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Burnier, Radha

(nee Sri Ram) (1923 - 2013 ). Seventh International President of the Theosophical Society (TS). Radha Sri Ram was born on November 15, 1923, on the estate of the Theosophical Society in Adyar, Madras (now called Chennai), India, where she spent her childhood. Her father, Nilakanta Sri Ram, a life-long theosophical worker and a collaborator of Annie BESANT, was the fifth International President of the Society. Her mother Srimati Bhagirathi, was also an active member. The family was Brahmin, but, as theosophists, they did not observe the rules of segregation from other castes prevalent at the time.

Radha Burnier
                   Radha Burnier

Hailing from a theosophical family, she early developed an interest in philosophical and spiritual questions as well as a sense of values and concern for the under-privileged. A childhood spent in the beautiful Adyar estate which is the Society’s world headquarters fostered in her a deep love for Nature and sensitivity to its beauties. Having met in her childhood many people from different parts of the world, including her schoolmates, promoting harmony and co-operation among all peoples was, practically from the beginning, a way of life for her.

She received most of her basic education at theosophical schools and, in 1942, was the first student to graduate in classical dancing (Bharata Natya) from the international art academy KALAKSHETRA in Madras, founded by her aunt Rukmini Devi ARUNDALE. She subsequently gave dance recitals in many cities in India and Europe and played a major role, which included dancing, in the film “The River” (1951) directed by Jean Renoir. This film has been described by critics as one of the great color films and a total triumph.

She also pursued an academic career and obtained an M.A. degree in Sanskrit from Benares Hindu University, earning the first place in the examination. Later, in 1984 she was awarded an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters by Nagarjuna University in recognition of her “distinguished contribution to the advancement of learning and the promotion of human values.”

In 1951 she married Reymond Burnier, a Swiss citizen (who has since died). She thus became a Swiss national.

She joined the Theosophical Society in 1935 and was President of youth and adult lodges in Adyar and Benares for several years. She worked as Librarian and in other capacities at the Indian Section headquarters from 1945 to 1951. Repeatedly elected General Secretary of the Indian Section of the TS, she held that office from 1960 to 1978. Further, she served as President of the Madras Theosophical Federation from 1959 to 1963. She was, in addition, Director of the Adyar Library and Research Center from 1954 to 1980, being also the general editor of its oriental publications as well as its journal Brahma-vidya. She herself translated from Sanskrit Hathayogapradipika, the dance chapter from Samgitaratnakara and other works.

Burnier has been a member of the Society’s General Council since 1960 and also served for many years on the Society’s Executive Committee as well as the Finance Committee and the Theosophical Publishing House Council. She was elected seventh International President of the Theosophical Society in 1980 and re-elected in 1987, 1994 and 2001. In addition to being President of the Society, she at present holds the following offices:

Head of the Krotona Institute of Theosophy in Ojai, California and of the Manor Foundation in Sydney, Australia; President of the International Theosophical Center in Naarden, Holland; Chairman of the Olcott Education Society (OES), whose concern is the education and welfare of children from the poorer classes. The OES administers the Olcott Memorial School and the HPB Hostel for the under-privileged and conducts several welfare activities, including the Social Welfare Center at the Society’s headquarters. Chairman of the Besant Education Fellowship, under whose aegis there are several schools in India; founder and President of the New Life for India Movement, which has been working since 1968 for the promotion of right citizenship, right values and the use of right means among Indians, especially through its journal Wake Up, India. She is also President of the Environmental Society, Madras.

Since 1960 she has been lecturing extensively throughout India and the world to members and to the public on theosophical, philosophical and cultural subjects (as well as environmental and social issues) being the guest speaker at many theosophical conventions, congresses and summer schools. She has also spoken in universities and on the radio.

As President of the Society, she is the editor of the international magazine The Theosophist. Her editorials, On the Watch-Tower, often treating topical themes with great insight, are much appreciated and frequently translated into local tongues.

She is the author of several books: No Other Path to GoTruth, Beauty and GoodnessThe Way of Self-KnowledgeThe Universal Yoga Tradition and Human Regeneration as well as many articles which have appeared in The Theosophist and (sometimes in translation) in other theosophical and related reviews in many countries.

Soon after her election J. KRISHNAMURTI accepted her invitation to visit the Adyar estate after an interval of almost half a century. Thereafter, when in Madras, he was a frequent visitor to the estate. Burnier knew him since childhood and always had a friendly relationship with him. Under her inspiration, many members have realized that Krishnaji’s teachings are fundamentally eminently theosophical in their uncompromising openness to what is.

As Burnier’s aim is to invest the Theosophical Society with a renewed sense of purpose, comprising at once social and ecological awareness and a deeper spiritual insight, she has consistently stressed social values and resistance to any form of corruption. Burnier has expressed in her writings a commitment to ecology, animal welfare and support for the downtrodden.