The Asiatic Society is the oldest academic institute of India which has a discontinuous history of more than two hundred years of existence. Although recent historical enquiries, particularly by Edward W. Said in his Orientalism and Martin Bernal in his Black Athena have caste shadows about the latent intentions of western scholars who engaged themselves in rediscovering a ‘Hindu’ India to legitimise their colonial conquest. We should, however, be quite careful before constructing a White British monolith by confusing orientalist studies from “Orientalism.
Though it has been often quoted, the vision of Sir William Jones, the founder of the Society, cannot be better encapsulated in any other words than what he said in his inaugural address in 1784. He urged the members of the Asiatic Society to ‘examine their (Indians) improvements and methods in arithmetic and geometry, mensuration, mechanics, optics. astronomy and general physics their skill in surgery and medicine! and their advancement, whatever be it in anatomy and chemistry. Though recently there have been dissenting opinions about whether studies in history of sciences or technology are to be given prominence along with pursuits of the researches in classical languages! literature and philosophy, we should remember that for our founder, Sir William Jones, knowledge was never something which could be compartmentalised. ‘The bounds of its The Asiatic Society’s] investigation will be the geographical limits of Asia and within these limits its enquiries will be extended to whatever is performed by man or produced by nature.
The present publication will further reaffirm the wide spectrum of enquiry initiated by Sir William. I am informed that Jones from his college days was attracted by the charm of the game of chess and even wrote an epic poem about it which remains unpublished. However, his article on the history of the Indian game of chess, reprinted in this volume! was a pioneering work which encouraged later day researchers to contribute to the journal of the Society articles about different indigenous sedentary games of India.
This volume, to the best of my knowledge, is the first of its kind in India, which attempts compilation of essential ingredients of social and cultural history as gleaned from traditional games of India. Some of these games are no longer played and only a few of them survive among the non-urban people. But the importance of studying history of sedentary games along with the regional variations in the rules of these games are manifold. No one can deny that painting, music and games constitute the earliest manifestations of human civilisation. A seminal work in this field is Africa Counts by Claudia Zaslavsky. In this book the author has elucidated that the so-called savage’ Africans innovated and engaged themselves in many kinds of sedentary games which involved many parameters of mathematical probability.
We are indebted to Dr. Irving Finkel, Asst. Keeper, Western Asiatic Antiquities, The British Museum, London for his erudite introduction emphasising the need of publication of a book like this. We had the good fortune of having both Dr. Finkel and his wife Joanna, a noted paper-conservator, in the precinct of our Society when they visited Calcutta and addressed the members of our Society.
The Asiatic Society has loving memories of long association with the editors of this book. Sri Aniitabha Ghosh, Scientist, NISTADS (CSIR) played a key role when the one year certifIcate course on History of Science was introduced by the Society in 1996. Sri Nirbed Ray is our Publication Officer. Last but not the least, I express my thanks for the arduous work undertaken by the staff of our Publication and Library divisions, without which the book would never have met the requirements of an academic publication.
I sincerely believe that the publication of this book will catch attention of scholars from different disciplines, particularly those engaged in authropological research, and would encourage them to produce companion volumes on the subject.
Sedentary Games of India is a collection of twenty six articles and communications, which were originally published in different periodicals of The Asiatic Society, Calcutta. between 1790 and 1942. In addition, two important articles have been supplemented to this collection from other sources to make the volume more complete and exhaustive. These articles, compiled in a single volume will give us an idea about the contribution of India in this particular field of study during last three centuries. In last five decades, however, not a single article on sedentary game has come out in the Journal of the Asiatic Society, and except a few commendable works by C. Panduranga Bhatta, S. Wakankar and Krishnamurthy, Indian scholars have hardly taken any initiative to contribute to this field.
Early contributions of India to the study of board games, on the other hand, deserve special attention. Irving L. Finkel, Assistant keeper of British Museum and a distinguished scholar on board games has precisely described this role of Indian scholarship in his well-written Introduction to this book and also pointed out the scope of future research for our scholars in this particular field of study.
The articles compiled in this volume have dealt with.
(i) The genesis and the history of the games.
(ii) Documentation of the board-plans and rules of the games.
(iii) Comparative study of similar type of games being played at different areas in India or outside India.
(iv) On the modifications of the games resulting from different cultural contacts and their interactions, and
(v) Inter-disciplinary studies.
Sedentary games are more cerebral in nature. They reflect as well as manifest the cultural identity and ethos of a group of people, their social, economic and political contacts with other ethnic group(s), us and their fundamental levels of intelligence. As will be seen in many articles of this book how the games have been modified as a result of cultural contacts and exodus of a group of people from one area to the other. Changes and modifications to a particular type of game are consequential to its travel through different socio-cultural layers of various groups and sub-groups. Even then, games usually maintain their secular nature and indifference to national and geographical boundaries.
To prepare this collection, primax-v care has been taken in selecting twenty-seven transactions from an author-catalogue of about seven thousand entries. It seems to be difficult because the entries are made against the names of the authors and not under the subject-headings.
From last decade of the 18th century to this date, the evolutions in typography and diacritical marks have undergone many changes. Romanization of Classical Oriental languages also gone through several experiments. We have decided to standardise the fonts for general readability and uniformity but we have kept diacritical marks and phonetic signs unchanged as far as possible. Headings and subheadings of the articles have been standardised and notes have been provided at the bottom of the pages for additional information whenever necessary. Spellings have been kept unchanged as far as possible. Only gross mistakes have been taken care of. Figures and illustrations have been redrawn for better reproduction.
The photograph of the Dcthãvatära (Nrsim.hdvatdra) card reproduced on the jacket of the book has been taken from the private collection of Sri Amitabha Ghosh.
We are grateful to the Asiatic Society and its General Secretary Professor Anil Kumar Sarkar for the publication of this book and also to Dr. Irving L. Finkel for his excellent introduction.
We are thankful to Dr. Mitali Chattejee of the Library of the Asiatic Society for helping us to prepare the Index to this book. Smt. Sujata Misra and Smt. Arati Chaudhuri deserve special mention for their kind assistance and cooperation in providing us with the reference books and hard copies from microfische.
We are also indebted to the staff of the Publication Division of the Asiatic Society for their help and cooperation in seeing the book through press. We are thankful to Arunima Printing Works for their dedicated service.
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