Mohan Khokar, a scholar and historian was a pioneer in the field of dance writing. He had an in-depth knowledge of all the Indian classical and folk forms. Born on 30th December 1924 in Quetta,capital of Baluchistan province, now in Pakistan,Mohan Khokar was a keen documenter and photographer of dance. His father, SardarBhagat Ram Khokar, was the Commissioner of Defence, then posted in Quetta.
After witnessing a Bharatanatyamprogramme by Uday Shankar and troupe in Lahore, Mohan Khokar was inspired to learn Bharatanatyam and came to Kalakshetra, Chennai and became the first male student from the North to become a student there. He was mentored by Rukmini Devi Arundale and PeriyaSharada who inculcated in him the love for books and research. Mohan Khokarwas one of the few writers who wrote in depth articles on dance and documented dance as photographs in those days. This remains a great resource in dance for researchers today
At 20, he was writing for national magazines and journals and as he took his own pictures he was in demand. Soon, many prestigious magazines and papers like Free Press, The Illustrated Weekly of India, Pushpanjali and Marg sought his contributions and the bulk of writing in the 50s to 80s is done by him
In 1949, he married MK Saroja, a Bharatanatyam dancer of repute and soon after in 1950, moved to Baroda where he was appointed in the dance department at MS Baroda University. He stayed there for 12 years and became the head of department at the young age of 24.Emulated by other universities, he helped old masters and musicians be gainfully employed as regular staff and they retired as government staff with full benefits.
The Education Ministry in Delhi offered him the position of Special officer for Dance where he served for 18 years at the SangeetNatakAkademi. During his tenure, he built the reputation of being a respected scholar whose honesty was widely respected. His star dancer wife was not promoted during his tenure and only received an award from the government fifteen years after he left service. His photographs are celebrated in the artistic community as his forte was taking photographs which were not posed. The Indian Postal Department used his photographs for the release of postage stamps of six classical dance forms as did the UNESCO for a bibliography of Indian dance. When the Stockholm Dance Museum was set up, they asked Mohan Khokar to provide photographs.
Mohan Khokargotthe Emeritus Fellowship from the Department of Culture to continue his research work and he used the timewrite in various specialized journals like Sruti and The Statesman. He wrote 5 definitive bookswhich are out of print.
The Mohan Khokar dance collection of India maintained by his son Ashish Khokar is an invaluable archive of all his contributions over the years. It contains 1,00,000 photographs, 50,00,000 press clips, 5000 books, manuscripts and more.