How do you think people in the olden days spent their free time? With no access to television, internet and modern forms of entertainment, has it ever crossed your mind how your parents, grandparents and forefathers filled their days and months? Well, it was this same question that R G Singh, secretary, Ramsons Kala Pratishtana, Mysuru had which led him to the answer – board games!
Karnataka is rich in traditional board games. Be it chaukabara, navakankari (nine men’s morri), adu huli (goats & tigers), paramapada (snakes & ladders), pretwa, ashtapada, chaduranga (four-handed chess), pagade or pachisi, shara vyooha, hasu mattu chirate (cows and leopards), anay kattu (men & elephant), aligulimane or pallanguli, nakshatra aata, games are an integral part of our heritage.
Certain games even find their presence in the age-old temples of the State. For
instance, the Chennakesava Temple in Belur has board games inscribed on its floors. Even the Mahalakshmi Temple in Kolhapur and other temples of Varanasi have similar inscriptions. This certainly proves the fact that such games were one of the most popular forms of entertainment in the olden days.
The book, The Art of Play Board and Card Games of India, edited by Andrew Topsfield, gives you an initial survey of the great traditional games of India. According to the book, “It is not commonly known that several of the world’s most popular board games were conceived in the Indian subcontinent, including ludo, snakes & ladders and not to forget chess, the greatest and most universal board game of all.”
In order to revive such traditional games, R G Singh, Raghu Dharmendra and C R Dileep Kumar Gowda started their research that covered the entire country, with special emphasis on South India and came across 35 such games. Naturally, reviving the traditional games was far from easy. Visiting museums to look at the prototype of these games, the team found out that most pieces were used by the royalty and were like works of art. “Being in the handicraft business for the last 45 years, we were aware of the craft clusters in India and identified about 35 of them and started recreating around 20,” says Singh.
Nuances of games
Raghu Dharmendra, curator and designer, adds, “We have learnt how to play these board games by playing with local village folk. Sometimes, the games would be etched on the granite floor slabs in old temples and public spaces like riverside mantapas, parapet under the peepal tree, etc.” In the process, they have come across several variations in rules and names of these games and they also have fun rituals such as when a person loses, he has to run around singing a doggerel or have to dance, and the like. Once the team completely learns the nuances of playing a particular board game, it gives its pattern to the artisans, who reproduce it in the form of a beautiful artefact either in kalamkari or batik or silk embroidery or kinhala chowki etc. The prototype is analysed for feasibility to cut the cost and make the product more affordable. Further, other gaming accessories like play counters (pawns) and dice are also created. These are packed with playing instructions and sent out to the sales counters.
Likewise, Kavade – a niche toy hive in Bengaluru, takes pride in operating alongside a world dominated by digital media. Promoting an array of Indian traditional games and toys, Kavade strives to revive value-rich games that are strongly entrenched in Indian culture and tradition. Sreeranjini G S, founder, Kavade says, “The games and toys offered by Kavade are environment-friendly and give a chance to learn about Indian culture and history, and most importantly, are suitable for all ages.”
Strategies & more
With traditional board games being revived, people’s interest is also getting piqued. With many of them interested to do something different, people are looking towards such interesting games. “Many people buy these pieces as they are great conversation starters. Also, we have educational games like mankala, which is great in mental maths and akin to abacus. Playing these games is a great exercise for the brain. For instance, in games like pagade and chaukabara, you need to think of four things simultaneously while playing, including counting the number of points on the dice, the direction in which you want to move your pawn, how you can reach the safe zone and ensure you are not attacked by the opponent’s pawn. In fact, when four people play the game together, there is a lot of strategising required to keep moving ahead,” explains Singh.
Old is gold and these traditional games can certainly stimulate your mind in more ways than one. And if you are visiting your grandparents, it’s the perfect opportunity to ask them about such interesting games as you are guaranteed to get many memorable stories. So, what are you waiting for? Start playing!