Before the invasion of social media, the internet, and most of all, online gaming, India used to be a different place. Hard days of work or studies often concluded with the whole family gathering around for a session gossip and snacks, and occasionally board games.
Traditional board games may pale in comparison to the glitz and glamour of modern-day entertainments, but they are unforgettable and their simple nature is often taken for granted. The true essence of board games lies not in the game itself, but the time you get to spend with your friends and more so, your family.
Out came traditional board games from the dusty corners of long-forgotten abysses. Games begin with a trip down nostalgia lane, with age-old stories coming to the top, bridging the gap between generations.
Let’s look at a few such examples of ancient Indian Board games and learn how to play them.
Solah Seedhi was documented in ‘Ancient Ceylon: An Account of the Aborigines and Part of the Early Civilisation (1909)’. The game was listed as Hēwākam Keliya or the War Game.
Solah Seedhi has quite the history. The game was famous and played in Sri Lanka under the name Sixteen Soldiers, in India under the name Cows and Leopards, and it went by the name Sholo Guti in Bangladesh.
It’s a two-player game and you need an expanded Alquerque board to play. Players are allotted 16 pieces each and the player who captures his opponent’s pieces wins.
1. It’s a turn-based game.
2. Players can move a single piece each turn. They can capture or move, but not both.
3. You can capture pieces by jumping over them according to the board’s pattern and landing on an empty spot.
4. You can capture multiple pieces provided they are properly lined up and capturing is optional.
Chowka Bara is a traditional Indian board game that is quite popular in South India. It is known by many names Katte Mane in Kannada or Astha Chamma in Telugu. There are also references to this game in the Mahabharata.
The game is a member of the Parcheesi family and is called the precursor to Ludo.
Chowka Baara can be played by 2 to 4 players on a 5×5 board. Each player has 4 coins and the goal is to take all 4 coins to the center of the board.
1. You take turns rolling 4 cowrie shells and start at different points on the board.
2. The cowries determine how many squares you can move. 1-3 mouths up mean you can move that many squares. At any point in the game, you can move any one of your 4 coins.
3. You get a bonus throw if you get 4 mouths up (chauka) after you’ve moved 4 squares. In case no mouths are up(baara), you move 8 squares and roll again.
4. Movement is anti-clockwise on the outer squares and reverses once you’re in the inner squares.
5. If you land on an already occupied square, you have to cut the piece that’s on it at which point the coin will return to its owner’s starting square. It must repeat the journey all over, and you also get an extra turn.
6. You must cut at least one coin to move to the inner squares. You forfeit the round or move one of the three remaining pieces if you’ve not cut any other coins.
7. The coins in the starting squares cannot be cut.
8. You’re out of the game if you throw a chauka or baara three consecutive times.
9. A coin’s journey concludes when it reaches the center and you win when all of your coins are at the center.
Pagade is known by many names such as Chopat, Parcheesi, Sokkattan, etc. However, it’s more popularly known as Pasha, as it is described in the Mahabharata. The name is derived from the Hindi word paccīs, meaning twenty-five, the largest score that can be achieved in the game. In some versions of the game, the largest score is 30.
The game can be played between 2-4 players each with 4 pawns each and all 4 groups have a different color. Each player has a safe zone, aka the belly.
Two pawns start within the belly while the other two are placed outside, on the same square. The goal of the game is to take your pawns around the board once and enter the belly and finally reach the center (home).
1. It’s sort of similar to Ludo but with slightly different rules. The game has two stick dice (1,3,4,6 dots) and rolled numbers determine how many squares your pawn moves.
2. Suppose you roll a 3, 4. Now you can move two of your pawns, one by 3 and the other by 4. Or you can move one of them by 7.
3. The same rules apply when you roll a doublet. The only added advantage is that you get to move your pair as a whole without breaking them. No extra turns are award, however.
4. You can cut an enemy pawn by landing on it, and the enemy is sent to its belly. If a pair is cut, then they have to be placed in the belly corresponding to the number on each dice. You cannot move pawns unless you reintroduce all cut pawns on the board.
5. Two identical pawns of the same square form a pair. Pawn pairs can either jump over other pairs or cut them. Only a pair can cut a pair.
6. Identical pawns on different squares cannot land on another pair to cut them. Only an already formed pair can cut a pair.
7. You have to cut at least one pawn and go around the board to enter the belly.
8. You win by taking all your pawns to Home.
Conclusion – Traditional Indian Board Games
These are some of the traditional Indian board games that ruled over the country before the internet. Games are supposed to be simple recreational activities. You should not have to look up tutorials to ‘master’ a game. The goal is to have fun, not research.
Get one of these games online if you want to spend some quality time with your family and bond with them. They only cost a few hundred bucks, but what you get in return is priceless. We have also written about the most popular board games in India, if you are looking for some of the newer games.