The Mohan Khokar



Patron: Dr. Karan Singh

Managing Trustee, Director and Curator: Ashish Mohan Khokar

Trustees: Dr. Nandan Khokar, Shanta Serbjeet Singh, Elisabeth Khokar & L. Subramaniam, Shri Chiranjiv Singh and Guru M.K. Saroja



India has a vast tradition of dance, tracing its origins back to ancient times. The earliest known artistic clue is the 2000-year-old Dancing Girl of Mohenjodaro. From then till now, only one man, out of one billion Indians, made it his mission to collect everything he could on dance, its history and heritage. Mohan Khokar. A pioneering scholar & avid collector, a critic, connoisseur and historian.

How did he do it?

Born in Quetta in Baluchistan (now in Pakistan) in 1924, this son of a military commissioner (Sardar Bhagat Ram Khokar) saw no dance until Ram Gopal, the Njinsky of India, came to Lahore to perform. (In his group was one nine-year-old dancing wonder, Baby Saroja, whom Mohan was to marry!) From then onwards, Mohan pursued both Ram Gopal and Bharatanatyam. He was the first North Indian man to enrol at Rukmini Devi Arundale’s Kalakshetra in Madras (Chennai). The year was 1940.

Mohan Khokar was only 24 years old when he was selected to head the just-born Department of Dance of the first university in India to offer Dance at the graduate level – M.S. University in Baroda, Gujarat. In 1950 and 1960 the university loaned him to the Union Education ministry in New Delhi to act as Special Officer for Dance. Later he served the Sangeet Natak Akademi for 18 years, the last five of them as its Secretary.

He did his best to nurture dance and dancers. Due to his enlightened patronage, a few rare forms, such as Kathak, Seraikella Chhau, Koodiyatam of Kerala and assorted folk traditions, survived. He ensured that children of traditional gurus got scholarships and employment so that they did not have to spurn dance as a profession. He did all this in the 1960s through the 1980s, when few cared or offered more than lip service.

He also found the time and inclination to author over 5000 articles, edit and contribute significantly to journals like Marg, Pushpanjali, The Illustrated Weekly of India, Bhavan’s Journal, Surya magazine, The Hindustan Times, Sruti and attendance. He wrote seven definitive volumes on dance, which are all out of print, and many papers, like an UNESCO compilation on dance in 1974 and a discourse for the Cord Conference in 1976. He died in 1999 in Chennai. And left his mammoth dance collection to his third son, Ashish Khokar.


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