1958: The first National Dance Seminar 
All pics courtesy: Mohan Khokar Dance Archives of India  
e-mail: khokar1960@gmail.com 

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December 6, 2008  

1958: The first National Dance Seminar 

2008 has come to a close and no one remembered the mother of all seminars - the first National Dance Seminar of 1958. Those who may have attended it and are still alive, were perhaps too busy attending shows and seminars worldwide and thus failed to recount its significance on home ground. Whatever the case, let me share with you what this historic event was about. 

You think dance was important in national Akademi's scheme of things 50 years ago? No way, even then, dance got last priority! This was evident in the way the Sangeet Natak Akademi, then operating out of a little house on Mathura Road, Jungpura, New Delhi, organized 4 seminars, in which dance was last. The first National Seminar was organized in 1955 on Film. The second in 1956 on Drama. The third on Music in 1957 and the fourth and last on Dance in 1958. 

Dr. P V Rajammanar was then the Chairman of the Akademi and in his opening address itself pointed to "existing rivalries, intolerance and misunderstanding between different schools of music and dance and pleaded for more sympathy, understanding and appreciation of the various styles in existence then." 

Who were the main folks on the organizing committee? Just four!  
Uday Shankar, Rukmini Devi Arundale, Hari Uppal and Dr V Raghavan. Can you imagine, in 1958, there were no faxes, few phones, surely no cell-phones or even STD ready telephones! Lightning calls cost a bomb and urgent calls meant getting a weak line in ten hours! Telegrams were the fastest way to inform anyone. Trains took 5 days to reach from Madras to Delhi. Planes were almost unaffordable. There were no photocopier machines, no nothing. Just four persons organized this with Akademi's skeletal staff. 
Hats off to them; all four are no more, sadly. But all four later contributed significantly. Hari Uppal settled in Bihar and created a huge institution there; Dr V Raghavan was a Sanskrit and music scholar and a general organizer- fixture on the art scene of Madras; the rest are too known to be platformed here. 

Who all participated? And read Papers? 
U S Krishna Rao spoke on Modern Trends in Bharatanatyam (imagine "modern" then!) 
Kittappa Pillai on Jatis 
Ramaiah Pillai on Adavus 
Nataraja Ramakrishna on Kuchipudi 
V Appa Rao on Kuchipudi 
E Krishna Iyer on Bhagavatamela and folk dances 
Rukmini Devi on Kuravanjis 
Kunju Kurup on Kathakali 
Gopinath on Kathakali 
Atombapu Sharma on Manipuri dance 
Guru Amubi Singh on raas (he is among the few stated as "guru" in Akademi report) 
Kumari Nayana Jhaveri on Manipuri 
Mohanrao Kalyanpurkar on Kathak 
A C Pandeya on Kathak 
Dr. D G Vyas on Kathak 
Mohan Khokar on Bharatanatyam and Kathak in north 
Kalicharan Patnaik on Orissi music for dance as a tradition 
Shivram Karanth on Yakshagana 
Mrinalini Sarabhai on Scope for Developments in dance 
Shrimati Tagore on dance-dramas of Tagore 
And so on….. 

And who all danced! 
Inauguration by Shambhu Maharaj (he was hugged by Pt. Nehru for that. See pic!) 
Bala performed Bharatanatyam 
Manipuri Dance College (established in 1954 by a personal grant Pt. Nehru gave!) 
Shanta Rao, Bharatanatyam 
Rita Chatterjea (Devi), Manipuri and Bharatanatyam 
Roshan Kumari, Kathak 
Guru Kunju Kurup Kathakali 
Uday Shankar troupe 
Hima Kesarkodi ballet 
Brij Mohan (Birju Maharaj), Kathak 
Mrinalini Sarabhai, ballet 
Mayurbhanj Chhau and Oriya music 
Seraikella Chhau & 
Assam Saatra 

Please note: there was no Orissi, no Kuchipudi, no Yakshagana 

The seminar was historical because it was the first time the notional, oops, national academy had done anything on this scale and the active Nirmala Joshi, its secretary, was the key figure. This was the mother of all seminars, held from 30 March, till 7 April 1958. Today, 50 years later, the date passed us by. And all is forgotten. 


It is left to one individual in India now - Ashish Mohan Khokar - to recount and remember dance history as he is focused and qualified in more ways than one: a university merit-lister in Indian history, he knows its process and writing; has the immense wealth of documented proof courtesy his father's legacy to India - the Mohan Khokar Dance Collection - and his own search for high standards, commitment to truth and honesty in dance. 32 books, many columns, lectures, courses for journalists and, India's only yearbook on dance –attendance - makes him stand out as a serious, sincere dance scholar-writer of credibility.  
See www.attendance-india.com and www.dancearchivesofindia.com