Saturday, April 2, 2016

Abstract of the Talk by RG Singh

RG Singh has been invited by the 19th International Board Games Studies Colloquium being held at Nuremberg, Germany from 12 to 16 April 2016. He will be presenting a talk on 'Chaduranga Chakra' of Mummadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar. Following is the abstract of the talk.

Mysuru (earlier Mysore), erstwhile capital Wodeyar kings, is a city of Palaces, mansions and tree-lined boulevards. Herein resides the intangible heritage of this city. One such heritage is that of being a repository of extraordinary board games whose architect was the Maharaja of Mysuru himself, Krishnaraja Wodeyar III (b. 1794; r. 1799-1868 C.E.)

The reign of this king saw Mysuru, becoming a ‘hothouse’ of cultural renaissance.

This, however, was short-lived. Charges of maladministration and sundry other charges were levelled by the British (who colonised the sub-continent) and soon enough the kingdom’s administration was in the hands of British East India Company and the king left with a meagre pension. This period lasted from 1831 to 1881 C.E.

The king Krishnaraja Wodeyar III (a.k.a. Mummadi), with enforced leisure on his hands, sought inner peace in the mysterious world of Traditional Board Games.

Mummadi was just 38 years old when he was divested of the administration of his kingdom. And at that age he was already a master of board games, as a player and as an ingenious inventor who elaborated traditional games by incorporating varied concepts like morality, astrology, religious hymns, etc.  All these were transcribed by teams of artists and scribes into illustrated manuscripts.

There are at least six illustrated board game manuscripts that are attributed to Mummadi. One version that will be the subject of the talk by R.G. Singh is the Chaduranga Chakra. The manuscript is elegantly inscribed in the Kannada script and has around 208 pages.

The book does not have a foreword giving rise to the speculation that it may be part of several similar volumes.  It is in the Chaduranga Chakra that one comes across the famous Knight’s Magic Tour that has intrigued board game theoreticians across the world.

The Chaduranga Chakra incidentally is not just about the various polyrhythmic variations about chess but also touches upon in detail about two other ‘inventions’ of the king. One is the ‘Shivasauyujya Mukti’ Pagade (Pachisi) where in the centre is the figure of the deity who appears as ‘Mukhalinga’ along with Nandi (Bull mount of Shiva), Ganesha (elephant headed Hindu God) and several other deities. The four players have six pieces each whose starting squares are marked within the Lotuses at the corners of the playing area. The other invention of the king is the ‘Devisayujya Mukti’ game dedicated to the Goddess Chamundeshwari (the tutelary deity of Mysuru rulers).

Mummadi’s innovations in Pachisi game like eight handed and twelve handed Pachisi with its spiritual implications is remarkable for its ingenuity. A couple of games of Ganjifa playing cards invented by Mummadi also find a mention in this book.

Krishnaraja Wodeyar III died on 27 March 1868. The corpus of his gaming achievements have not been properly studied till date. Deciphering Chadauranga Chakra is a step in this direction. 

Programmes at the Colloquium at Nuremberg

Here is the program schedule of the 19th International Board game Studies Colloquium which will be held at Nuremberg, Germany from 12 to 16 April 2016.

Preliminary Agenda of BGS XIX 2016

TUESDAY / 12th April

18/30  Informal Reception and Accreditation
            German Games Archive Nuremberg, Pellerhaus, 1st floor
            Egidienplatz 23, 90403 Nuremberg

WEDNESDAY / 13th April

SESSIONS: Ancient Times / Chess and chess-related / Medieval Games
8/30    Accreditation
9/00    Ajax and Achilles playing Pente Grammai Redux – several more sub-realities that may lurk behind Execias’ most famous vase : Peter Shotwell, Las Cruces
9/30    Stranger Games: The life and times of the spintriae: Eddie Duggan, Ipswich
10/15  Coffee Break
10/45  Draughts (checkers) and Chess in Germany : Arie van der Stoep, Utrecht
11/15  Schada – The World Game : Fred Horn, Den Haag
11/45  The Mantrin in Traditional Indian Chess and his Peculiar Notion of War : Maria Schetelich, Leipzig
12/30  Lunch
14/00  Social importance of board games in feudal states of northwestern India of the 18th and 19th century : Leander A. Feiler, Riemerling
14/45  Coffee Break
15/15  The History and Distribution of Táb: A Survey of Petra’s Gaming Boards and a first attempt at programming Táb playing rules : Alex de Voogt, New York
15/45  From Ludus latrunculorum to Hnefatafl (and beyond) : Matthias Teichert, Göttingen
16/30  Medieval board games carved in stone in Falaise Castle: Sylvestre Jonquay, Angerville-l'Orcher
17/00  The Game of the Universe : Adrian Seville, London
18/30  Formal Reception
            (Hirsvogelsaal, Hirschelgasse 9-11, 90403 Nuremberg)

THURSDAY / 14th April

SESSIONS: Game Pieces / Modern History / Theory
9/00    Proto-Chess: No! Proto-Chessmen: Yes! Origin of Chess – New Considerations and Conclusions : Manfred A. J. Eder, Kelkheim
9/30    Lost in Transition: Game artefacts on display and the quest for provenance : Elke Rogersdotter, Uppsala
10/15  Coffee Break
10/45  Theory of the introduction of Shogi via Southeast Asia: Viewed from the forms of Makruk pieces : Yasuji Shimizu, Kashihara
11/15  German wooden games pieces. Unique objects The collection of Werner Pöll 17-10-1940 – 25-10-2003 : Wim van Mourik, Veenendaal
12/00  Lunch
13/00  Guided Tour: The renaissance part of the Pellerhaus
14/00  Golok Dhām – a late 19th century Bengali promotion game : Jakob Schmidt-Madsen, Copenhagen
14/30  For a Limited Time Only – Advertising and Premium Games : Bruce Whitehill, Eickeloh
15/15  Coffee Break
15/45  ROVO - History of the Company Erich Röber Apparatebau : Jakob Gloger , Leipzig
16/15  Through the Lens of Choice, Randomness and Interaction: 20 Years of Spiel des Jahres Winners : David King, London
16/45  About the Correlation amid the Physical and Mental Appearance of a Game : Borko Tepina, Ljubljana
18/00  Guided Tour through the Altstadthof Brewery and Cellars
19/00  Colloquium Dinner (Altstadthof Brewery: Bergstraße 19, 90403 Nuremberg)

FRIDAY, 15th April

SESSIONS: Haba Excursion / Theory / Social and Educational Aspects
8/00    Bus departure to Bad Rodach at the Pellerhaus
            German Games Archive, Egidienplatz 23, 90403 Nürnberg
10/00  Guided tour through Haba Manufactory
12/00  Lunch
12/30  Return to Nuremberg
14/00  planned arrival in Nuremberg
14/30  Ancient Board Games – emblems of creation : Chris van de Riet, Goor
15/00  Togyzkumalak, the “algebra of shepherd” History, current practice and mathematical aspects : Jean Retschitzki, Fribourg
15/45  Measuring Drama in Goose-like games : João Pedro Neto and Jorge Nuno Silva, Lisbon
16/15  Rithmomachia – Erudite Pastime or Educational Game : Sophie Caflisch, Zurich
17/00  Coffee Break
17/30  Intercultural aspects of (board) games : Ralf Kuhn, Saarbrücken
18/00  Considering Transcultural German Conversation Lessons Using Traditional Japanese Games : Asuka Yamazaki, Kyoto
18/30  The Japanese Period of Alex Randolph : Cosimo Cardellicchio and Guiseppe Baggio, Bari
20/00  Get Together, game playing and insight into the collection of the German Games Archive, including display collection of Alex Randolph’s prototypes

SATURDAY, 16th April

Sessions: Social and Educational Aspects
9/00    Cultural Play – A tangible interactive board game project on the religious monuments of Singapore : Ng Ee Ching, Singapore
9/30    History Teaching with Ancient Board Games : Marco Tibaldini, Bergamo
10/15  Coffee Break
10/45  Are we playing the game or is the game playing us? : David Parlett, London
11/15  One Man’s Trash Is Another Man’s Treasure: An Investigation Into the Culture of Board Games and Yard Sales : Michele R. King, Williamsburg
12/00  Top Stories: Narrative Qualities of Traditional Games : Francesca Berti, Tübingen
12/30  The game as a motor of social development : Tom Werneck, Haar
13/15  Farewell Lunch
15/00  After Colloquium Excursion

            Museum of Industrial Culture and its computer and digital games collection (Guided Tour) Museum of Industrial Culture, Äußere Sulzbacher Straße 62 90491 Nuremberg

Article in The Week Magazine

The 27 March 2016 issue of The Week magazine has carried an article on Kreedaa Kaushalya. You can read the article here.

India, on board

Learning to play, the Indian way: Children playing Shisima, a traditional boardgame marketed by KEC Games.

Entrepreneurs and enthusiasts are trying to rescue traditional boardgames from oblivion
Once upon a time in India, boardgames were all the rage. Take Satyajit Ray’s Shatranj Ke Khilari. The film is set in 1856, when the kingdom of Awadh was under a treaty of friendship with the British. Its ruler, Nawab Wajid Ali Shah (Amjad Khan), is an extravagant man who prefers arts to matters of the state. Parallel to the story of him being overthrown is the tale of two noblemen of Lucknow, Mirza Sajjad Ali (Sanjeev Kumar) and Mir Roshan Ali (Saeed Jaffrey), who are so obsessed with the game of chess that they neglect their families. When they learn about British troops marching towards Lucknow to annex Awadh, Mir and Mirza decide to abandon their families and run off to a remote village, where they can spend the rest of their lives playing chess.

Such was the popularity of boardgames in the past. But now, in the age of PlayStation and smartphones, traditional boardgames have lost some of their lure. But not all of it, thanks to people like R. Gyaneshwar Singh of Mysuru. Known as RGS among the city’s culture vultures, Singh and his Ramsons Kala Pratishtana Trust have been instrumental in reviving interest in traditional boardgames through exhibitions and workshops.

Through an initiative called Kreedaa Kaushalya, started in 2007, he and his colleagues have taught thousands of men, women and children how to play traditional games. “In the past, recreational activity centred on boardgames like Ali Guli Mane (Pallanguzhi in Tamil), Pagade, Pachisi and so on. There was no home that did not have at least one boardgame like Ludo and Snakes & Ladders,” says Singh. “The rapidity of social and cultural change soon led to many game boards being relegated to the attic or storeroom. Couldn’t these games be revived? It was as an answer to this question that we created an annual traditional boardgames festival…. The first exhibition, Kreedaa Kaushalya, was held in 2007 at the Pratima Gallery in Mysuru. Since then, it has been a fixture in the city’s calendar.”

Several organisations are now working towards reviving interest in traditional boardgames. Chennai-based writer Vinita Siddharth founded a company called Kreeda after a series of newspaper reports she wrote about traditional boardgames got enthusiastic response. It inspired her to make traditional toys and games and display them at a local store. They were sold out in no time. “This was a huge learning for me,” says Vinita, whose Kreeda is now a well-known name in the traditional toys market. “I work with three to four dedicated employees who work on this with a lot of interest.”

Gyaneshwar Singh playing a game of Dash-Guti at a ghat in Varanasi.

Mumbai-based boardgame enthusiasts Manisha and Vaishali Gadekar launched KEC Games in 2009 to give children a taste of desi games. “We knew we were swimming against the tide,” says Manisha. “Plastic, mechanised and digital toys had become all the rage. But we just went on with our search for indigenous toymakers.”

In 2008, they found the artisans they were looking for, and manufacturing began. A year later, they were ready with their first batch of indigenous toys and games. Today, KEC Games offer as many as 40 game kits, priced between Rs 100 and Rs 700.

Recently, they introduced Saap-Seedi (a regional version of Snakes & Ladders) printed on a cloth that can be rolled up after use. “It has been designed by Gond craftsmen and the ink is made from soya oil,” says Manisha. “One of the strongest plus points of these Indian-origin games is that they are environment friendly. There is not a trace of plastic in any of the game kits. They are made of natural material like wood, cloth and palm leaf.”

In this era of virtual games, says Gyaneshwar Singh, people are excited when they see, touch and unfurl a Pagade game-cloth created in Kalamkari. “Rubbing the twin wooden dices between your palms and rolling them on the floor are so much fun when compared to touching a button on your iPhone,” he says.

It is no wonder then that boardgames are slowly making a comeback. “It may be surprising to know that the most boisterous and positive response has been from the IT crowd,” says Singh. “A group of technocrats recently picked up a dozen of these games to play at their annual get-together.”

Man and his moves: Gyaneshwar Singh.

K.S. Sreeranjani of Bengaluru started Kavade Toys in 2008 “to fill a gap that needed to be filled” in the gaming market. “If our generation gives these games up, they would become extinct,” says Sreeranjani, a mother of two who holds a master’s in applied genetics. “My sons have their share of gadgets and this is not a battle with technology. We need it [traditional games] in our lives. This is to show that there is alternative entertainment available.”

THE INITIATIVES TO spread awareness of indigenous games are benefitting artisans, too. The Ramsons Kala Pratishtana Trust has identified around 35 “craft clusters” across the country and handpicked those suited for crafting boardgames. “Each board is crafted by traditional craftspersons,” says Singh. “For example, the Pagade boards are made by Kalamkari craftspersons of Srikalahasti [in Andhra Pradesh]. The wooden dices are made by craftsmen of Saharanpur [in Uttar Pradesh], while the counters are made of lacquerware by artisans of Channapatna [in Karnataka]. Each piece has an individuality of its own and that is what makes them unique. All materials used in creating the boards and game accessories are natural and eco-friendly. These aspects make these boardgames more expensive than mass-produced, eco-unfriendly toys. Hence, our products come under the tag of luxury. Yes, this [pricing] is a major concern, but we try to keep the project afloat because of our passion.”

Thanks to the time-consuming process involved in crafting the accessories, the Ramsons Kala Pratishtana Trust does not produce more than 800 game kits a year. “We don’t want to use mass methods of manufacturing,” says Singh. The price of the kits ranges from Rs 300 to Rs 20,000. There are large, expensive pieces like the Mancala game board, which has 14 pits made in brass and can be used as a showpiece.

The indigenous games have found a wide variety of takers—from students and teachers to professionals and even doctors. Vinita says Pallanguzhi is a great way to learn mathematical concepts and, as it involves touching and feeling the accessories, is prescribed by the Kerala-based ayurveda centre Kottakkal Arya Vaidya Sala to help patients who have arthritis. “Interestingly,” says Gyaneshwar Singh, “The Journal of American Medical Association and The Lancet have suggested that playing these traditional boardgames could lead to a drastic reduction of the risk of many forms of dementia in the elderly.”