Thursday, August 21, 2008

A Raja's Fascination with Games

The decisive fourth Anglo-Mysore war of 1799 marked the death of Tipu Sultan and the fall of Srirangapatna (Seringapatam as it was mis-spelt earlier), the island capital of Mysore kingdom. This paved the way for the greedy colonial power to establish a strangle hold over the vast sub-continent and then began the plunder which relentlessly went on for next 148 years subjugating one kingdom after the other.

The victorious army of East India Company and its allies savagely sacked the military stronghold and destroyed the remaining fortifications of Srirangapatna. After the death of Tipu Sultan, vehement pursuasion and pleading by the dowager queen Lakshmammanni resulted in East India Company restoring the kingdom of Mysore (which had been usurped by Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan) to the ancient Wodeyar dynasty.

The choice of the king was the toddler, Krishnaraja Wodeyar III, and the capital was shifted to Mysore. This change heralded a renaissance in the fields of painting, sculpture, temple crafts, music, dance, literature and institution building which was continued by next four rulers finally ending in 1947 with the merger of the princely states, including Mysore, with the union of India.

The period between 1831 and 1881, referred to as rendition, was when the British took over (from Krishnaraja Wodeyar III) the reigns of administration of Mysore kingdom by appointing a commissioner and the Raja was reduced to a figure head with ceremonial powers.

It was during this period that the young Raja took deep interest in the art of play among other things now that he was free from the administrative responsibilities.

His fascination with the board games was intense. The painted murals and specimens of board games, pawns and dice on display at the Jaganmohan Palace at Mysore are a testimony of his deep interest. The talented artists in the royal atelier have painted an entire manuscript - Sri Tattvanidhi - running into several hundred pages dealing with varied subjects. The last section titled 'Kautuka Nidhi' deals exclusively with board and card games.

Other materials pertaining to board games have been recorded for posterity in the form of lithograph books, etched copper plates, sheets of litho prints, silk cloths, beautiful game rosewood boxes inlaid with ivory and game boards cast in brass and copper.
Illustrations from top to bottom:
  1. Aquatint showing an English soldier grabbing the bejewelled golden belt of Tipu Sultan before latter's death on 4 May 1799.
  2. A painted manuscript despicting five year old Krishnaraja Wodeyar on throne.
  3. A painting of Krishnaraja Wodeyar at the English durbar sometime before he was freed from administrative responsibilities.
  4. One of the murals depicting 'Knight's Tour' at the game room of Jaganmohan palace, Mysore.
  5. Pages from Kautuka Nidhi illustrating two suites of a Ganjifa card set.
  6. An etched copper plate of Mysore having magic squares popularised by the Raja. Collection: British Museum.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Mancala Board - New Designs

The design wing of Ramsons Kala Pratishtana has created following mancala boards also called as Aligulimane or Chennemane or Pallanguli, using different craft traditions.

This is a brass mancala board crafted using 'cire purdue' or lost wax process. Along with regular double rows of seven pits, the board has two larger storage pits. The uniqueness of this design is that the traditional design of 'prabhavali', the arch topped with 'keerthimukha', has been used here to surround the two storage pits. The board stands on four legs designed like that of a lion. Two sides have been intricately crafted with the motif of a 'gandaberunda' in the centre. This beautifully crafted board is a collector's delight.

This is one more board with a slight difference in which each storage pit is shown as wide open mouth of a lion.

The above two boards have been crafted out of copper sheets with a splash of bright enamel. Usually we come across mancala boards in which the pits seem to be scooped out of the board. But in these boards pits are like two rows of cups kept side by side.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Newspaper Article

The July 8 issue of Spectrum (one of the weekly supplement of Deccan Herald) carried a well written article 'Games People Played' by Meera Iyer. The article talks about the efforts of Ramsons Kala Pratishtana in research and reviving of board games and also about Kreedaa Kaushalya.

Click on the title of this post which is a link to that article.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Game board collection

These board games and accessories have been collected by the team of researchers of RKP on field trips to different places across India.

Neem wood Aligulimane - Napoklu village, Virajpet, Kodagu, Karnataka.^

Folding Aligulimane - Periyapatna taluk, Mysore district,Karnataka.^

Brass sheet metal Aligulimane - Tanjore, Tamilnadu.^

Marble Chess Board - Agra, Uttar Pradesh.^

Brass Aliguli Mane casted in traditional lost wax process - Mysuru, Karnataka.^

Fish shaped wooden Mancala board - Shivaganga, Tamilnadu.^

Rosewood pallanguli board inlaid with teakwood - Karaikudi, Tamilnadu.^

Inlaid Chess board - Mysore, Karnataka. Camel bone Chess set - Jaipur, Rajasthan.^

Ganjifa cards and box - Mysuru, Karnataka.^

Ganjifa cards and box - Sawantawadi, Maharashtra. ^

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Pagade Rhyme

ಪಗಡೆಯ ಆಟ ಬಲು ಚೆನ್ನ
ಓಟದ ಆಟವು ಇದು ಅಣ್ಣ
ನಾಕು ಜನ ಎದುರು ಬದರು
ಮಧ್ಯೆ ಹಾಸನಿಟ್ಟು ಒದರು
ಕಾಯಿ ಕೆಂಪು ಕಪ್ಪು ನಾಕು
ಹಳದಿ ಹಸುರು ನಾಕು ನಾಕು
ಎರಡು ದಾಳ ಕರಗಳಲಿ
ಉಜ್ಜಿ ಬಿಡು ಕೆಳಗುರುಳಲಿ
ದುಗ ಇತ್ತಿಗ ಎಂಟು ಹನ್ನೆರಡು
ನಡೆಸು ಜೊತೆಯ ಕಾಯಿ ಎರಡು
ಕಾದು ಕುಳಿತು ಕಾಯಿ ಹೊಡಿ
ಜೋಡಿಯಿಂದ ಜೋಡಿ ಬಡಿ
ಹೊಡೆದ ಕಾಯ್ ಹೊರಗಟ್ಟಿಸು
ಮರಳಿ ಅದನು ಹುಟ್ಟಿಸು
ಒಂದು ಪೂರಾ ಸುತ್ತು ಹಾಕು
ಹೊಟ್ಟೆ ತಲುಪಿ ಮಲಗು ಸಾಕು
ಎಲ್ಲ ಕಾಯ ಹಣ್ಣು ಮಾಡು
ಇಷ್ಟವಾಗೆ ಮತ್ತೆ ಆಡು

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

How to Play Vimanam

Contents: 1 Game board; 2 sets of 6 coins (total 12 coins); 6 cowrie shells.

This is a two-player race game. Each player gets 6 coins of same colour and keeps it in his home outside the game board as shown in Fig 3. This is the initial position of the coins and every time they are cut, they return to their respective homes.

Goal: To bear off all six coins, first.

Throw of six cowrie shells:

  • One mouth up (Fig.2)- introduce one coin on starting square or move one square & play again
  • Two mouths up- move two squares
  • Three mouths up- move three squares
  • Four mouths up- move four squares
  • Five mouths up- introduce one coin on starting square or move five squares & play again
  • Six mouths up- move six squares & play again
  • No mouths up - move twelve squares & play again

How to play:

  1. The board is always kept in the centre during the game.
  2. Each player keeps his coins in his home as shown in Fig.1. The first square on the tail end near his home is his starting square ('a' is the starting square of player-1 and 'b' is that of player-2).
  3. Players alternately throw all six cowrie shells on the floor and move a coin as indicated by the throw of shells.
  4. The movement of the coins is different (shown by different arrows) for both players and is given as follows.
  5. Player 1: a-c-d-e-f-g-h-i-j-k-l-n-q-r and off. (Blue arrow in Fig.4)
  6. Player 2: b-c-d-k-j-i-h-g-f-e-m-n-o-p and off. (Red arrow in Fig.5)
  7. If a player’s coin lands on a square occupied by opponent’s coin, then the opponent’s coin is cut and the player gets an extra turn to play.
  8. The cut coin returns to its home and has to be reintroduced on the starting square and go round all over again.
  9. The darker squares (rest squares) though, are safe places and no coins present here can be cut.
  10. Player-1 bears off his coin from ‘r’ while Player-2 bears off his coins from ‘p.’
  11. The first player to bear off all his coins wins the game.

Extra Turn:

  • Whenever a ‘one,’ a ‘five,’ a ‘six’ or a ‘twelve’ is got during a throw of cowrie shells, the player gets to play another turn.
  • When a player cuts opponent’s coin, he gets an extra turn to play.
  • During an extra turn, either the same coin or some other coin can be played.

Points to remember:

  • Both players’ coins move in the same direction at two places - from 'c' to 'd' and then from above 'd' to 'n'.
  • A player should cut his opponent in order to move his coins into the inner stem of squares (i.e., 'm' or 'l' to 'n'). Otherwise he has to move another coin or forfeit his turn until he cuts atleast one of the opponent coin.
  • If a player has cut once, all the coins can move into the inner stem, not necessary for every coin to cut opponent.
  • No limit for a player to cut opponents’ coins.
  • Each coin has to be first introduced (or reintroduced if it has been cut) on its starting square (on the throw of either a 'one' or a 'five') before it starts moving.


Some play this game using two stick dice instead of cowrie shells. Four sides of each stick dice contains 1, 2, 3 and 'null' dots. Both dice are rolled together on the gound and coins are moved according to the number of dots present on the top face of the dice when they come to rest.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Family That Plays Together Stays Together

India is mostly an agrarian society where large households made up of 15 to 20 individuals is a normal occurence, also 3 to 4 generations live under the same roof sharing every resource and also contributing to the agricultural activity which is labour intensive. This pattern of shared living is also followed in cities.

If you have ever wondered how these large families amuse themselves, here is an answer. The regular game of 'Vimanam' is played akin to 'Panchi' by two individuals with 6 pawns each and 6 cowrie shells. Now how would you accommodate an entire household to be a part of the game which is played by only two persons? Simple, improvise the game so that the whole family is a part of fun.

At recently concluded 'Kreedaa Kaushalya' we had a game parlour where children and adults were allowed to play Indian board games; we also taught different games to every body who was interested.

On the third day of exhibition, in walked a group of 3 ladies and 5 kids. From the interaction amongst themselves it was evident that they were a part of a single family perhaps first and second cousins included. The person calling the shots was a lady bedecked in jasmines and jewels wearing an ornate saree; it seemed like the group had just returned from a wedding celebration.

The boisterous group learnt a few games and was interested in sharing with us one of their own. Quickly a game board was sketched on the back of a calendar print using a scale and pen by Mrs. Vijaya Kumari.

The game was almost like 'Vimanam' except the final stretch of tracks which was curved (this part is straight in Vimanam); this difference was just aesthetic and in no way affected the play. Hence the group picked our board of Vimanam which we had got designed colourfully in Kalamkari craft. 12 pawns each were placed in both homes; a pair of stick dice started to roll.

To get an idea of the game, I suggested Dr. Dilip to join the group, an elderly lady, who was teaching her grandson a game of mancala, volunteered to join the group to equalise the number of players on both sides. Soon enough a middle aged couple, relatives of Mrs. Vijaya Kumari, arrived and promptly joined the game.

The whole group was divided equally into 2 parties such that they sat encircling the board with alternate persons in the circle belonging to one party. Most aggressive within was the leader of that party, by default, who decided the moves of party's pawns. Though one moved the pawns, everybody got a chance to roll dice. The dice started moving from one person to next going round in the circle and so did the pawns which raced along the single track of the game board which met and bifurcated 3-4 times. Large number of pawns (12) on each side ensured that the game's duration stretched long.

The game took almost 2 hours to finish and later I learnt that it was called 'Aeroplane' which is nothing but the anglicised 'Vimanam'. It was at this juncture that Raghu suggested that we rechristen the game as 'Pushpaka Vimana' which is the mythological flying machine used by lord Rama to travel from Lanka to Ayodhya after vanquishing Ravana.

This mean-machine is reputed to have an ever expanding seating capacity such that for all persons included one extra seat remained vacant.

At our next exhibition of Kreedaa Kaushalya in the summer of 2009 we intend to introduce this game to visitors.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

You Said It...

In the annals of the game board history Mysore occupies a prominent place as a centre where game boards, pawns and dice were manufactured, this is attested by the fact that major museums across Europe and America have beautiful specimens credited to the province of Mysore and its rulers Mummadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar and his successors.

From a very long time there is a marked fall in the manufacture of these artefacts due to the fact that it is commercially unviable and very few people know the art of play. Ramsons Kala Pratishtana has involved itself in the endeavour of promoting these two traditions - gaming and craft.

To revive any languishing art or craft tradition is a very expensive proposition due to the fact that almost everything involved with the tradition has to be researched, reworked and revitalised and presented in the present context which involves precious manpower, energy, time and finance.

It was with the intention of preserving this cultural heritage that RKP has presented the second edition of Kreedaa Kaushalya.

Following are some rave reviews by visitors to the exhibition.
  • "A step towards preserving ancient Indian games and culture."- Dr. B.R. Subramanya, Mysuru.
  • "Gives us an idea how people in the past used to amuse themselves."- N. Puneeth, National University of Singapore.
  • "Great effort - can only imagine the pains taken."- Ravi Cavale, Bengaluru.
  • "Very commendable effort. Would like to work with you to take this forward."- Rustam Vania, Srishti School of Art Design and Technology, Bengaluru.
  • "Very impressed. Proud that you are based in Mysore."- Dr. Prashanth Rao, Mysuru.
  • "Brilliant idea and very well organised."- P.V. Srilatha, Mysuru.
  • "Really well researched and produced show."- Suniti Salam, Researcher on traditional textiles, Mysuru.
  • "A very genuine effort in conserving some vignettes of our heritage and culture."- T.S. Satyan, Ace photographer, Mysuru.
  • "Awesome! I could sit for hours here... Now I know that atleast SOME part of history is fun!!!"- Sharanya Rao, Mysuru.
  • "It is a pleasure to visit Ramsons. There is always something new, innovative and unique. Please keep it up."- Parsram Mangharam, Author, Ravi Varma The Prince Among Painters.
  • "A well researched project which deserves appreciation."- Mangala Narasimhan, Crafts Council of Karnataka, Bengaluru.
  • "A good attempt to trace our heritage."- Prof. J. Shashidhar Prasad, Former Vice Chancellor, University of Mysore.
  • "Excellent! Very unusual and and unique experience."- Sushma Manjunath, Producer, Kasturi Channel, Bengaluru.
  • "It was really nice seeing such wonderfully crafted games which one remembers playing many years ago. Brings back beautiful memories."- Sharada Nagendra, Bengaluru.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Board Games - A Child's Play

Summer vacations are on, cartoon shows on television are the most favourite and preferred pastime for kids these days as I see my nephews glued to one or the other shows on the idiot box. That was not so a decade or two back, summer meant exams followed by loads of fun in the form of indoor and outdoor games and sports.

Since last eight days the Kreedaa Kaushalya exhibition has been successful in attracting lot of kids. Children are enthralled seeing varieties of board games with colourful pawns, dice and cowries to play with.

Bhavya, here, liked Aligulimane (Mancala). Oblivious to the surrounding he started sowing fourteen pits with cowrie shells round and round.

Little Shakti, dressed in her best was intrigued by the richly painted chess men which looked like two armies marching forward. She was hesitant to touch them and rather preferred appreciating them from afar.

Yash, in blue shirt, is a kid from the neighborhood who comes daily to play with his cousins at the game parlour in the exhibition. He is filling cowrie shells into one of the beautiful mancala boards crafted out of brass in lost wax process.

Little Anagha was disturbed by the way pawns were arranged on this game-stool sporting a version of Goats & Tigers game. She diligently went about removing pawns from not only this game but all others too.

Ayush, here, loves to play chess and when he saw this beautifully crafted wooden chess men painted with 18 karat gold leaf could not take his eyes off. He started nagging his parents to buy the set for him. He had to settle for a humble board of Snakes and Ladders handpainted on cloth.

Younger generations are growing up ignorant of the rich gaming tradition of our land. They play and love Ludo but do not know that its predecessor is the Indian game - Pachisi or Pagade. Kids love to climb up the ladders and slide down the snakes in Snakes and Ladders but are unaware of the fact that it is the European version of the original Indian game 'Paramapada'.

The motto of Kreedaa Kaushalya is to reinvent these games in a new avatar, present it to the public and create awareness about the gaming tradition which lies buried under layers and layers of time.

Come, rediscover our games, understand our roots.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

How to Play Goats and Tigers

Adu Huli or Goats and Tigers was once a very popular game as we find this game pattern etched on stone floors of many old and ancient temples. The above game pattern is found on the parapet inside the mahadwara of the Chamundeshwari temple atop Chamundi Betta (hill) in Mysuru.
Following is the design given by the design team at Ramsons Kala Pratishtana for the game board of Adu Huli to be hand woven in Navalgund dhurry.
Adu Huli (Goats & Tigers) is a hunt game played by two players. One player gets three tigers while the other controls the flock of sixteen goats.

How to play:

Pawns (either tigers or goats) should be placed only on intersections of lines (shown by red dots in Fig. 1)

During a turn only one coin has to be played.At the beginning tigers are placed at three points as depicted by T in yellow circles in Fig. 2.

One goat is placed on any open point on the board such that it is safe from tiger’s attack.Next one of the tigers is moved to its adjacent open point. All goats are introduced one by one on the board one each during its turn. (i.e., one goat is placed on a point, next one tiger moves, next one more goat is placed on a point, next a tiger moves, next one more goat is placed on a point and so on).

All goats have to be introduced on the board before a goat starts moving.

If a tiger ‘T’ encounters a lone goat ‘G’ with a open point just behind it, then the tiger jumps over the goat to the open point and takes out the goat from the board as shown in Fig. 3 and Fig. 4 below.

Tiger cannot jump over a goat if there is no open point behind the goat as shown below in Fig. 5 and Fig. 6.

Tiger can jump only once during its turn and does not have multiple jumps during a turn.

A goat that has been taken out of the board by a tiger is permanently out of the game and cannot be reintroduced on the board during that game.

After all goats are introduced on the board, goats start moving.Only one goat can be moved to its adjacent open point during its turn.

Goats cannot jump over anything.

Tigers cannot jump over another tiger.Goats should avoid getting jumped over by tigers and try to surround tigers such that they cannot move as shown below in Fig. 7 and Fig. 8.

Tigers try to take out as many goats as possible and avoid getting tied down by goats.

Goats try to tie down all tigers rendering them immobile.

Lines denote the path of movement. Goats and tigers should always move along the lines. Movement of a pawn between adjacent points is possible only when the points are connected by a line. See Fig.9 and Fig. 10 given below for wrong and correct movements.

Game ends when either tiger takes out more than 6 goats or goats manage to immobilise all tigers.


* Tigers win if they take out a minimum of 6 goats.

* Goats win if they immobilise all three tigers.

Benefits: This helps develop strategy and concept of team work by teaching that even though weak, if united, one can vanquish the stronger enemy as a team.

Game in Well

Our field work is mostly on a week day as on a working day, usually there are less number of visitors to temples. However, the major shrines with exquisite craftsmanship continue to attract a large number of devotees and hordes of tourists on all days.

On a chilly winter morning we along with a bus-load of tourists waited at the massive doors of an ancient temple for priests to open huge padlocks. A few minutes later I saw a group of four priests alight from a car, all of them draped in freshly laundered crisp white dhotis. The upper torso was bare and the sacred thread across the chest still had a tinge of turmeric. The freshly applied markings on the forehead proclaimed their sect.

One amongst them carried a three feet stout stick hoisted on his shoulder, the tip had a metal cap and several rings from which dangled half a dozen keys of various sizes. The smallest one was about ten inches in length and he started opening locks, the primitive security apparatus was in place to guard the priceless temple complex - the jewel of the Hoysala dynasty - the Sri Chennakeshava temple at Belur in Hassan district of Karnataka.

The sprawling temple premises housed about half a dozen independent shrines dedicated to the presiding deity Chennakeshava - the handsome Keshava and his consorts Soumya Nayaki and Ranga Nayaki and also the principle deities worshipped by the followers of Sri Vaishnava sect.

The stellar shaped shrines which looked like gigantic jewelled caskets dotted the sprawling twelfth century complex which was built by the Hoysala king Vishnuvardhana in 1117 AD.

The priests walked towards the well, unlocked grills at its mouth and drew water to wash their feet, the tourists rushed towards the central shrine and we began our hunt for games. Within minutes Raghu spotted a beautiful Aligulimane (Mancala) board in the middle of nowhere which was a bit surprising as it was the most uncomfortable location to sit and play, however we continued the search and located a dozen game boards within half an hour.

At regular intervals priests carrying brass pitchers appeared from the shrines and drew water from the well for the ritual bathing of the deity.
Dilip who was near the water source dug into his pocket and flung a coin into the water and peeped into the well. Lo and behold! A stone block in the sidewall had a 'goats and tigers' game etched on it.
The well-preserved game board which once upon a time must have been used for play was forever in disuse adorning the humid interiors of a sacred water body.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Inauguration of Kreedaa Kaushalya Exhibition

The ten day exhibition of Kreedaa Kaushalya was inaugurated by linguist Prof. Lingadevaru Halemane on Friday 16 May 2008 at 6 pm at Pratima Gallery, in front of Zoo, Mysuru, in the presence of Prof. R. Vasantha of Anantapur, journalist Krishna Vattam and Ramsons Kala Pratishtana's Chairman D. Ram Singh.

L-R: Krishna Vattam, Lingadevaru Halemane, R. Vasantha and D. Ram Singh

The exhibition features about 20 different games which have been crafted using traditional craft techniques from different parts of India. Game boards, pawns and dice in cloth, metal, wood, bone, stone and terracotta are on display.

Following are a few glimpses of this exhibition...


Paintings and oleographs by fifteen artists adorn the walls.

There is a game parlour for children to learn and play these games.