The Mylapore Festival was an opportunity to play traditional board games.
It was a chilly evening around the temple tank in the Kalpaleeshwarer Temple vicinity. The usual hustle and bustle of the area was intensified as the Mylapore festival was reaching its culmination.
This festival began in the early 2000s as a simple kolam festival. As the years rolled, it evolved into this large festival that brought culture and traditions to be enjoyed not only by the people of Mylapore but also by all Chennaiites. Special stalls included Tamil books and food cooked by the ladies of Mylapore.
Are you game?
The main highlight was the traditional board game contests. On the spot draws were made as the judges made sure that no member of the same family played together. There were instances when a 10-year-old played with a 70-year-old patti.
The two traditional board game contests were Dayakkattai and Pallankuzhi. Both of ancient origins, so ancient that they cannot be dated. They are referred to in ancient texts, seen in sculptures and in paintings.
In the beginning the Dayakkattai “boards” were drawn on the ground, “scratched” on stones (you can see it in on the floors of temples) grew and evolved as new rules and regulations were made. The rich had them made in marble and in ivory. Some were drawn on cloth so that they could be rolled up and carried while travelling. Seeds, neat pieces of wood were used as the “kaai”. As with Pallankuzhi, apart from a very basic game, there were variations, getting more complicated, more advanced and more challenging and of course more fun.
Pallankuzhi which literally meant “Pal” – many, “Kuzhi” – pits - was a favourite in Tamil Nadu and was played mainly by the women.
In West Africa this game was known as “Mancala”, in Punjab as “Kutki Boia” and in Sri Lanka as “Chonka”.
These games improved mathematical and geometrical skills and honed calculating ability (who can forget Shakuni in ‘Mahabaratha' who won the game of dice for the Kauravas?) and the art of concentration. Moreover patience was cultivated and the games were a great bonding factor during family get-togethers.
Festivals like this create and revive an interest in traditions and traditional games that enrich our lives.