used thereafter.

In April 1920 Arundale married 16-year-old Shrimati Rukmini Devi, daughter of Pandit Nilakanta Sastri; she later founded the Kalâkshetra Classical Dance Company after seeing Pavlova dance in Sydney. He also joined the Liberal Catholic Church, claiming to be clairvoyant, and from 1925 was its regional bishop of India. Late that year he openly doubted Krishnamurti's 'possession', and in the ensuing crisis he and his wife were brought to Sydney, then a major theosophical centre, by Charles Leadbeater. The society's compound, The Manor, Mosman, was his headquarters until mid-1931.

Arundale dominated the Theosophical Society in Australasia as its general secretary (1926-28) chairman of the theosophical broadcasting station 2GB, editor of the Australian Theosophist, and co-editor of the Australian Star News. He joined local groups like the Good Film League and League of Nations Union, edited an Australia-India League Bulletin and, deploying theosophical resources, enunciated a patriotic political platform through the monthly Advance Australia (1926-29), and the Fidelity News Service. To promote comradeship, patriotism and imperial unity, on Armistice Day 1929 he co-founded the Who's for Australia? League, instantly attracting 4000 members according to its newspaper. An able preacher and experienced publicist, Arundale simultaneously formulated political responses and supported advanced causes, from a theosophical base.

Although perhaps marking time personally, Arundale's commanding presence gave leadership during Australian theosophy's most vital but perturbing period. In the early 1930s he returned to Madras and, while maintaining Australian connexions, wrote, lectured and travelled as world president of the Theosophical Society from 1934. He died childless on 12 August 1945 at Adyar, Madras; his funeral pyre at the Garden of Remembrance near Adyar Beach was lit by his wife.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Lutyens, Krishnamurti (Lond, 1975)
  • Theosophical Society, Australian Section, Advance Australia, 1926-29
  • Australian Theosophist, 1926-31
  • Theosophist, 67 (1945)
  • 'Obituary', Times (London), 13 Aug 1945, p 7, and 16 Aug 1945, p 7.

Citation details

Jill Roe, 'Arundale, George Sydney (1878–1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 26 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (Melbourne University Press), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Kay, George Sydney

1 February, 1878
Wonersh, Surrey, England


12 August, 1945 (aged 67)
Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India

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