Games are the activities which have been played from ancient times for pastime and amusement. These are usually contests based on rules and decided by the skill, judgment or sometimes on luck alone. There were very many board games which were played in ancient India such as chess and pachisi. Chess originated in North Western parts of India during Gupta period and then spread to Persia. This game reached Europe by about 10th century AD and by 15th century came to be known as royal game because of its popularity among the nobility. Many of the games were modified in new countries and these are known by different names in different countries though the basic principles of the game are similar. For instance Pachisi is known as Ludo in England and Parcheesi in U.S.A. A survey of our ancient temples and forts reveal the presence of such games which remained because they were marked on the stones. A study of them and the evolution of those games makes an interesting reading. There were very many games which were played in ancient India which were lost and this fact is evident from the drawings on ancient forts and temples which we cannot identify at the present time. This book lists some of the ancient Indian board games.
Deme Raja Reddy is a neurosurgeon and a numismatist who is interested in the study of ancient Indian history. He is the author of many books and articles on coins. He is the past president of the south Indian numismatic society and the editor of its journal 'studies in south Indian coins'.
Samiksha Deme is interested in the study of Indian history including its coins. She studied many ancient Indian board games and learned to play them.
Games areactivities that have been played from ancient times for pastime and amusement. These are usually contests based on a setof rules and decided by skill, judgment or sometimes on mere luck alone. There were very many board games that were played in ancient India such as chess, Parcheesi etc. The Mahabharata is a great Indian epic in Sanskrit that describes how the Pandava king Yudhisthara lost everything in a game of dice while playing the eldest of the Kauravas named Duryodana.Pachisi and chess were played with dice in ancient times and it is difficult to say which type of gambling game that was played by these two important characters from Mahabharata. There is record about other types of games in ancient Indian literature and some of these games are still played these days, especially in villages. The first version of chessappeared in North Western parts of India during the Gupta period (4th to 6th century AD) and then spread to Persia where it was known as 'shatranj'. Chess was altered in Persia and it became a game played between two people instead by four as it was in ancient India. The queen piece was added to the game in Persia and chess then spread from Persia to the east, west and north to various countries. The game reached Europe by about 10th century AD and by 15th century this game came to be known as 'royal game' because of its popularity among nobility. The game was modified in those countries though the basic game remained the same. For instance, a river was interposed between the two sides of the chess game in China, which made the game slower but more complex. It is interesting to know that the game of chess survived among the hundreds of board games invented and played throughout human history during the past 1500 years. This game has thrived in every culture it has touched and it has become the national game in undivided Russia. Games and other theories are woven around this game, which originated in ancient India as a war game.
Similar to chess, other board games have also originated in ancient India and each board game consists of squares and hasa basic design. These games are separated into two basic types. The first type are those where pieces are moved alternately by the each player such as chesswhereas in the second type, the number of movements of the pieces are decided by throwingdice, cowries or even large seeds such as split tamarind seeds. The numbers, which are marked on them, have a known value and the number of moves of the pieces is decided. Pachisi is an example of the second type of game, which was considered to be an Indian national game. Most of the designs of the games are simple and do not need elaborate drawing and some of these can be made out with chalk or coal pieces and can be drawn on any type of flat surface. The rules of each game vary and some like chess have become very complicated which needs a detailed study to understand the game. Many of these games have been modified and are known by different names in different countries though the basic principles of the game remain the same. For instance, Pachisi is known as Ludo in England and Parcheesi in the U.S.A. A survey of our ancient temples and forts reveals the presence of designs of such games and they have remained because they were marked on the stones. For example, the Gudimallam temple located in Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh in India has evidence of Pachisi, Chess and Dhadi games. Similarly there are other sites especially in medieval forts where these games were recorded such as Gandikota- Chess; Kondaveedu- Dhadi; Undrukonda- Ashta chamma; Rachakonda- Pachisi and Dhadi; Devarakonda- Tiger & goats' game, Fatehpur Sikri-Pachisi etc. Govindarajaswamy temple is located in the Hindu holy city of Tirupati, which has markings of Pachisi, Dadhi, Tiger and goats game etc. In most of these places there are designs of other board games, which cannot be identified at present and obviously they have been forgotten by the humanity. Following is a brief description of some of these board games, which are present in ancient temples and forts. Many authors' recorded ancient board games in other parts of the world such as orient and in middle east (Falkener 1892; Culin 1895). Throughout Egypt, Petra and Nabataean sites in middle-east ancient board games were discovered. Some of these were marked in stone and hence remained to be found. In these sites a common game was made up of 4 X 12 playing spots which were carved as cup shaped depressions in the rock. Similar games were found in some sites in ancient forts of India. Such game was known as 'Mancala' in some parts of Arab world and Africa. Some games known as labyrinths have been discovered in Nabataean sites and similar labyrinths were also found in Indian forts.
The information about ancient board games can be found in literary works and their markings on stones in the ancient places such as temples and forts in different parts of India. The most common writing material in the Indian subcontinent for almost two thousand years was palm leaf. The writing process was tedious and the material would not last 3-4 hundred years. Again the manuscript needed to be redone. Other material used in ancient India was stone or copper plates. These would last for a very long time. First attempt at writing on stone was attempted during the third century BC during the rule of Asoka of the Mauryan dynasty. The rock inscriptions of Asoka are readable even after a really long time. Copper plate inscriptions also have a very long history in India and earliest of them are recorded from 1 st century BC from excavations. The ancient Indian scripts namely Brahmi and Kharoshti came to be known through inscriptions marked in stones and copper plates. All the Indian scripts evolved from Brahmi and the evolution of different Indian scripts from Brahmi came to be known from these inscriptions. Some temples besides the religious aspects of the deity also depict the social themes of the period such as dances and even games such as wrestling. For example sculptures of the Kakatiya period depict the dance forms as well as games played in ancient times. For example the temple of Ramappa dated to 1213 AD depicts the dance form Perini which was practiced in those times. This dance form was forgotten and artists in the recent past revived the Perini dance based on its display of this medieval dance form as depicted in stone carvings in the Ramappa temple. Some of these ancient temples also display the games such as wrestling. Surprisingly more than hundred different grips of wrestling are depicted on the walls of this temple. Similarly a study of ancient forts and temples also revealed the ancient board games which have been forgotten and they could be revived.
Following chapters describe the board games drawn on stones in some ancient temples and forts and later individual board games are briefly described. The epilogue concludes the observations in the book followed by select bibliography.
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