Dr. V. Balambal, M.A., B.T., Ph.D., FRAS (London) former Professor of History, University of Madras, and former Principal, Sri Kanyaka Parameswari Arts and Science College for Women, has done extensive research in the fields of women's studies, cultural history of India, religious studies and board games. She has published four books and many research papers.
She travels extensively and has presented papers in international conferences and seminars held in North America, Europe, Far East and South-East Asia
. She is a member of many academic and N.G.O. organisations. She has reviewed books, written articles, delivered memorial lectures and has been examiner of U.P.S.C., T.N.P.S.C. and University exams.
She was also an Academic Council member of Mother Theresa Women's University.
She was awarded the Sivabogam Prize, Iravatham Prize and Baghusudham Guruswami Sasthrikal Prize for the first position secured in the M.A. examination conducted by the University of Madras in 1968.
She was honoured by the South Indian History Congress in 2002. She was also chosen for 'Best of two Worlds, 2001, www.thepowerwoman. She was awarded Trobus Gem' in 2004 by Probus Club of Madras.
The inspiration for bringing out a book on ancient indoor games came while I was putting together various items for the Shakunthala Jagannathan Museum of Folk Art in Kanchipuram, established by the C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation. I came across several old indoor games such as Pallankuzhi, Dayakattam, Chathurangam and Paramapadam, which were the only means of passing time for aristocratic women of the past, who were not permitted to go out or engage in household work. Indoor games came to the rescue and many of them were experts. The games also indicate their keen eye for beautiful objects, since they were made on elaborately carved wooden boards or embroidered intricately with beads. I decided to dedicate an entire gallery to these games, which can be seen today in the ancient temple town of Kanchipuram.
Indoor games are an old Indian tradition. They were played by adults and children, especially women of the nobility who spent a lot of time at home, without any other occupation. In the indoor games of the past, the items were made at home. Sometimes temporarily, as in Pallankuzhi where cups were dug out in the mud by children, and sometimes permanently, whereby wooden boards were designed and carved by sculptors, commissioned by rich families. And some were made by the women themselves, who strung together colourful beads or embroidered elaborate designs to form the base for the game, the lines and squares marked by different colours. Some of the most beautiful items of everyday art left in old families are the exquisitely carved wooden or embroidered game bases. Seeds were collected from the tamarind or Erythrina indica (kalyana murungai) tree, the latter having beautiful red and black (crab's eye) seeds. The games brought together men and women, servants and masters, children and adults. Democracy was unselfconsciously at work here.
The simplest game is Paramapadam , better known as snakes-and-ladders. There are a hundred squares on a board; the ladders take you up, the snakes bring you down. The difference here is that the squares are illustrated. The top of the ladder depicts a god, or one of the various heavens (kailasa, vaikuntha, brahmaloka) and so on, while the base of the ladder describes a virtue. Conversely, each snake's head is a vice or a demon. As the game progresses, the various karmas and samskaras, good deeds and bad, take you up and down the board. Interspersed are plants, people and animals. The game serves a dual purpose: entertainment, as well as dos and don'ts, divine rewards and punishments, ethical values and morality. The final goal leads to vaikuntha or heaven, depicted by Vishnu surrounded by his devotees, or kailasa with Shiva, Parvati, Ganesha and Skanda and their devotees. This was a good way of teaching values to children.
If Paramapadam teaches moral values, Pallankuzhi develops skill and quick thinking. Two players compete on a board consisting of between seven and twenty pits per player; each player has to collect the coins or shells or seeds with which the game is played, the player with the maximum number being the winner. There are ten variations of this game, each a pandi, with regional, caste and religious variations. It was very popular among women and required a good memory and alertness, as they had to count and remember the number of coins or seeds accumulated by the opponent.
Chaturanga was the Indian version of chess, played with the four parts of the army — foot soldiers, cavalry, elephants and chariots. However, the popular version had eight similar pieces on either side, and the goal was to get to the other side and knock out the opponents. There is evidence of Chaturanga having been played with dice, which is still not uncommon, although it involved more skill than chance in this avatar. In fact, Yudhishthira and Duryodhana, in the Mahabharata, played a version of Chaturanga using dice. Tamil variations of Chaturanga are Adupuliattam ogoat and tiger game), where careful moves on a triangle decide whether the tiger captures the goats or the goats escape; the Nakshatrattam or the star game where only one player cuts all coins within the time limit and Dayakattam with four, eight or ten squares, a kind of ludo. Variations of the Dayakattam include Dayakaram, the North Indian Pacifist and Chaupar. I am sure there are many more local variations.
Dr. V. Balambal has researched the very rare subject of games and their usage, which is rarely written about. The information in en in these pages is an eye-opener to our heritage. This 5ook will serve to inform us about intelligent games of the past which form the basis of contemporary board games. This -1-.Nook will, I hope, rekindle interest in our folk traditions when simple entertainment was a means of skill development and value education.
I never thought that it was going to be a great turning point my academic life when Dr. Panduranga Bhatta, Professor of Lnskrit, Pondicherry University, asked me when he met me in Pune University during a national seminar on Arthasastra 1996 whether I could present a paper for an international nference on 'Approaching the Roots of Chess' to be hosted by m in November, 1996, in Pondicherry. I told him that I was ot very much interested in chess but I could present a paper on indigenous board games played in Tamilnadu. He agreed to that d I prepared my first paper on `Chaturanga in Folk Games Of Tamilnadu'. Though I traced the origin of Chess, which is also four handed game, I concentrated on the local board games. It is interesting to say that I myself have played most of these mes when I was a small girl. Hence, with personal experience d more facts from elders around me, and with some primary d secondary sources available, I was able to present a paper my satisfaction. The paper received appreciation from Dr. .-ing Finkel of Victoria Albert Museum, London, Mr. Manfred kr. Mr. Egberb Meissenburg and Dr. Anderas Bock-Roming, Germany to mention a few.
After his return to Germany, Mr. Manfred Eder invited me the Colloquium of Board Games to be held at Weisbaden, Germany in 1997. This made me think about another topic of reign interest. I chose Paramapadam which we used to play ring the nights of Maha Sivarathri and Vaikuntha Ekadasi keep ourselves awake the whole night so that our ticket to heaven was reserved! We were keen on climbing the ladder and reaching the Lotus Feet of the Lord, which was the path to swarga (heaven). We wanted to escape from the heads of various snakes on the game board because that would bring us down to their tails. We never knew the sociological, spiritual or religious implications of the game. But an in-depth study of three game boards of Paramapadam, which I have taken for the study, opened my eyes and I could write an interesting paper which was appreciated by the westerners. I hope that our people would also understand the significance of Hindu philosophy through this game.
I was thrilled when I received an invitation from Dr. Jeans, HOD of Psychology, Fribourg University, Switzerland, for the Colloquium of Board Games to be held at Fribourg in April 2001. This time I chose Pallankuzhi. Some were wondering whether I could market this game in the international forum. Boldly I proceeded and I collected different boards of Pallankuzhi in wood and metal, and various game pieces, and made photographs and sketches to make this game very attractive. When presented before the elite western audience, I realised that I had chosen the right topic for the conference as it was well acclaimed. There was a great demand for the game boards and game pieces. It is interesting to note that western scholars have taken Pallankuzhi, which they call Mancala, for serious study and computers are also used for the same. They hold periodical competitions too in Mancala games. After returning from Switzerland, journals and periodicals published my experiences.
The next trip was to Barcelona in Spain where Mr.Victor Bautista organised the Colloquium in April 2002. I presented a paper on `Folk games of Strategy In Tamilnadu', highlighting the board games for which no casting pieces are used. Though strategies used in chess are not warranted in these games, it is surprising to know of the skill and talent of illiterate rural people in playing these games. Some scholars are of the opinion that dice games re games of chance, but I disagree with them, because strategy is needed even to throw the dice favourably. Some participants in le conference were able to find some similar games too.
The State Museum at Marburg in Germany hosted the Colloquium in April 2003. I collected materials on some more traditional board games played with different types of casting pieces in Tamilnadu. These are totally different from the games resented in Barcelona. The traditional games played with simple game pieces and hand drawn game boards attracted the attention f the foreign scholars.
Though basically a student, teacher and researcher of history, am fascinated to enter into a new field of research which is of as simple as I thought. I had to reach people in remote villages and collect first-hand information about many board games and how they play the same. I myself have played these games of strategy, dice games, Paramapadam and Pallankuzhi with my grand-parents, parents, sisters, friends and brothers -hen I was young, and with my own children and grandchildren iter. My interest in these games grew after my entry in to the field of research in board games. My personal experience and knowledge of most of the board games have helped me a lot in constructing the methodology. Though initially these games were considered to be merely of recreational value, at present I view them differently and try to give different approaches. I am confident that the academic world would accept my views and there is constructive criticism, I welcome it.
I am extremely thankful to Dr. Nanditha Krishna, Director, .P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation, Chennai, for her interest in be subject and for publishing the same in the form of a book with sketches and photographs. Apart from the above which I have resented elsewhere, I have added a few more games with some comparative studies. I am thankful to Dr. Panduranga Bhatta and Mr. Manfred Eder who have introduced me to the new field of study and encouraged me in my new ventures. As these board games have become a popular subject, the media also focussed on it. I express my gratitude to my understanding husband, whom I had to leave often in the pursuit of knowledge of Board Games and presentation of my findings in international forums.
I hope that this work would remind the interested people and academicians of the rich heritage of the Tamils in the field of board games, and I will be happy if it plays a part in contributing to the preservation of Indian culture.
A healthy mind in a healthy body is necessary to achieve something in life. Games, exercises, yoga, and meditation are needed for the same. In the busy schedule of human life, games and sports infuse new energy in human beings. Even before man started thinking of playing organised games, he enjoyed his leisure time with his fellowmen. In course of time he evolved rules and regulations for the games he played. The oral rules mc passed on traditionally from one generation to the other. People show interest in games whether they are young or old. For some games it is necessary to have a strong body; for some other games it is important to show brainpower, memory and strategy ;and some are games of chance. It is up to the players to Choose the games of their own taste and choice, and play enjoy.
There are innumerable games played in India, exposing the strength of the physique or mind, or chance. There are many and outdoor games played by the rural and urban Tamilnadu . No attempt has been made to record systematically. But in recent times there is an - and interest in the West to highlight various games the world. Some Tamil scholars in this field have a systematic study. With very little source material for the study, the scholars found it very difficult to make a complete account of these games. As the subject was not given any academic importance, very few scholars turned mention to the study of games, more so with the games played with game boards. A deeper study of this subject reveals interesting sociological, anthropological and historical informations. On the one hand, the traditional board games are not played much in urban areas as people are interested in modern games like cricket, football, volleyball etc., but on the other hand, due to foreign interest and influence, the study of traditional board games of Tamilnadu has gained momentum. It warrants a systematic approach to these games to codify the unwritten rules and regulations, and draw diagrams; collect the game pieces and the casting pieces used in the games. It involves the interest and dedication of not only the researchers but also the players, onlookers and others. As much written material is not available, personal interviews with players in rural areas have become necessary to make this study, as the village folk are the real custodians of this rich treasure of the Tamils. The senior citizens especially evinced keen interest in the subject as they felt that they were well-respected and recognised by the researcher. They were great repositories of knowledge in the subject. Though the villagers have not used any manufactured boards and gaming and casting pieces, the ways and means adopted by them in making these things available to them whenever they wanted to play is amazing. It shows their knowledge and skill in the games. The urban people showed interest in buying the boards made of wood. metal, stone, clay and ivory. They made the other accessories also using those materials. Some game boards made of cloth and embroidery are also kept as family property by the rich people. They carry game board rolls when they travel and use them as and when they like to play.
Serious research on the subject should contain the name of the game, the number of players for each game, the nature and type of game boards used, the number of game pieces and the throwing pieces for each game, how the calculations are made, the rules and regulations of the game etc. Though it was wrongly felt that these rural board games are played only casually for entertainment and no regimentation is followed in playing these games, an in-depth study proves other wise. It is surprising to note that, in modern times, the traditional games have gone to the extent of being played in computers. For some games the rules are complex in character. The names and certain rules and terminology used in the game may differ from place to place, revealing the regional characteristics.
Though Indians have been pioneers in the field of board games, they did not make a systematic study. There were no written records on the board games. But they are being played as in the past. The Westerners did the documentation of some games. The pioneers in the study of board games were William Jones and H.J.R. Murray.
Chaturanga in Folk Games of Tamilnadu
Chaturanga or chess is a favourite indoor game in almost every country. It is believed that it originated in India. Sir William Jones in his essay 'On the Indian game of Chess', published in 'Asiatic Researches' stated that Hindustan was the cradle of chess, the game having been known since ancient times as Chaturanga (four 7-arts of the army (i.e.) infantry, cavalry, elephants and chariots) -cyclopaedia Britannica, 1973-74). It was initially a fourhanded played with dice. H.J.R. Murray in his History of Chess -13. Reprinted in 1963) specified that chess is a descendant an Indian game transmitted to the West in the shape it had assumed sometime in the 7th Century A.D. (Ibid). While analysing the folk games played in Tamilnadu, one is tempted to state that chess has originated in the Indian soil.
From the available sources it has been learnt that the Indian inventor of chess was Sassa . He invented this new game to reduce the popularity of backgammon and please his ruler in the fifth Century A.D. in North India (H.J.R. Murray, 1963). He reproduced in the game the actual method of warfare between two armies, employing all the wings of the army. A board consisting of sixty-four squares was used for the two armies to face each other. Sassa called this game Chaturanga.
This game spread to Persia where it was known as Chatrang. In the 7th Century A.D., the Muslims dominated Persia and, with legal sanction, they started playing the game with the name Shatranj, an Arabic equivalent to Chaturanga (Raj Ahmed Khan, 1964). As the Muslims made their w iy to Spain, this game was played in Spain where interested Europeans learnt the game and spread it in their respective countries. From India it travelled to China, Japan and South East Asia.
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