It’s a rainy weekend. You’ve played Monopoly, Pictionary and Dumb charades. Three times over. You’ve read your favourite book. You’re even tired of watching movies or playing video games. But the rain won’t let up and your mum’s forbidden going out in the downpour. This could be the perfect scenario to look travel back in time and learn some fantastically fun traditional Indian games.
Board games in particular have had a long history in India. There is proof of this in the form of art and folktales with many miniature paintings depicting gods or kings and queens at play. During Diwali there is a ritual in several Krishna temples across the country where the priests play a game of dice and the winner gets gifts of rice, jaggery, cloths and if they are really lucky, a bit of gold! While they may not be such exotic prizes for you at home, here are some Indian games to help you pass your time.
AADU PULI AATAM
This exciting game is about a tiger hunt! It is a two-player game where one player is in charge of the ‘tigers’ on the board, the other handles the ‘goats’. The tigers try to capture the goats while the goats must try to block the tigers movements strategically. It has several regional names as well and is a must-play for those who like fast-paced, quick-move games!
The Ashtapada board has a grid of 8×8 squares, all of the same colour. Each player receives an even number of pieces to begin playing. The aim is to move pieces around the board to reach the ‘castle’ or safe spaces from where the piece cannot be removed by another player, and then return to the centre, triumphant! There is a version of the game with a 10×10 board and is called Dasapada.
Chaturanga is said the be the parent game from which several others such chess, shogi, xiangqi and janggi were born. The name supposedly comes from the 4 divisions in the battle formation in the Mahabharata: elephants, chariots, cavalry and infantry. The aim is similar to chess where you have to checkmate an opponent’s king. If you love strategy, this game is the one for you.
Known as chowka bara or chakaara or chakka, this game is possibly one of the oldest board games in the country. It is a four-player game, similar to Ludo and is played with cowrie shells.
This minimum fuss game requires nothing but five stones. To play, you must complete a series of combinations of throwing and picking up stones. There is no limit on the number of players who can participate and no one’s too old for it either so get your parents to join in!
Card sharks, this one’s for you. This popular card game was a favourite of the royal courts of old. Also known and Ganjifa cards, they were often made with cloth and embroidered or painted with images from the epics Mahabharata and Ramayana. Though the rules might be a little complex, these cards are beautiful to look at and play with!
Moksham Patam is probably the most familiar game – it is the game of snakes and ladders. While in modern times, it is a simple game of avoiding snakes and reaching for ladders, traditionally it was played to teach morality where the players move from base levels of consciousness to the upper level of enlightenment or ‘moksh’.
Pachisi was considered to be the national board game of India. The word comes from the hindi word pachis or 25, which is the highest score that can be thrown. It can be played with up to four players, split into two teams. Like chauka bara, this game is also played with cowrie shells on a board that is shaped in a cross. To move around the board, you throw the shells and then count how many shells have land ‘face-up’ – that’s how many places your pieces can move. The team to get all their pieces to the finish, wins!
This is the game with many names! It is a game that began in Tamil Nadu, but spreading all over South India and is called Ali guli mane (Kannada), Kuzhipara (Malayalam) and Vamana guntalu (Telugu). It is a two -player game and has a quaint board with two rows of seven cups, each one containing six seeds or shells. You have to follow the rules to capture the shells, and the winner takes all!
Navakankari is a game that is played in all parts of the country and goes by various names. It needs two sharp players, each with nine coins, to make their moves to and get three coins in a row on the board. Again, this needs some cracking moves and terrific tactics to come out on top!
Here’s where you can buy some of these games on Amazon if you want to try them out. Happy Gaming!
Written by: Pereena Lamba. Pereena is a freelance writer, editor and creative consultant . She is also co-author of Totally Mumbai.