Pandav Lila or Pandav Nritya (Sanskrit; literally "play of the Pandavas" and "dance of the Pandavas" respectively) is a ritual re-enactment of stories from the Hindu epic Mahabharata, through singing, dancing and recitation, that is practised in the Garhwal region of Uttarakhand, India.[1][2] Pandavas are the five protagonists in the epic and the village amateurs take on their roles and perform the lila outdoors, accompanied by the folk instruments dhol, damau and two long trumpets called bhankore.[3] The performances, which can last anywhere from three days to a month in different villages, draw large crowds and are an important cultural highlight of the year.[4] The ritualistic drama features actors who often spontaneously become "possessed" by the spirits of their characters and begin to dance.[5]

History and format

The origins of the Pandav Lila are intermingled with Hindu history . It has always been performed by village amateurs, and not professionals, and is usually sponsored by the Rajputs of Uttarakhand.[2] A performance is often called a Śrāddha, which is a Hindu ritual of ancestor worship, and the lila is seen as a form of ancestor worship; today, many Garhwalis self-identify as the descendants of the Pandavas.[6] The performances are usually held between November and February, and a particular village may not host it every year.[7] People may travel to a nearby village to witness the lila.[7] Sax writes that "most villagers in Garhwal are probably within walking distance of a pandav lila in any given year".[8]

Every village can have its own variation, and some may place a greater emphasis on singing or drama.[7] The performances begin at night and last till early mornings. The episodes from the epic are not necessarily performed in a linear order, as the intention is not to convey the epic's story but dance out or enact specific scenes that the artists or villagers are familiar with.[7] As the story progresses and the action intensifies, they begin to start earlier in the day and continue till morning next day. The most-awaited episode is often a battle between a father and a son, Arjuna and Nagarjuna, which is known by the name gainda (Hindi for rhinoceros), as it involves Arjuna killing the rhinoceros that belongs to his son.[4] The weapons used in the drama are worshipped and are never allowed to touch the ground, so they can retain their power, and are taken care of till the next lila.[9] As it is practically impossible to enact the whole of Mahabharata, the longest epic poem in existence, the performers can choose their own episodes for enactment.[10]


  1. ^ Sax 2002, p. 21
  2. ^ a b Sharma, Arvind (July 21, 2007). Essays on the Mahābhārata. Motilal Banarsidass Publisher. ISBN 9788120827387 – via Google Books.
  3. ^ "ICHCAP | e-Knowledge Center".
  4. ^ a b Sax, William S. (1997). "Fathers, Sons, and Rhinoceroses: Masculinity and Violence in the Pāṇḍav Līlā". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 117 (2): 278–293. doi:10.2307/605490. JSTOR 605490.
  5. ^ Sax 2002, p. 23
  6. ^ Sax 2002, p. 57
  7. ^ a b c d Alter, Andrew (April 1, 2011). "Controlling Time in Epic Performances: An Examination of Mahābhārata Performance in the Central Himalayas and Indonesia". Ethnomusicology Forum. 20 (1): 57–78. doi:10.1080/17411912.2011.549362. S2CID 193246028.
  8. ^ Sax 2002, p. 52
  9. ^ Beissinger, Margaret; Tylus, Jane; Wofford, Susanne; Wofford, Susanne Lindgren (March 31, 1999). Epic Traditions in the Contemporary World: The Poetics of Community. University of California Press. ISBN 9780520210387 – via Google Books.
  10. ^ Sax 2002, p. 32