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Monday, April 17, 2017

Kreedaa Kaushalya 2017 Brochure



It has been over a decade since Kreedaa Kaushalya, the exhibition of traditional board games of India, was first organised by Ramsons Kala Pratishtana (RKP). This passion project of RKP has been through an interesting journey so far.

The alluring world of our traditional games is vast. It was a pair of dice that led Arjuna to be blessed with the Bhagavadgeetha Upanyasa by none other than the Lord Sri Krishna himself. It was Arjuna's eldest brother Yudhishthira's defeat in a dice game match that set the stage for the timeless epic Mahabharata.

Many games over the centuries are forgotten due to sheer neglect. There are a handful of surviving texts that speak of quite a number of games of various complexities. A few games have been disco-vered but with no instru-ctions of play. We at RKP have successfully resea-rched and introduced about 30 games over the past 10 years through Kreedaa Kaushalya exhibitions. This year we have seven new additions to our ongoing project of ancient games of India. These are - Taabla (1), Twenty-eight Sepoys (2), Huli Kallu (3), Basavana Ata (4), Daya Kattam (5), Immadi Huli Kattu (6) and Twelve Men's Morris (7). We have introduced hand-made, recycled-paper boxes for the packaging of games - this is an important feature this year.

The International Society for Board Games Studies, conducts an annual colloquium by inviting scholars to present papers on board games from across the world. We took part in the 19th International Board Games Studies Colloquium last year at Nuremberg, Germany. A booklet containing instructions about how to play games was released in that meet; this is available at this year's exhibition.

In the early 1800s Mysuru saw a quiet cultural renaissance under the reign of Mummadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar spanning over 7 decades. His late Highness, with his profound sense of aesthetics, promoted literature, art and crafts to unseen proportions. It is because of this seer-king that Mysore is recognized as the cultural capital of Karnataka. Many new games were designed and their rules framed by him. The painting which graces the cover of the english part of this flier depicts Mummadi directing a court artist to paint the game pattern of 'Shiva Sayujya Mukti Ata', while the painting on the cover of the kannada part shows Mummadi and his friend Subbarayadasa playing the game of 'Srikanta Sayujya Mutki Ata' which was invented by the former.

Mummadi has recorded popular board and card games of his time, along with his newly invented games, in 'Kautuka Nidhi', the last chapter of his magnum opus 'Sri Tattva Nidhi'. This stands as a proof of his work on these intriguing board games that were once famous among the populace in this land. In fact, Mysuru is the 'Board Games Capital of India', thanks to Mummadi and his passionate work on board games. Kreedaa Kaushalya is an attempt at reviving the tradition of board games which not only impart regulatory and strategic skills to any avid gamer but also great fun and deepens family bonds.

At this expo, Channemane, Chauka Bara, Pagaday, Panchi, Vimana and many more games have come alive on colorful boards made in different craft forms of India. Hundreds of artists from nine states have worked for nearly a year in making this expo a possibility.

Expo is at our 'Ramsons' store in front of Zoo.

Come with your family, friends; enjoy the games and have fun.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Furniture Turns Flooring

The noted collector of paintings and artefacts Sri Kuldip Singh of New Delhi invited Raghu and me to join him on a whirlwind three day- tour of the monasteries and temples in Thanjavur and Nagapattinam districts of Tamil Nadu. Sri Kuldip Singh is a senior architect who has during his early career acquired a fantastic collection of traditional Thanjavur and Mysuru paintings.

It was in this connection that we were in Thanjavur to view surviving specimens of frescoes and Thanjavur paintings. On the very first day, I was able to view at leisure the magnificent Chola period paintings along the pradakshina patha (the traditional cirumambulatory path that the devotee treads) of the Brihadeshwara temple. Normally this is not allowed as the temple is under the control of the Archaeological Survey of India’s Monuments Protection laws. But thanks to the senior prince of the erstwhile Thanjavur ruling family, Sri Babaji Rajah Bhonsle who made a request to the ASI officer on our behalf that the padlocked doors were opened.

The stark white light of the LED light fixtures brought alive the art of the Chola era painters who worked here a millennia ago.

Before that, early in the morning we visited the Thiruvavaduthurai Adheenam which is an ancient Shaivite monastery in Thiruvaduthurai village in Kuthalam taluk of Nagapattinam district. This huge 16th Century Shaivite monastery nestles in large swathe of greenery and undulating agricultural land owned by the monastery.

As we entered the main door, we were welcomed by the life-size murals of the Maratha rulers of the old Thanjavur kingdom. Pairs of kings and their queens flanked two door ways, each which led to ante chambers.
Portraits of a king and queen of Thanjavur Maratha royal family flanking a doorway
The  Maratha rulers were not only patrons of the arts but were also patrons of temples and monasteries. We slowly ambled into the main hall. A huge door onto our left led us further into a dark hall with a small shrine at the farther end.

All along the outer walls of this shrine are murals of portrait images of the Peethadhipathis (the spiritual heads) within painted niches. Immediately behind the shrine what catches one’s eye is the flooring itself. There does not seem to have been any plan in the laying of flooring. The flooring tiles were brightly coloured while the surrounding borders of Italian mosaic were further adorned with 18th century European ceramic tiles. In this seemingly paradoxical layout embedded into the floor were two large marble table tops. One was octagonal while the other was square.
A square marble table top with an inlaid pattern of chess embedded in the floor
These marble slabs were inlaid with semi-precious stones in the pattern of chess. They were probably from the workshops of master-craftsmen of Agra. The pietra dura technique used to insert floral patterns of semiprecious stones into slabs of marble thus creating stunningly beautiful decorative art are typical of the Agra craftsmen. These two specimens were inlaid with jasper, onyx, lapis lazuli, jade and mother of pearl.
R.G. Singh in front of the octagonal marble table top (inlaid with chess pattern) which is embedded in the floor

Overall one get's the idea that these were once tabletops. Somewhere along with the passage of time, they must have fallen into disuse and discarded. Some ingenious mason must have had the idea of embedding them into the floor. The bare feet of several hundred visitors who circumambulate around the sanctum sanctorum have, over the years, given these embedded tiles and of course the chess boards, a permanent polish.

Coming out in the bright sunlight we moved next door to the temple of Maasilamaniswara who is the guardian deity of the Monastery.
Main entrance gopura of the Maasilamaniswara temple amidst greenery at Thiruvaduthurai village
Walking past the ornate dhwaja sthamba (flag post) we moved into the cool dark large pillared hall. Opposite was the main door leading to the sanctum. Now comes the ‘eureka‘ moment... On the stone floor, neatly inscribed, was a game of Goats and Tigers on the left side of the door while on the right side was the game of Nine Men's Morris.
The inscribed pattern of Goats and Tigers near the doorway of the temple
The dim light, the cool and quiet ambience was the perfect setting for settling down for an impromptu game of Goats and Tigers... which is exactly what I and Raghu had in mind but could not for the want of time.
A game of Navakankari (Nine Mens Morris) inscribed on the stone floor near Raghu's left hand
All photographs are by Raghu Dharmendra except the last one which is by me.

Friday, April 7, 2017

A Visit to Bhavani Vidyalaya - An Eye Opener

A school in Jaipur which focuses on teaching autistic and specially-abled children is using a variety of traditional board games to tap into the inner energies of these children.

Board games whether oriental or occidental are now being used to arrest the progression of several forms of dementia including Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Medical journals like the Lancet and Jama have in the recent past carried articles about controlled experiments conducted on patients diagnosed with dementia. The latter were taught to play a variety of board games for a period of several months and they were tested for any changes in the neural and motor skills. It was found that there was a marked improvement.

Back in India, in Jaipur, there is this wonderful organisation, Bhavani Vidyalaya which works exclusively with children with autism, dyslexia and a host of other related ailments. The founder of Bhavani Vidyalaya, Smt. Vimala Venkatesan, and a team of teachers and volunteers have dedicated themselves to the cause of these children.

Smt. Vimala Venkatesan learnt about Kreedaa Kaushalya through internet and came down to Mysuru in 2013 exculsively to visit our exhibition. On seeing a huge collection of board games there, she came up with the idea that children playing these games could improve their neural and motor skills including life skills.

She bought dozens of these games from us. She also learnt to play all these games at the play-section in our exhibition. She is now using these traditional board games to encourage the learning process in the children at her special school. There are regular sessions of playing board games for these specially-abled children.

Raghu and I visited this school on 11 January 2017. It was a very cold day, Smt. Vimala Venkatesan treated us with tea and snacks. She and her teachers gave us a pleasant surprise by organising an impromptu board games play session by the children of the school.
The lady in orange saree and fawn coloured shawl is Smt. Vimala Venkatesan
Photography: Raghu Dharmendra

Thursday, April 6, 2017

A Quick Game Before a Rickety Ride

There is something common about rickshaw-drivers across India. No staid living room with artistic game boards for them; a patch of shade, some small pebbles, piece of brick with which to draw a diagram of a game and the rickshaw-drivers with their chariots parked, hunker down for a game.

Two of us (R.G. Singh and Raghu Dharmendra) from the research team of Ramsons Kala Pratishtana (RKP) in the course of our peregrinations have chanced upon many groups of rickshaw-drivers playing impromptu traditional board games while waiting for customers.

A brief over-the-shoulder look at some of these gamesters follows:

In the year 2007, we were staying in Koppala, a district headquarter in north Karnataka, a few kilometers away from Kinhala where we wanted to meet traditional wood craft artisans. Looking for an auto rickshaw, we strolled towards the DC’s office which is looks like a poor imitation of the Vidhana Soudha at Bengaluru.
Auto rickshaw drivers engaged in a game of Adu Huli Ata at Koppala
In the rough road just in front of the entrance to DC's office was a makeshift autorickshaw stand with a few autos parked and the khaki clad drivers grouped in a semi-circle looking down at three of their comrades. The centre of their attention was a triangular slab of broken brick and concrete having some scribbled lines, on closer inspection it proved to be the diagram of the game, 'Adu Huli Ata’ (Goats and Tigers).

Jaipur is another city of palaces apart from Mysore, but there is a lesser-known side to Jaipur that we discovered on our visit in the year 2009. We were at the Jawaharlal Nehru Marg pausing before the ‘House of Pre-owned Cars’ drawn by the sight of two middle-aged men. They were migrant Bengali cycle-rickshaw riders and they were waiting for clients. But what intrigued us was the game they were playing. It was the traditional Chauka Bara which for some strange reason the two men insisted on calling it, ‘Changa Bu.’ They had drawn the diagram in chalk on the sidewalk, pebbles and stones served as pawns, tamarind seeds served as dice; two bricks served as convenient seats while playing the game.
R.G. Singh interacting with cycle rickshaw riders who were playing Changa Bu at Jaipur

Badami is a well-known heritage town, its famous rock-cut temples are remarkable for their exquisite architecture and sculpture. In the centre of the town we saw a group of men under a tree cheering their two friends who were engaged in a game of Chauka Baka (Chakara as it is locally known). Among the two contestants, one was dressed in the typical north Karnataka dhoti and a ‘Gandhi’ cap that was balanced at a precarious angle on his head. The opponent, when not throwing cowrie shells with alacrity, drove a Tempo trax ferrying passengers by the dozen.

A game of Chauka Bara under a tree at Badami
The first thing that transfixes you as you approach Tiruvannamalai is the sacred hill of Arunachala, in its avatar as Agni-lingam. We, the research team from RKP had spent the better part of the hour at the ancient Arunachaleshwara temple, seeking out evidences of traditional board games. We were now in front of the Sheshadri swami ashram wondering if something like a restaurant lay behind the phalanx of autos parked in front of the ashram. Dodging the traffic and arriving in front of the inn we discovered a small shrine dedicated to Mariamma and right there in front of the shrine drawn in sharp lines was the game diagram of ‘Daya Kattam’ which is the Tamil Nadu version of ‘Pagaday.’

Auto rickshaw drivers playing Daya Kattam in Tiruvannamalai
Playing board games is not restricted to these rickshaw-drivers but is universal in its appeal. The dinne or pyol or just plain veranda of houses and temples becomes an arena for a joust of Goats and Tigers, Haralu Guni Manay, Chauka Bara, Pagaday and scores of other board games for common men, women and children.

Photography: Raghu Dharmendra