Originating in the Kullu region of Himachal Pradesh, thoda or Thoda ka khel is a form of armed martial art involving the skill of archery as well forms of dancing. Believed to have originated as a form of martial arts performed by the Pandavas and Kauravas in the Mahabharata, it primarily involves the use of a bow and arrow in combat. The members participating in the thoda are collectively known as Khashiya, and belong to the Thakur community of the region. Thoda derives its name from thod, meaning a raised platform, upon which the Khashiya would offer sacrifices before combat. Another version states that the name comes from thud, meaning lower limbs, which are targeted during the fight.
In its current form, the martial art form comprises two teams – known as the saathi and pashi, where the former represents Kauravas (saath referring to the sixty; the number of Kauravas in the battle) and the latter Pandavas (pashi is derived from paanch (five) the number of Pandavas) – and nearly 500 members each. The group is a combination of dancers that encourage the fighters and archers, armed with bows, normally seven feet long with three feet long strings and arrows. The pashi group forms a chakravyuh, a military formation in the form of a circle, surrounding its opponents the saathis who have to attempt to break through this formation. Points are scored in the fight by targeting the opponent's leg below the knee. Any other part of the body attacked outside this area leads to a negative point.
Participants of thoda are normally dressed in a salwar or suthan, with a naltoo (a kind of short shirt worn on top), below which they wear a pair of pyjamas with a patti (thick strip of cloth) an boots, in order to prevent injuries. In addition to the instruments used for combat, the art form also involves music in which traditional instruments such as the dhol, nagara, shehnai and narsingh are used. The martial art form is popular today in the districts of Shimla, Sirmaur and Solan in Himachal Pradesh and is usually performed on the day of Baisakhi.
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