Monday, September 6, 2010

Outlook Magazine Features Us

Neha Bhatt of Outlook magazine had interviewed us few weeks back and has written the following article which appeared in the 30 August 2010 issue of Outlook.

The article and photograph given below is courtesy of Outlook India magazine. The portions in bold refer to us.


Games People Played
  • Pachisi/Pagade/Chaupad: Dating back to 4th century AD, and akin to Ludo, it is said to be India’s national board game and one of Akbar’s favourites
  • Pallanguzhi/Ali Guli Mane: Played traditionally with tamarind seeds/cowrie shells on a wooden board. Develops logic, hand-eye coordination, concentration
  • Parampadam: This is the original snakes and ladders, steeped in morality, various gods taking you to salvation, and demons plunging you into hell
  • Chaturanga: This ancestor of chess is said to be the game Yudhishthir lost to Duryodhana in the Mahabharata
  • Vimanam: A race game for two played on a printed kalamkari canvas board with wooden counters/coins and cowrie shells
  • Adu Puli Atam/Adu Huli: This game of tigers and goats, with one hunting the other, can still be found etched on temple floors. Improves strategy and concentration.
  • Chaukabara/Ashta Chemma/ Kavidi Kali: This game of chance designed on a mat and zari board or printed kalamkari canvas even has an online version now


On a flight to Chennai, Balasubramaniam Iyer, a corporate executive from Mumbai, spotted a news item that immediately sent him on a trip down memory lane. It was about a fledgling project in Chennai focused on reviving ancient Indian board games—the very ones he remembered playing as a child in Palakkad, Kerala. “I learned so many mathematical concepts by playing games such as pallanguzhi with my grandmother. I was impressed, therefore, that someone was actually venturing into a world not considered sexy any more, at least not by most children growing up today,” says Iyer. Soon after he got off the plane, Iyer hunted down Vinita Siddharth of Kreeda Games, the subject of the news item, and went back home to Mumbai with several games stacked inside his suitcase.

Ten years later, Iyer doesn’t regret his shopping spree. “I have bonded so much with my wife and daughter through these games,” he says. He isn’t the only one to have rediscovered the joys of gathering around a traditional board game with family and friends over tea and onion bhajjis. Games such as pallanguzhi, adu puli atam, paramapadam, pachisi and chaturanga (see box) are witnessing a quiet revival—and all thanks to groups, based mostly in south India, that have gone out on a limb to rekindle urban interest in them.

It is not as easy as it sounds. Ask the members of Kreedaa Kaushalya, a group set up by Mysore-based businessman R.G. Singh, along with his friends, graphic designer Raghu Dharmendra and general practitioner Dr C.R. Dileep Kumar. “We wanted to play the games we had enjoyed as children and couldn’t find them anywhere. So we travelled across the country and identified places where they were still played and produced, and where they still exist, engraved on temple walls and floors,” says Dharmendra. They then placed orders for the games with craftsmen in villages in Karnataka, Varanasi and Saharanpur. The trio also set up the blog to share anecdotes gathered from their field trips. Like the joy of stumbling upon a group of half-a-dozen men engrossed in a game of chaukabara, by the roadside on a winter morning in Jaipur. The game pattern was scribbled on the dusty ground with a piece of chalk; twigs and pebbles were being used as pawns, and split tamarind seeds in place of dice. These games are now retailed by Ramsons, a crafts store in Mysore, where you can find them inlaid on ashtrays, boxes and tables, or intricately woven into daris.

At Kreeda Games in Chennai, too, there is a profusion of traditional games, packaged in little cardboard boxes, eco-friendly and easy to carry. “We started off with 50 pieces of eight games each. Now we have 20 games in the market and we sell about 15,000 pieces a year across the country,” says Siddharth, who relied on people’s memories to rediscover long-lost rules of play, her research taking her to small towns, villages and old-age homes.

Diehard fans of Indian games, like R.G. Singh, staunchly believe that this is where real learning lies. “The traditional board games of yore involve physical activity, friendly banter, sharp and witty verbal exchanges and parallel thinking, along with the excitement of beating your opponent,” he says. Their USP, he adds, is that unlike in a game of Monopoly or carrom, there is always scope for improvisation with traditional games—simply because each game has multiple variations.

The charm of these games is that they are also intricately intertwined with social rituals and practices. At traditional weddings in the south, for example, the new bride plays a game of pachisi with her husband as part of the wedding ritual, and is gifted a game to take along with her to her in-laws’ place—a symbolic ice-breaker. Sujata Vijaya, a mother of two who runs a playschool in Chennai, sees these games as an effortless and entertaining way of transmitting cultural information. Her weekends involve a game or two of pagade (the Tamil variant of pachisi), pallanguzhi or bambaram (top and string) with her eight-year-old son Vedh and 12-year-old daughter Sanjana. “It’s a whole different experience from playing a regular, modern game, since we read traditional fables alongside. It’s also nice to bond over the same game with the kids and my in-laws,” says Sujata. “For my daughter Mythili, these games are like any other new toy—but with a different look. For us, though, it’s a way of introducing her to a part of our own childhood without forcing it upon her,” adds Hyderabad-based Rama Badam. Last month, Sujata’s son’s thread ceremony included a session of traditional games for the guests, and each child went home with a set of three as return gift. The games are also proving to be a big hit with nris, says Geetha Rao, of the Crafts Council of Karnataka, whose outlets stock them.

From urban homes, this trend has also moved to schools in the south, which are using them as learning aids, and during events such as Grandparents’ Day at which children and grandparents play them together. Constructive learning fused with tradition, and intergenerational camaraderie apart, it is also the affordability of these games, largely made of cheap materials and priced anywhere between Rs 40 and Rs 1,000, that adds to their appeal, says Sindhu Suneel of Kid’s Central, a school in Chennai.

But if you are a collector like Maya Sitaram, a Mysore-based development consultant, cost is no consideration. Every one of the 60-odd games she owns has a story behind it; they were sourced, she says, from places “where you would not think of finding them, from roadside sellers to temples”. Interestingly, the games are also finding their way up skyscrapers as management tools in glass-walled offices. While Iyer, who is Reliance Industries’ head of human resources, keeps a set or two in the cafeteria for employers to let off steam, at Chennai’s Honeywell office, T. Karthikeyan, head of marketing, has introduced traditional board games in management workshops. “It is fascinating,” he says. “We are discovering hidden management concepts and strategies in the very games that we played as children.”

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Times of India Article

Today's 'Times of India' Bangalore edition has carried an article on our research on board games as well as an informal interview of me and R.G. Singh. Ms. Parvati Harikumar of Time News Network has authored the article. You can find the article here. Below this, you can read complete article.



Its time to relive the magic, of board games thanks to the pioneering efforts of three researchers from Mysore

Parvathi Hari Kumar | TNN

Pallanguzhi, Navakankari, Adu Huli, Chauka Bara, Chaupar. Ring a bell maybe grandma mentioned them when she reminisced about her childhood and how long afternoons were spent.

When Nintendo, PlayStation laid siege to drawing rooms and lazy afternoons, these traditional board games were forgotten and the beautiful mancala boards tucked away in the attic.

Board games have a history stretching to antiquity in India. Stories abound in Indian mythology and culture of kings and gods obsessed with them. It was Duryodhana's deception at chaupar or pachisi that set up the epic war of the Mahabharatha. Mughal king Akbar too was a great fan of chaupar. Fatehpur Sikri has a courtyard which doubled as a chaupar board. And the pawns the women from his harem!

Closer home is the Jaganmohan Palace in Mysore. When the British took over the reins from Krishna Raja Wodeyar III and reduced him to a figurehead, the king spent his time not just playing board games but also inventing some very complex games. On the third floor of the (Jaganmohan) palace, the walls are painted with the games he invented and improvised upon. At the 13th Board Games Colloquim in Paris last month, German scholar Irving Finkel in his address paid homage to Wodeyar III, the master of board games.

It was a challenge that set off this trio from Mysore R G Singh, businessman, Raghu Dharmendra, graphic designer and Dr C R Dileep Kumar, a general (medical) practitioner on a delightful discovery. They unearthed a treasure trove in their quest to document traditional Indian board games during their travels across Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh.

'When I asked research scholars for information on Indian board games, I found them reluctant to talk about them. I took it up as a challenge and set out to document them,' says Singh.
Their favourite haunts were village quadrangles, old homes and temples. 'Just look around the temples. You'd be surprised at the games you'll find etched on the stones. Sometimes the uninitiated dismiss them as part of the architecture or inscriptions,' says Singh. At times, it takes an eagle's eye to spot the games. At the Chennakeshava temple in Belur, they found a game of goats and tigers etched on a stone inside the temple well. 'Masons must have etched the game during construction, and then used the stone to build the well,' reasons Singh.

'People are bemused when they see us photographing the floors, and not the temple or its architecture,' says Dharmendra. 'Before you know it, a conversation unfolds, dice, cowrie shells or pebbles roll out and a palpable sense of excitement grips the air as a game is on. Amazingly, people open up when they see our interest in the games. They call for very little investment sticks, tamarind seeds or even buttons can be used as pawns,' Dharmendra adds. 'It speaks volumes of our ancestors' creativity,' chips in Singh.

But it is Krishna Raja Wodeyar III's genius that never ceases to amaze Singh.Trying to solve some of his games could keep you occupied for years, he says. One of his most complex games is the Navagraha Pagade Ata with Indian astrology and astronomy incorporated into it. In the book Sritattvanidhi, currently with the Oriental Research Institute and Kuvempu University, the king in the last chapter Kautuka Nidhi, describes the games he invented and their rules. Most manuscripts written by the king are either in museums abroad or with private collectors in Europe.

'Framing the rules is no easy task. Many a times locals have helped us unravel the games and their rules,' says Dharmendra on whom rests the task of chronicling the rules. 'Indians,' laughs Singh, 'are experts at introducing subrules in games when they find themselves losing.' 'The loser does'nt get away with just losing. In a game of pallanguzhi or alugulimane, the loser is humiliated with songs, or he has to run around with the board on his head. In Chamrajanagar, the rules are that the 14 pits (of aligulimane) are filled with ash, and the loser has to blow them away,' reveals Dharmendra.

The games have evoked great interest among western researchers. They are said to improve mathematical skills, dexterity, memory, hone logical and strategical thinking, even keep dementia and Alzheimers at bay.

V Balambal, former history professor, University of Madras, and author of 'Folk Games of Tamil Nadu' says: Pallanguzhi (Oware in Africa and Warri in the Caribbean) is used in schools in the West Indies and Africa to improve mental skills and teach arithmetics. Balambal rues that while these games are often topics of research in the West, they have evoked very little interest back home. 'My Spanish friend, who is visually impaired, has proved that Pallanguzhi can be played even by them,' she reveals.

In Karnataka, intricately linked to the revival of these games are also the craft traditions of the state. The Ramsons Kala Pratishtana (RKP) in Mysore has found a novel way to keep alive the games as well as the dying crafts. 'We used some crafts like Bidriware, Kasuti embroidery, the Navalgund dhurries to create game boards and designs,' says Singh, also the secretary of RKP.
Interwoven cleverly on the Navalgund dhurries are a game of pachisi with the traditional peacocks woven delicately around it; the Kasuti embroidery too is used to weave games; inlaid on ashtrays, boxes and tables using bidriware are games like adu huli (tiger and goat) and the traditional turning techniques of Channapatna artisans are used to make colourful pawns.

Next time you visit grandma, leave that laptop and iPod behind and get her to play her favourite board game. Her mental agility could stump you.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Board Game - Moon Travel

This board game appeared in the 1969 Yugadi special issue of Sudha, the Kannada weekly magazine. The game starts with the Moon mission taking off and going through various phases and difficulties and landing on the Moon. Later, taking off from the Moon surface the probe has to enter the Earth's atmosphere and land safely on the surface of Earth.

This game is played just like Snakes and Ladders or Monopoly. Two or more people can play with one pawn each using a dice. The game starts from the House No. 1. Play along according to the throw of dice and also the instructions given in the game board.

This game was conceptualised by Rajashekhar S. Bhusanurmath specially for this issue. The maverick journalist of yesteryears M.B. Singh, the then editor of the magazine gave the idea.

This board is in Kannada, I will try to translate it into English and post it sometimes later.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

How to Play Nau Keti Keta

Nau Keti Keta or Lau Kati Kata
(9 Boys & Girls)
Game board - 1
Pawns - 9 +9

This is a war game played by 2 players. One player gets a group of 9 (nau) boys (keta) and another gets a group of 9 girls (keti)

Winner: Player who takes out all enemy pawns out of the board is the winner.

How to play:
1. Pawns have to be placed only on intersections of lines (shown by blue dots in Fig. 1)
2. During a turn only one coin has to be played.

3. At the beginning both armies are placed on the board as depicted by white and black dots in Fig. 2.
4. During a turn only one pawn has to move to an adjacent point which is connected to its current point by a line. It can move in any direction. See Fig. 3

5. If a point is not connected to its present point by a line, the pawn cannot move there. See Fig.4
6. If a pawn encounters a lone opponent such that there is an open point just behind the opponent (in the same line), then the pawn jumps over the latter to the open point and takes the opponent out of the board. In Fig. 5, the white pawn jumps over the black pawn and the black pawn is cut.

7. A pawn can jump over multiple opponents during its turn provided it should always land on an empty junction before jumping over the next opponent (this is similar to multiple-cutting option as in Checkers). In Fig. 6 observe that one white pawn has jumped over three black pawns, thus cutting all three.
8. There is no limit for a pawn to cut its opponent pawns in a single turn. Sometimes it happens so that one single pawn can wreak major havoc in opponent pawns during multiple-cutting.

9. A pawn cannot jump over an opponent if there is no open point behind the opponent as shown below in Fig. 7. A pawn cannot jump over opponent pawn if no line is connecting its point with that of the opponent’s (see Fig. 8 )
10. A pawn cannot jump over an empty point at anytime, not even to cut a pawn as shown in Fig.9. A pawn cannot change direction while cutting a pawn as shown in Fig 10.
11. A cut pawn is permanently out of the game and cannot be reintroduced on the board during that game.

12. The player who has cut all of opponent pawns is the winner.

Benefits: This is an exciting game which helps develop strategy. Both players should be very careful and attentive since danger can be lurking anywhere. A weak moment of judgement can cause major crisis in the form of multiple-cutting.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

How to Play Navakankari

Navakankari is wellknown as Nine Men’s Morris or Mills in the western world. Navakankari is the sanskrit name which means nine pebbles. It is known as Saalu Mane Ata or Jodpi Ata or Char-Par in Kannada, Navkakri in Gujarati and Daadi in Telugu. This is an alignment game played by 2 players. Each player gets 9 nine pawns.

The game of Nava Kankari is played on a board consisting of three concentric squares connected by lines from the middle of each of the inner square's sides to the middle of the corresponding outer square's side.

Pieces are played on the points where two or more lines meet or intersect, so there are 24 playable points. This is a two-player game and each player gets 9 coins of different colour.

Contents: Game board - 1
Pawns - 9 +9

Preparation and Objective:

The basic aim of a player is to make ‘Mills’ - vertical or horizontal lines of three coins of same colour. Every time this is achieved, an opponent's piece is removed, the overall objective is to reduce the number of opponent's coins to 'two' or to block all moves of the opponent thus rendering the opponent unable to play.

How to play: 1. To begin with the board is empty.

2. Coins have to be placed only on intersections of lines (shown by blue dots in Fig. 1). During a turn only one coin has to be played.

3. Players toss a coin to decide who plays first and has a slight advantage as a result. Play is in two phases.

Phase 1:

4. To begin with, players alternately place one of their coin on any unoccupied point on the board.

5. A player has to place a coin such that he can make a 'Mill' or blocking the opponent from making a Mill.

6. A Mill is a formation of three coins of a player in a line either horizontally (Fig.2 & Fig.4) or vertically (Fig.3)

7. Mill is not formed when coins are not on a connected straight line (Fig. 5, Fig.6 & Fig. 7)

8. Whenever a Mill is formed by a player, he has to remove one of the opponent's coin from board which was not a part of a Mill. Coins in a Mill are safe and cannot be removed. Coins which are not in a Mill are unsafe.

9. The player has to strategically remove such a coin of opponent which would have helped the opponent in making a Mill in future.

10. A coin once removed from the board cannot be placed again on the board.

11. Phase 1 ends when all 18 coins have been placed on the board by players.

Phase 2:

12. After placing all coins on board, players start moving their coins. During a turn only one coin has to move (in any possible direction) to an adjacent empty point which is connected to its current point by a line (See following)

13. A coin cannot jump any coin or point (Fig.11). A coin cannot move to a point if (a) that point is not connected to its present point by a straight line (Fig.12) or (b) the point is not empty (Fig.13).

14. The player tries to either create a Mill and remove opponent's one coin or block opponent's Mill.

15. A player can make as many Mills as possible with his coins.

16. A Mill can be broken by its owner by moving one of its three coins. During another turn the player can remake the same Mill by moving back that same coin and remove an opponent's coin.

17. A player can capture maximum of 3 opponent's coins by making and remaking any particular Mill, once when it is first made and one each when it is broken and remade twice. Further breaking and remaking of that particular Mill will not empower the player to remove any of the opponent's coin.

18. A player loses the game when he is left with only two coins or when he cannot move any of his coins.

Benefits: This is an exciting game which helps develop strategy and planning.

Following is the flash animation created by me which shows how to play this game.

Mr. Faraz Khokhar has developed an app of this game. It is on Google Play and you can download it here.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Article in Sudha

This is an article about the exhibition of 'Kreedaa Kaushalya' appeared in the well known Kannada weekly magazine 'Sudha' in its 15 May 2008 issue. It was authored by C.G. Manjula.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Forgotten in Mysore, Remembered in France Today

Following article appeared in the well known evening newspaper Star of Mysore, yesterday. Yesterday 14 April, was the first day of the four day international symposium '13th Board Games Studies Colloquium' at France. 

14 April 2010. Star of Mysore


Master of Board Games: Mummadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar

Mysore, Apr. 14- The 13th Board Games Studies colloquium began this morning at the FIAP Jean-Monnet Centre in Paris.

The four-day colloquium will conclude on Apr. 17. German scholar Irving Finkel in his address "A very early counting system in traditional Indian games," will pay homage to Mummadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar III, the then Maharaja of Mysore who was the Master of Board Games.

Maharaja Mummadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar was not only interested in philosophy, astrology and mathematics but invented complex symbolic games and puzzles. Only a few of the encylopedic records made by Mummadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar are to be found in the Jaganmohan Palace Art Gallery while the majority of manuscripts are either in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London or in private collections in the United Kingdom and Germany.

In 1982, a remarkable double-sided Mysore game board in rosewood, inlaid with ivory, was discovered in London.

This reversible folding board game (Karmic game of Shivasayujam) is a version invented by Krishnaraja Wadiyar based on snakes and ladders.

In this Shivasayujam board, the deity appears in 'Mukhalinga' form at the centre, with Nandi, Ganesha and other deities. The six concentric circles lead to Shiva's abode and contain numerous ivory roundel plaques with images and inscriptions engraved and highlighted with lac. The four players each have six pieces, whose starting squares are marked within lotuses at the corners of the board.

Another invention of Mummadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar is to be found not in Mysore but in the Victoria and Albert Museum. According to Veronica Murphy and Andrew Topsfield, formerly of the V&A Museum, this magic board game was designed for four-handed chess.

The Maharaja also invented a numerical table in chess, found in V&A Museum (Catalogue No. 9047). The full text (beneath a Mysore Royal Crest) reads: "The following Numerical Table in chess has been invented by HIS HIGHNESS Maha Rajah Krishna Rajah Wodayer Bahandar Rajah of Mysore, on 31st July, 1852. On this board of 64 squares termed Poornataraculpaturro, the figures are placed according to the movements of the knight, which give a total of 260 in 116 different ways, by adding the figures horizontally, perpendicularly, and in a variety of other ways, taking at a time 8 spaces that bear the same relative position to each other. It further rests with the ingenious to obtain the singular numerical property on this board of 64 squares in which the knight is made to move, for instance, 130 if 4 spaces, 260 if 8 spaces, 520 if 16 spaces, 1040 of 32 spaces, and 2080 if 64 spaces are added together."

There is a reference to the Maharaja's Knight's moves in H.J.R. Murray's "The Magic Knight's tours: A mathematical recreation."

A game board diagram inscribed by the Maharaja was sold at Sotheby's auction on Apr. 8, 1983 (Lot 209). A Karmic version of snake & ladder invented by the Maharaja, in a private collection in Britain, was later sold by Sotheby's on Nov. 23, 1987 (Lot 395). The provenance note of Lot 395 says: "Said by the late owner to have come from the Mysore Palace, as a gift from the Maharaja, in about 1875."

Andrew Topsfield of the V&A Museum says that if this dating, 1875, is accurate, this Maharaja would have been not Krishnaraja but his successor !!!

Art historian Vasantha Rangachar says the five manuscripts written in 1855 on board games writer Krishnaraja — Chaturanga Sarasvasam of 666 pages; Sri Krishnaraja Chaturanga Sudha-kara of 118 pages; Kempu Kitabu of 98 pages; Sankhya Shastra of 65 pages; Chaturanga Chamat-krita Chakramanjar of 248 pages — are now in the British Library.

Two manuscripts also written in 1855 are found in the Oriental Research Library and Kuvempu Institute of Kannada Studies. Incidentally both the manuscripts are "out of bounds' for public.

A city-based researcher into the antiquity of board games was not allowed to even take a look at the manuscripts because he was not a post-graduate, because he was not associated with any college body and because he was a, in the eyes of the University, common man !

The German Scholar Finkel in "A Raja's Diversions: Board Games in Mysore," and "Asian Games: The Art of Contest" (Eds: Mackenzie and Finkel) has this to say, '... their achievements are recorded in his court manuscripts, which played a central role in the Raja's programme of documentation and dissemination of his games' creation: for he wished, in his own words, to "broadcast them to the world."

This is being done in London and today in Paris, but not in the heritage city of Mysore.

'According to modern oral tradition at Mysore, the Maharaja would lock himself up in the Krishna Temple inside the Mysore Palace for many hours a day. Legend has it that Krishna himself descended from heaven and played games with Wadiyar...'

'Krishnaraja describes a board array called "Garuda Vyuha" and discusses the positioning of pieces to block the opponent: with Minister confronting the Raja at f7, camel at d5 and d8, chariot at d4 and d9, flag at e3 and e10, the house and chariot at equal distance from the Minister maintaining a balanced force, and the pawns at c4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9.'


Monday, January 18, 2010

The Search for Ganjifa

Following is an article on Ganjifa card game by Rudi von Leyden which was published in June 1983 issue of The India Magazine. This magazine is long extinct now. Hope this article will be useful for people who wanna know more about the Ganjifa card game.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Online Adu Huli

One Mr. Prakash has built an online Adu Huli game where one can play online. He built it after going through this blog and reading the rules of Adu Huli. Following is the url of that game. If interested go and play Adu Huli at

Thank you Prakash.