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'Mohan Khokar - The Father figure of Indian Dance History'
- Dr. Uma Anantani

March 3, 2024

It is always difficult and complicated to apply an appropriate, praiseworthy epithet to Prof. Mohan Khokar. He was the one who had travelled wide and far in search of dance and dance material. And now in the year 2024, commemorating his birth centenary, a book titled 'Mohan Khokar - The Father figure of Indian Dance History' published by Indira Gandhi National Center for the Arts and edited and compiled by Ashish Mohan Khokar, has 'travelled' for its launch and will continue to do so through many big cities of India and abroad; this will reinforce and concretise the dance history of past many centuries and create an awareness among readers of generations to come.

The tour itinerary in association with IGNCA of this extremely attractive compilation in 300 pages, this state-of-the-art volume began with its inaugural release on 30th December 2023 at Kalakshetra, Chennai, followed by release on 7th February, 11th February and 12th February 2024, at Mumbai, Vadodara and Ahmedabad respectively. At Mumbai, the release event was organised in association with Shri Shanmukhananda Fine Arts Sangeetha Sabha and Ministry of Culture, GoI; at Vadodara, it was in association with Anjali Memorial Committee and the Dance Department, Faculty of Performing Arts, MS University and at Ahmedabad with JG College of Performing Arts. For every release, the mesmerising feature was screening of a short film on Mohan Khokar and his works and interesting talks by practitioners and scholars on dance and dance history.

Ashish Khokar pays tribute to his father
Ashish Khokar pays tribute to his father
Photo: Gowri Ramnarayan

It is believed that it is our parents' blessings, it is their silent motivation and inspiration that works on whatever we do; we have a most befitting example in Ashish Khokar whose life's only selfless goal is to understand and study Indian culture through Indian dance and carry forward the legacy of his legendary father Mohan Khokar and mother MK Saroja and generate interest and spread an awareness.

The name 'Mohan Khokar' was mentioned often to us during our years of learning Bhartanatyam in early 60's by our Guru Ilakshiben Thakor, a fresh graduate from MSU, Department of Dance of which Mohanji was the Founder/ Head at just 25 years of age. Since then, an unimaginable impression of 'someone who must have been really great' had been imprinted on my mind. As time passed, that hazy impression began to unravel, and as study became more serious, what began to reveal gradually was the charisma of a genius that was Prof. Mohan Khokar. His is an unparalleled persona associated with Indian dance and Indian culture of our time, one who was far ahead of his time.

This book would leave an impression, an impact and its influence permanently on someone whose interest delves in dance and dance culture of India. It transports one to the past, as if sharing a train or bus journey with Mohanji criss-crossing the length, breadth and every corner of our diverse land, not for a year, not a decade, a century but for centuries, at least past 2 to 3 if not more.

Along with the information on dance, its history and revival, what we imbibe in article after article, page after page is the picturesque description of our vast land, the story-telling tradition through performances, vivid reflections of varied human emotions on and off the performance area, and many more in subtle narratives handled with profound aesthetics. Everything feels woven in the fabric of socio-cultural tradition, ritualistic divinity and spirituality.

And so as one reads, one feels the chill of Kashmir and next, the moisture of Kerala; one smells the fragrance of Chidambaram and hears the chants of ashtapadis of North East and tinkling of ghungroos; one perceives the vivacious colours and patterns of attires spread all over, fathoms the beauty and talent of Devadasis, one pays homage to the determination and devotion of gurus, salutes the genius of composers and choreographers!

Mohan Khokar - The Father figure of Indian Dance History

This volume encapsulates just 50 of the numerous articles written by Mohan Khokar between 1947 and 1998, covering a span of 50 long years. Each moment is enjoyable, profitable, enriching and enlightening. Mohanji appears aristocratic, cosmopolitan, and civilized and at the same time culturally so rooted that one would sense as if he has walked on our land barefoot. His views are democratic, secular and stuffed with the virtues of credibility, honest courage and inclusiveness. The reading leaves no confusion or doubt, no question unanswered, and no curiosity unsatiated in the mind of a reader. This is the power of Mohanji's writing, encompassing essentially every significant information without shortening, and yet nevetheless with precision which exhibits his command over language.

Another remarkable feature of his writing one would sense with astonishment is that he appears to be a mature writer for an article written in 1947 when he was just 23, and his passion for writing for dance in 1998, after five long decades when he was 74, unmistakably reflects the same genuine curiosity. The flow of simplicity and lucidity in writing has remained invariable, uniform. How can a man be so consistent, for decade after decade, in his mission! May be because of his absolute commitment to the art, and trust in his readers.

And, his readers vary from those of Swatantra, Indian Republic, Sunday Standard, Indian Express, Times of India, Hindustan Standard, The Illustrated Weekly, The Pioneer, The March of India, IIA Madras, Sevika, Indo-German Review, Secular Democracy, India Calling, The Hindu, SNA Journal, NCPA Journal, Sruti, AttenDance... What a range!

His topics cover dances, ranging from classical to folk and tribal, classical theatre to folk and people's theatre, painting and sculpture in relation to dance, western ballet and dance scenarios of countries like Egypt, Tibet, Lahore of undivided India, Sri Lanka, America, Europe, Russia etc., from the celebrities to the lesser known Gurus and practitioners and finally lesser known dance and theatre practices.

Mohanji was a reporter, a reviewer, a writer, a genuine critic, a historian, a collector, photographer, a coordinator, an administrator, an academician, a rooted researcher, a scholar, an aesthete, a man of mission and vision, a patriot, a friend to many national and international who's who. But to us, he is a guide and guru to make us understand DANCE. A quote from his writing is so genuine, "It is the body dynamics, the kinetic expression that contribute to create a form which adds a new dimention to the concept of abhinaya as it is generally understood". How contemporary and visionary he was! His writings carry the mood of exceptional aesthetic sensibility and sensitivity; they have universal appeal and kind of a global sophistication.

For Mohanji, dance was not merely gathering knowledge about performing arts. It was 'flesh of his flesh.' His love for dance was limitless. This love became a driving force for him in witnessing, listening and probing into the vastness and depth of dance. His magnificent obsession of collecting and documenting anything and everything related to dance made his single self a veritable museum of dance. Today, a senior student of dance can quench his curiosity about accurate dance history of 2 to 3 odd centuries of current India. His single-handed task of collecting dance related material under a single roof earned him a title from his peers, the 'Nataraja on typewriter.' His unique dance related activities made his passion known as 'Khokarism'.

The second part of the book carries 50 tributes to Mohanji from those in the field of art, of dance and culture. Each tribute is so personal and makes an interesting reading. Zohra Segal, in her article 'Mohan's name remains forever', pays her tribute thus, "Mohan suffered a lot for his honesty and it is sad this country didn't honour him or his work. He got no National award..." Here is a man who has given recognition to so many, has helped many recognise and realise the depth of Indian dance and glory of Indian culture. Perhaps, he is beyond any formal recognition.

This year in 2024, dancers and dance enthusiasts in many other cities such as Delhi, Amritsar, Chandigarh, Kolkata, Bhubaneswar, Imphal and Bangalore will be benefitted by similar book launch events. The book, not to be missed, is also available on Amazon.

Dr. Uma Anantani
Dr. Uma Anantani is the director of Rasadhwani, Ahmedabad.

Very well written review. Mohan Khokar, a great scholar, was born to serve the Art forms of India and left a treasure for the future generations. Congratulations, Ashish ji, for your contributions..
- Gayatri Keshavan (March 6, 2024)

Mohan ji's "Khokarism" has trickled into the veins of his son, Ashish ji, who is carrying forward his father's legacy in the most dignified and artistic way. Awards are not the only measure of achievements. Mohan Khokhar ji has left for the world, such invaluable work in the field of arts which many can't even achieve in multiple lifetimes!
- Rashmi Khanna (March 5, 2024)

Wow!!! What a journey... of documenting dance history. Such an abundance of information for the current and next generations. So articulately expressed by Dr. Uma ji. Congratulations and kudos, Ashish ji, to share so generously with everyone.
-  Murali Mohan Kalvakalva (March 5, 2024)

Truly, it is parents' blessings for Ashishji. He himself is Mohanji's eternal award - who is carrying forward his incredible work for today's generations. He is proud of you, Ashishji, that you carry his vision. He lives through you and your works. Congratulations and heartfelt gratitude.
- Anjana Gupta (March 5, 2024)

Congratulations! Your book is full of deep dedication and a lot of active love. And it is a great resource and tribute.
-  Uttara Coorlawala (March 4, 2024)

Very well written article. Insightful. What a significant contribution to Indian culture!
-  Subramanian Ramamurthy (March 4, 2024)

Itís a very valuable article by Dr.Uma Anantani about Sri Mohan Khokar. He was indeed a highly respected individual. His vision of documenting art-related matters for future generations is commendable. I also believe that Ashish Khokar, with his strong command of literature and excellent oratory skills, undoubtedly inherits his father's qualities. My sincere gratitude to the legend who has left behind a wealth of valuable information for all art lovers.
- Meera Das (March 4, 2024)

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