|Music of India|
A Lady Playing the Tanpura, ca. 1735 (Rajasthan)
|Media and performance|
|Nationalistic and patriotic songs|
|National anthem||Jana Gana Mana|
Padavani (lit.: Songs of Pandavas) is a folk singing style of musical narration of tales from ancient epic Mahabharata with musical accompaniment and Bhima as hero.
The origins of this singing style are not known, and according to its foremost singer Teejan Bai, it might be as old as the Mahabharata itself, as few people could read in those times, and that is how perhaps they passed on their stories, generation after generation.
Pandavani, literally means stories or songs of Pandavas, the legendary brothers of Mahabharat, and involves the lead singer, enacting and singing with an ektara or a tambura (stringed musical instrument), decorated with small bells and peacock feathers in one hand and sometimes kartal (a pair of cymbals) on another.
It is part of the tradition of the tellers-of-tales present in every culture or tradition (like Baul singers of Bengal and Kathak performers), where ancient epics, anecdotes and stories are recounted, or re-enacted to educated and entertain the masses. Without the use of any stage props or settings, just by the use to mimicry and rousing theatrical movements, and in between the singer-narrator break into an impromptu dance, at the completion of an episode or to celebrate a victory with the story being retold, yet in its truest sense Pandavani remains an accomplished theatre form.
During a performance, as the story builds, the tambura becomes a prop, sometimes it becomes to personify a gada, mace of Arjun, or at times his bow or a chariot, while others it becomes the hair of queen Draupadi or Dushshan  thus helping the narrator-singer play all the characters of story.
The singer is usually supported by a group of performers on Harmonium, Tabla, Dholka, Majira and two or three singers who sing the refrain and provide backing vocals.
Each singer adds his or her unique style to the singing, sometimes adding local words, improvising and offering critique on current happenings and an insights through the story. Gradually as the story progresses the performance becomes more intense and experiential with added dance movements, an element of surprise often used.
The lead singer continuously interacts with the accompanying singers, who ask questions, give commetary, interject thus enhancing the dramatic effect of the performance, which can last for several hours on a single episode of Mahabharata. Eventually what starts out as a simple story narration turns into full-flegded ballad.
- Vedamati – the sitting style, mainly used by women, basically invented by Jhaduram Devangan.
- Kapalik – the traditional form, the standing style, where the performer depicts scenes from the epic and improvises consistently.(Teejan Bai’s style)
Impact on popular culture
Influences of Pandanavi can been clearly seen in the plays of Habib Tanvir, who has been using folk singers of Chattisgarh in his plays, creating a free-style story narration format, typical of Pandavani.
Exponents of Pandavani
- Pandavi at indiaheritage
- The Hindu article
- Detailed info on Pandavani at Asia/Pacific Cultural Centre for UNESCO
- Mahabharata as Theatre
- Teejan Bai performance, The Tribune, November 16, 2002