Monday, January 12, 2009

In the Harem

Board games in general are restricted to a contest between two opponents; however Pachisi and Chaduranga allow four persons to be a part of the game. The game of Pushpaka Vimanam (published in an earlier post) is an exception, which enabled a large group to be a part of the game.

This family entertainer reminded me of the group games popularised by Krishnaraja Wadiyar III, the motive of this improvisation is simple that more persons can be involved in the same game.

It is well known that this benevolent ruler had a large number of courtiers and subjects who were ardent gamers as well, this fact is attested in the murals executed on the walls of the game room in the Jaganmohan palace situated in Mysore which depict many games and various partial solutions of the Knight's Tour. Also some of his courtiers and ladies from the zenana are shown involved in sporting pastimes.

Krishnaraja Wadiyar III had 3 principal wives and several concubines as that practice was in vogue during those times. Perhaps these group games were introduced so that the royal ladies got a chance to roll the dice together in the seclusion of the zenana area.

The Navagraha Pagade Ata is the most unique and complex game invented by this genious. It includes components of the Indian system of astronomy and astrology. This board game painted on canvas is based on a surviving specimen at Jaganmohan palace. The circular board has 12 zodiac signs in the centre and 12 petal shaped arms form a perfect rosette to guide the path of the pawns. Within each of the petals nine planets have been incorporated. Symbols and colors of planets are as described in the Kautuka Nidhi of Sri Tattva Nidhi and as also in traditional almanacs and horoscopes. Three petals have floral designs in the centre to compliment the pattern. There are four pawns for each player which match the above description. The movement of the pawns is decided by the throw of three stick dice which have 1, 3, 4 and 6 notches.

The six handed Pachisi and eight handed Pachisi belong to the same genre of games suitable for multiple gamers.

This board game which has six arms can be played with many permutations and combinations. For example, 3 individuals can choose two opposite arms each with two sets of four pawns each, or six individuals can play with one arm belonging to each (two players occupying opposite arms or three payers occupying alternate arms can play as partners), if just 2 persons decide to play, they can either play one arm facing each other or can even play three-arms each such that alternate arms belongs to each player. To quicken the pace of movement of pawns, three stick dice are used for play.
Illustrations from top to bottom:
  1. A game in the harem. An illustration from a book.
  2. Mummadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar playing chess with his consort. Mysore style painting of K.S. Shreehari. Copyright: Ramsons Kala Pratishtana.
  3. Statues of Mumadi and his wives at the Srikanteshwara temple, Nanjangud. Photograph by H.S. Dharmendra.
  4. Board of Navagraha Pagade Ata. Acrylic on canvas by artist K.S. Parameshwar. Copyright: Ramsons Kala Pratishtana.
  5. Six-handed Pagade or Pachisi. Kalamkari cloth board by Narasimhulu of Srikalahasti. Copyright: Ramsons Kala Pratishtana.


YOSEE said...

The Navagraha Pagade board looks beautiful and very intriguing. The rules of the game must be quite complicated.I dont think there is any board game today that is derived from this unique design.

Brahmanyan said...

Good blog. There is another indoor game in Tamil Nadu known as "Pallancuzhi", which will be found in many tTemple Mandapams in Tamil Nadu.