Thoda is a martial arts form that exhibits a happy blend of culture and sport. Believed to have originated in Kullu or Shimla, the martial arts form also has an association with Mahabharata.
Also known as the dance of archery, khel of Thoda relies on one’s archery prowess. Two teams take on each other, using arrows and bows swiftly and skillfully against each other and create an illusion of real battle. The game is played in Theog, Narkanda, Chopal areas of Shimla and also in certain regions of Sirmaur and Solan.
The name Thoda comes from the round piece of wood fixed to the head of the arrow, which is used to blunt its wounding potential. The equipment required for this game are bows and arrows. Wooden bows measuring 1.5m to 2m, to suit the height of the archer and wooden arrows in proportion to the length of the bow, are prepared by skilled and traditional artisans.
How Thoda is played
Each group consists of roughly 50 people, mostly dancers who just participate to boost the morale of their side. One team is called Saathi (who play descendants of the Pandavas) while the other Pashi (who play descendants of the Kauravas).
The Pashi group forms a ‘chakravyuh’, and blocks the Saathi group, who in turn begin to penetrate their defences. After the initial resistance, the Saathi group reach the centre of the ground. The game is played in a marked court to ensure that a certain degree of discipline is maintained.
Watch the action
The target in this game is the region of the leg, below the knee, where the opponent should aim his arrow. The defenders start shaking, kicking their legs to and fro with brisk movements, to thwart the accurate aim of their adversaries. There are minus points for a strike on the wrong parts of the leg. The game ends with sing-song war-slogans and winner is declared.
In the olden days, a handful of village folk would go to another village, and would throw tree leaves into the village well, before sun rise. They would, then, hide in the bushes nearby, just outside the boundary of that village. As soon as the villagers came to draw water, the youths would shout, and throw challenges to them for a fight. This would spark the preparations for an encounter.
Today, Thoda is a part of a fair festival held on Baisakhi Day, April 13 and 14 every year.