News & Notes

Mohan Khokar Centenary celebrations

Prof. Mohan Khokar Centenary celebrations

Prof. Mohan Khokar (1924-2024) is a legend of Indian dance field through writing, documenting its history and heritage and more. Born in December 1924, on the 30th, this year marks the start of his birth centenary celebrations at Kalakshetra, his alma mater. He came to this institution in 1945! As the first male student from north India, all the way from Punjab. 


It so happened that his grandfather was commissioner of defence in Punjab and Lahore those was was the cultural capital of North, Delhi was just a village of 4 lakh inhabitants in 1930s. As an important citizen of the city, Bhagat Ram Khokar hosted visiting artistes as there were no hotels those days. 


One such troupe which came to perform was Ram Gopal with two young dancers, Mrinalini Sarabhai and Baby Saroja (M.K.). Mohan Khokar then 20 was enamored of these godly looking dancers on stage: Ram Gopal looked like a temple sculpture and other dancers like apsaras!


He was besotted by them and also Uday Shankar style whose best talent Zohra Segal had settled in Lahore, after the Almora Studio broke up. Mohan Khokar learnt from her. He then started his one week train journey to Madras to find a teacher sitting under a banyan tree. Rukmini Devi Arundale! Rest is history. 


From Madras, in1949, Mohan Khokar was selected to head the first University in independent India teaching dance at graduate level, the M.S. In Baroda. After 12 years there, he joined the union Education Culture ministry in Delhi on loan from the MSU. He was placed at the SNA, or Sangeet Natak Akademi which he served 18 years, last 5 as its acting Secretary. Under him the akademi achieved lots and was most artiste-friendly many hold. 


He was also incharge of the Kathak Kendra as director briefly and the NSD or National School of Drama. He was also incharge of cultural shows at Rashtrapati Bhavan or President of India house. He was on UNESCO Asia Documentation Projects and more. 


Mohan Khokar was the most prodigious writer, author, critic of his times. He was the dance critic of the Statesman and later the Hindustan Times in Delhi in the 1960s and 70s.  He had earlier guest edited the Marg issues on dance in late 1950s. He was the only pan-Indian dance writer who also took his own photos. 


Today his photos - over 25000- are biggest proof of the times and changes in costume, dance forms and stage. His forms an anthropological study of Indian dance too and for him folk was as important as films. He collected many thousand books, artefacts when Britishers were leaving India. He started documenting dance when Europe was at war and India was not even free. In that, he is hailed as a pioneer. His famed dance collection was lovingly saved and enhanced by his illustrious wife M.K.Saroja and son Ashish Khokar, reputed critic and dance historian, who have donated it to the nation at IGNCA. An expert committee fixed the value at minimum 6 crores! No dancer or family had donated this huge a gift to the nation and India is lucky to possess it. It is now being organised, inventorised, accessioned and digitised by the IGNCA under leadership of its dynamic head Dr.Sachchidinand Joshi. Dance icons Sonal Mansingh and Padma Subrahmanyam gave seen to its welfare and guide from time to time. Ashish Khokar is curating, documenting and adding updated information to it. Between father and son, a hundred plus years of direct dance history is saved for posterity. Press clips one lakh, costumes, masks, posters, brochures and so much more. 


Events are planned to propitiate the memory of Mohan Khokar and his legacy. The Natya Kala Conference this year in 2023 on the 30th December dedicated an introductory session at 1030am to Mohan Khokar and his legacy and in the evening, 5 pm at his alma mater -the Kalakshetra- a grand opening unfolds with music by maestro L.Subramaniam, book of articles by and on Mohan Khokar published by IGNCA to be released by diva Sonal Mansingh and first copy given to Padma Subrahmanyam, who will also give the keynote address. Icon of icons Vyjayanthimala will be honoured on the occasion with attenDance Lifetime Achievement Award and most in dance fraternity will partake of the feast curated by Ashish Khokar. Aditya Nataraja the twelve year old dancing sensation from Bangalore will showcase Nataraja's blessings. 


In 2024 the centenary celebrations extend to other cities like at Nalanda in Mumbai, Phule University in Pune in February then Baroda MSU. Delhi the HQ of IGNCA will host an exhibition in April of the Mohan Khokar Dance Collection and then it will travel to a few points abroad. 


The nation plans to celebrate the birth centenary of Mohan Khokar in a befitting manner thanks to the IGNCA and all participating institutions under central government. A short film and a postage stamp on the man is also on the anvil and the dance community will stand enriched and platformed.