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Why Not Theatre

Discover a once-in-a-generation theatrical experience as this visually stunning retelling of the Sanskrit epic takes you on a journey through the past in order to write a thrilling new future.

A contemporary take on a story that is over four thousand years old and foundational to Indian culture. This tale of a family feud is an exploration of profound philosophical and spiritual ideas that are more relevant than ever. 

This large-scale retelling is told in two parts bridged by an optional traditional Indian meal and storytelling session (Khana & Kahani) . Throughout the experience, the production undergoes an evolution in storytelling, from the most ancient and intimate to a contemporary and technologically-integrated spectacle.

Led by an international South Asian cast, Mahabharata presents a hybrid of cultures, balancing East and West, traditional and contemporary.

Why Not Theatre is an award-winning Toronto based company that is committed to rethinking how stories are told and who gets to tell them.

For the full Mahabharata experience, we recommend attending both parts 1 and 2. Tickets are booked separately for each part.

Mahabharata: Karma (Part 1): 2 hr 40 mins, inc 20 min interval

Khana & Kahani (Community meal and storytelling session): 75 mins, no interval

Mahabharata: Dharma (Part 2): 2 hrs 15 mins, inc 20 min interval


Age guidance: 12+

Contains discussions and non-graphic depictions of violence, war and sexual activity.

Please note, the Khana menu will be vegan and nut-free. Gluten will be in some menu items. Regrettably, we are unable to provide accommodation for specific dietary restrictions. Capacity is limited for the meal.

A Why Not Theatre Production. Originally commissioned and presented by the Shaw Festival in association with the Barbican.

The Barbican presentation is generously supported by the Bagri Foundation, with additional support from the High Commission of Canada in The United Kingdom.

Why Not Theatre acknowledges the support of its Production Supporters: Shaw Festival, Canada Council for the Arts, Canada’s National Arts Centre and its National Creation Fund, Cargojet, The Slaight Family Foundation, Kingfisher Foundation, Deb Barrett & Jim Leech, Lindy Green Family Foundation, Wuchien Michael Than Foundation, Ontario Arts Council, TO Live, and The High Commission of Canada in The United Kingdom.

BAGRI Foundation


‘A magnificent achievement in every way‘
‘Four-and-a-half hours of glorious storytelling‘
The Times
‘A stunning world premiere‘
The Globe and Mail (Toronto)
‘A triumphant success‘
Toronto Star
‘All at once everything you've missed from live theatre everywhere‘
Buffalo Rising (Toronto)

The Story

Karma (Part 1): 
King Janamejaya is holding a ritual sacrifice in which he will kill all the snakes in the world to avenge his father’s death. In hopes of ending this cycle of revenge, a storyteller is summoned to tell King Janamejaya the tale of The Mahabharata. The storyteller tells of the rival Pandava and Kaurava clans, and the choices that lead to their infamous Game of Dice. Through playful narration, shadow play, classical Indian dance, and a live band, the ensemble tells the stories of humans struggling to build a just world in the face of competition, jealousy, and rage. 

Exploring the themes of storytelling, ecocide, and dharma (empathy), Part 1 begins Mahabharata’s epic journey that asks, “When everyone believes they are right and their opponents wrong, how can one end a spiral of revenge?” 

Khana & Kahani (Community Meal and Storytelling Session):
Mahabharata is a story that one learns over a lifetime; it needs to be absorbed and digested. To delve deeper into the philosophical riddles of the Pandava family’s thirteen years of exile, the audience gathers to share a traditional Indian meal. Hosted by a charming storyteller, the audience experiences a tale from the Mahabharata as many people have, around the dinner table.

Dharma (Part 2):
King Janamejaya is told of the war fought by his ancestors — its devastating destruction of the planet, the mass extinction that followed, and of the survivors left behind to rebuild. Using captivating projections, dynamic soundscapes, and poetic stage design, Part 2: Dharma includes a 15-minute Sanskrit opera adaptation of the Bhagavad Gita. King Janamejaya is confronted with the battle of Kurukshetra, and the battle inside his own heart. Are we destined to repeat the mistakes of our ancestors?


A performer dances on stage while others watch.

Watch: movement and dance

'It's a language to communicate the story'. 

Discover more about the astonishing movement and dance in this epic show with members of the creative team, including choreographer Brandy Leary.

See more theatre and dance for less

Pay no booking fees, enjoy Members' priority booking and Member-only pre-show talks and open rehearsals (T&Cs apply)

Performance schedule

Why Not Theatre’s Mahabharata is a large-scale production told in two parts. You can choose to see both parts in one captivating day of theatre or split it over multiple days. It’s up to you. 

The optional Khana community meal will take place on Sunday, Friday and Saturday at 6.30pm.

Mahabharata: Karma (Part 1): 2hr 20 mins with interval

Sun 1 Oct. 3.30pm
Wed 4 Oct. 7.45pm
Fri 6 Oct. 3.30pm
Sat 7 Oct. 3.30pm

Mahabharata: Dharma (Part 2): 2hr 10 mins with interval

Sun 1 Oct. 8.15pm
Thu 5 Oct. 7.45pm
Fri 6 Oct. 8.15pm
Sat 7 Oct. 8.15pm

Khana & Kahani: Community meal and storytelling session

Sun 1 Oct 6.30pm
Fri 6 Oct 6.30pm
Sat 7 Oct 6.30pm

Award-winning dance with a classical score

Spiritual, playful and mystical dance-theatre from choreographer Pam Tanowitz and Pulitzer prize-winning composer David Lang.

Barbican Theatre