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Game time!

Friday, June 01, 2018

Have you ever played Navakankari, Mokshapatam, Chaupar or other ancient Indian games? Now’s your chance!

Did you know that board games have been played since antiquity in India, and that the earliest evidence for them was in the form of cubical terracotta dice excavated from several Harappan sites? Back in ancient times, long dice and cowrie shells were also used as dice, and there are several references to these games in our literature, sculpture and painting; you can even find game boards scratched into the floors of many old temples and caves, especially in South India, experts say.

 In what promises to be a fascinating event, INSTUCEN Trust, in collaboration with the Centre for Extra-Mural Studies of the University of Mumbai is presenting Ancient Games Weekend on Saturday, June 16 and Sunday, June 17.  You can register either as an individual or as a team, depending upon the games. The rules will be taught by the volunteers on the spot.

The organisers tell us that in the 2017 edition of the Annual CEMS-INSTUCEN Trust Mega-Exhibition of Archaeology and Geology, they had introduced a new section on Ancient Indian Games. This included games like Wagh-Bakri (Tiger and Goat), Navakankari (Nine Men’s Morris), Mokshapatam, Chaupar, Pachisi and many more. The section turned out to be a great hit at the exhibition, they say, inspiring many students and alumni of CEMS as well as associates of INSTUCEN Trust to ask for a separate day to play these Ancient Games.

Among the games being covered are


This has been played in India for many centuries. One of the earliest mentions of Pachisi is in the Mahabharata, in the famous game of dice in which Yudhishthira lost everything to the Kauravas. In more recent times, it is called Ludo.


This is a checkers-like game for two, once played in the districts of the Mysore princely state, with both players sitting on the long side of the board.


Here’s the game that gave rise to chess. It was originally played with dice.


This is played on the same board as Chaturanga. It was a dice game (with gambling) so addictive that the Vinayapitaka says that the Buddha banned his monks from playing it.

Nine Men's Morris

This one probably came to India with the Indo-Roman trade. Played the world over, it is a two-player game strategy requiring quick thinking and agile moves.

Tiger and goat

Popular in South India, this game is called Ādu Puli Āttam in Tamil and Malayalam, Meka Puli Ātta in Telugu and Ādu Huli Ātta in Kannada. A variant of it is called Bāghchāl in Nepal.

Alli gulli mane

This is an abstract strategy board game of Karnataka. It is known as Chenna Mane in Tulu and Pallanguzhi in Tamil. Played with cowrie shells arranged on a wooden board with incised cups, it is a game of a quick calculations.


This is a tougher version of Pachisi.


In recent times, this has been reinvented as Snakes and Ladders. Invented by the Jains, it was played on a cloth, wherein each square had a virtue or vice written on it. Vices had snakes on them that brought you down, while virtues had ladders that took you towards Nirvana/ Moksha.


A classic game played with five big round seeds (Jage/Sagar goti). It improves concentration, hand-eye co-ordination and dexterity.


This one probably descended from the ancient Ashtāpada game. Traditionally, cowrie shells are used as dice. If all four shells land inverted, you make a score of four (chamma) and if all land straight you make a score of eight (Ashta), and get a bonus throw.

Viti dandu

This is played by a group of minimum four people. It is a popular game in all parts of rural India with variations in name and scoring method.

Where Centre for Extra-Mural Studies (CEMS), University of Mumbai Vidyanagri Campus,
When June 16 (8 a.m.) to June 17 (18:00 p.m.)
For registration and other queries: Write to

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