Rainbow collection of dance heritage
- Jyothi Raghuram, Bangalore
e-mail: jyothi.r.ram@gmail.com

July 30, 2011

The “oral tradition” of passing on a heritage through generations is a bane of Indian cultural history. Documentation has neither been considered important nor relevant to conserve a cultural legacy for posterity. It is also perhaps an overdose of history that India suffers from, its ancient civilization carrying a recorded history of over 5,000 years at least.

The Mohan Khokar Dance Collection, an exhibition of Indian dance and dancers, put up at the Habitat Centre, New Delhi, from July 17, was in contrast to this psyche - it was a manifestation of Khokar’s singular obsession with dance, which has today given the dance world a priceless collection of documented dance history and allied arts.

Mr. Suresh K Goel, Director General ICCR presents the 1st copy of the Coffee Table Catalogue to Ms. Nirupama Rao, Foreign Secretary and Ambassador Designate to US

Ashish Khokar walks the VIPS through the historical exhibition. Ashish Khokar, Mr. Suresh K Goel, Dr. Karan Singh, President ICCR, and Ms. Nirupama Rao, Foreign Secretary

Painstakingly preserved for decades by his youngest son, Ashish Khokar, with no official patronage or philanthropy, the dance memorabilia was a treasure trove to be savoured by all, simply because it revealed the history of Indian dance succinctly to even a lay person, capturing its difficult history, lowly depths, resurgence, and current state, through a prism of photographs, colourful costumed dolls, documents and books, many of which are out of print, priceless hand-written letters and notes, articles, costumes, dance objects, masks, and even invitations and visiting cards.

Titled ‘A Century of Indian Dance:1901-2000,’ the exhibition covered the most cataclysmic period of Indian dance, when it metamorphosed from its debased status of an art of the devadasis, to a respectable art form patronized by society itself.

Yakshagana (Tunga); Kathakali (Probal Gupta): Bharatanatyam (Satyanarayana Raju); Kuchipudi (Payal Ramchandani); Contemporary (Daksha Sheth) (Photo: Monica Dawar)

Sponsored by ICCR, the show gave a bird’s eye view of Indian dance in all its manifestations -rare photographs of dance legends such as Ram Gopal and Balasaraswathi mingled with brief snippets of their dance journeys and that of the different forms over a century, the great gurus and their contribution to classical dance as seen today, the “dancing stars” of every generation till date, attractive photographs, calendars and posters of folk forms, and the direction in which dance is headed today, including Indian contemporary dance.

A most comprehensive exhibition on Indian dance, the week-long show that concluded on July 24, was an inspiring walk into the beautiful world of dance, where one could trace the magic footsteps trod by legends. Rare dance films made by Mohan Khokar were shown as an adjunct to the exhibition.

The solidarity of the dance community to Ashish’s efforts was visible in the presence of greats like Leela Samson, Birju Maharaj, Singhajit Singh, Yamini Krishnamurti, Kanak Rele, Jayarama Rao-Vanasri, Yog Sunder, Madhavi Mudgal and Uttara Coorlawala among others at the inaugural. It was as apt that it was Dr. Karan Singh, ICCR President, who inaugurated the exhibition, bringing a stamp of high respectability and meaning to the show. Bangalore made a special splash with its dancers Sathyanarayana Raju, Murlimohan Kalva, Madhulita Mohapatra and Shashidharan Nair, who along with Probal Gupta and Yakshagana artistes Chitkala and Tunga gave a brief recital.  

If nothing else, Ashish has helped bring dance closer to the common man, created a degree of awareness in the dance fraternity itself on the invaluable collection of Mohan Khokar, which the exhibition was barely a fraction, and gave one a feeling of pride, particularly to artistes, of their art legacy.

The exhibition will tour the US, France and Italy from August, taking with it a few dancers to showcase the performing side of the art.

Jyothi Raghuram is a journalist with over two decades experience in both the print and electronic media, having worked with news organizations such as PTI, The Hindu and Indian  Express. Her specialized writings on the performing and visual arts have been considered as benchmarks for their comprehensive and in-depth dealing of the subjects.