Society

Top of the game

“Take five pebbles from one pit and drop one each into the other pits on the board,” says a staff from Kreeda, the Chennai-based organisation that’s into reviving traditional Indian games, as I settle myself for a game of pallankuzhi. The rules are simple First, each of the 14 pits on the board are filled with five pebbles each. Each player has to scoop them out and release one each into subsequent pits, and keep at it until they encounter an empty pit. “That’s when you collect the stones in it and keep them for yourself. Whoever gets the most is the winner; you have to do it real fast,” says the staff, before giving a quick demonstration.

In the past, the game, which is based on the concept of ‘sowing and harvesting’, was played using tamarind seeds, roadside pebbles or cowry shells. Today, if you order a set online, you might be unwrapping a neatly-packaged cardboard box, complete with a board made of highly-compressed waste wood, carefully-selected pure white pebbles, and an elaborate list of rules. The revival of traditional games is in full swing, with games of our grandmothers’ times — parama padam (snakes and ladders), aadu puli aattam (goat and lion game), dahdi (similar to tic tac toe), goli (a game of marbles), pambaram (tops), gilli danda (the stick and peg game), chathurvimshathi koshtaka (a battlefield game in 24 squares) to mention a few — now available at a single click, thanks to the revamped website of Kreeda, and a relatively new company called Pachisi, also based in Chennai.

The games stemmed from the need to keep oneself occupied. Hence, most of them are low maintenance, and easily accessible. Take, for instance, seven stones, which requires one to place a stack of stones one above the other, and then aim another stone at it to collapse the pile, or aadu puli aattam, which can be played by drawing a quick pattern on the floor with chalk and picking a couple of seeds, or shells, as coins. “It depended on one’s lifestyle. Those living by the coast found it comfortable to draw patterns on the sand and use shells, and others used what was available — like seeds, coconut shells and so on,” says G.S. Sreeranjini, who runs Kavade, an organisation which retails traditional Indian games and runs a gaming arena for traditional games in Bangalore. “It’s an irony that I run a store for board games, given the games do not require a board. They can be played wherever and whenever. It’s we who modified it, and gave it a look that is accepted today,” she says.

Also, the materials used largely depended on the strata of society one belonged to. Kings used brass dice and boards, whereas peasants used everyday materials, chips in Neha Murthy, founder of Pachisi, which makes board games that double up as table mats and framed showpieces.

There is elaborate mention about it in A Book of Historic Board Games by Damian Gareth Walker, and a documentation by Irving Finkel, says Neha, who uses the texts for her research. Unlike today, the games were not restricted to children; it was applicable to all. Remember the game of dice between Yudhisthir and Shakuni in the Mahabharata?

Despite a strong mention about communities gathering to play games, and temple floor patterns standing as proof for the same, there is a tendency to ignore games while talking about Indian heritage. “Games form an important part in understanding our culture. There is a great interlink between life and games,” says Vinita Siddhartha, founder of Kreeda, who has spent 15 years researching on Indian games. And that is why, like the Shakespearean plays, these games hold much relevance even today.

Parama padam or snakes and ladders teaches one how to accept defeat courageously and success humbly; dhayam, in which a player is likely to get thrown out midway, teaches one to start patiently from scratch and work towards the goal; seven stones is all about our capacity to destroy and create; nondi or hopscotch teaches one resilience to reach the goal despite challenges; and pachakuthira (leapfrog) , in which one player has to jump over another who stands bent, drives home the point of humility, sacrifice and the importance of helping others to make progress, she explains.

Vinita has been talking about these in schools, orphanages and even old age homes, for team building, goal setting and decision making. In response, there is a general increase in the interest to learn, she says. Today, Kreeda gets around 200 orders a month, and plans to kickstart courier options worldwide, especially to cater to NRIs. Meanwhile, Kavade is seeing an all-time high of customers in the age group of 13 to 18 at their gaming zone. “While older citizens and really young ones always came forward, I am surprised to see so many teenagers spending time playing pagade, chowka bara, nava kankari in the age of Pokemon Go,” says Sreeranjini.

GET SET PLAY

Tamarind seeds

Heap a bunch of tamarind seeds. Blow at it. If all of them are separated from each other, it’s a win, else, the challenge is to pick one from above the other without the slightest movement.

Seven stones

One team has to place seven stones in a pile, and one person from the other team gets three attempts to knock it off. Once the stones fall, the first team needs to pile it up. Meanwhile, the other team should attempt to hit the members of the first team below the knee to win.

Nondi

All this requires is a piece of chalk to draw a grid. The aim is to capture the maximum number of squares in the grid by hopping in a specific pattern, but all the while making sure that the feet don’t touch the lines.

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Printable version | Mar 8, 2021 6:57:52 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/Top-of-the-game/article14587043.ece

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