The world over, when game lovers were chasing their opponents in varieties of race games on board, someone broke the barrier of this sequential chase in India. Ladders were introduced to jump from a lower square to a higher square quite further up the sequence, similarly snakes were let loose which caused a pawn at its hood to travel from that higher square to a lower square further down the sequence. Ladders were virtues while snakes were vices, thus the game was a tool to inculcate moral and ethical values in players. It was called Moksha Pata or Paramapada Sopana or Gyan Chaupar.
Ladders and snakes are graphical paths linking a source square to a destination square on the board which is understood even by kids. Some versions of Gyan Chaupar do not have either snakes or ladders, instead there are written instructions like 'Go to square number so and so'. This is similar to a sequential computer programming language with 'goto' statements. Ancient board game and a modern computer language - what are the odds!
India is home to many such board games which have travelled abroad and gained global popularity. Majority of board games with exception of Pachisi, Chaduranga, Backgammon and Snakes and Ladders can be played using minimum equipments. Any ground in a shaded area can be scratched on with a charcoal or a sharp tool to demarcate the play area. Pebbles, twigs or seeds become game counters while split tamarind seeds can be used instead of cowries or dice.
In not so distant past, temples were centres of socio-cultural activities where people often gathered either for festivals or celebrations. At the end of a long day's rituals and work people unwound over a game or two which were usually etched out on the hard stone floors of the temple. In addition to temples, game patterns are also seen on the floors of roadside and riverside mantaps where travellers rested in bygone days.
The research team of Ramsons Kala Pratishtana has documented hundreds of temples, mantaps and houses having game patterns etched on their floors and quadrangles. Game patterns in temples are testimony to the fact that board games once enjoyed huge popularity devoid of victorian prejudice. We later inherited the convoluted perspective of our colonial masters to denounce our own knowledge systems including gaming culture which had evolved over several millennia. Board games were not only excellent pastimes but also an integral part of family structure of the Indian joint family system.
Ramsons Kala Pratishtana has organised 4th issue of its annual exhibition 'Kreedaa Kaushalya' to rediscover board games in the rich aesthetics of Indian craft forms.