Reviving good old fun

Old is gold

Reviving good old fun

Traditional old games played a major role in bringing a family together in yesteryears, something that needs holding onto.

Picture this. An evening at an old-style home. Lots of children and adults gathered at one place – cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents. A five-square grid board sketched with chalk on red oxide flooring. Some kind of beads or seeds as pawns, and everybody clustered around it in excitement, egging on the players who move the pawns at the throw of kavade (cowrie shells.)

If you are like most people born before the eighties, you're probably nodding your head and smiling, or perhaps, shaking your head with nostalgia, wondering where those good old days have gone. The good old days have not quite gone, as I found to my delight while researching for this article. Traditional games and Indian board games had perhaps gone into hiding for a while, overshadowed by the dazzling array of electronic games and gadgetry available to us now. But these games are slowly making a comeback, thanks to a few dedicated organizations, and a handful of individuals who haven't let go of these games. A couple of years ago, I remembered Aligulimane, a game I had loved playing in my childhood, and wished I could get a board from somewhere to play with my daughter. A bit of poking around led me to Kavade, an organization that makes available traditional games and toys. Started five years ago by Sreeranjini GS who spotted a lacuna in this area, Kavade works with self-help groups working with natural materials to produce games and toys for children. I found not only Aligulimane and other favourites there, but also came away with games I hadn't played before, which I have since shared and enjoyed with many people.  Traditional games have come down to us over centuries. Board games like choukabhaara, pagade and its different versions, can be seen drawn or etched in most of our temples. The Keshava temple in Somanathapura even has a stone assemblage of Aligulimane. “Traditional games are rooted in our traditions. They connect us to our roots, and give us a sense of belonging,” says Sreeranjini.  The timeless appeal of traditional games lie in the fact that they involve people of all ages. This is a great advantage that traditional games have, compared to modern electronic games. Electronic games like WII and playstations have the benefit of multiple players. But the problem is that children take to these games naturally while elders fall back, and can never quite compete at the level of children. But in traditional games, everybody is on an equal footing.

Another thing is that the pace and rules are set by the machine in electronic games, whereas everything is more flexible in traditional games. 

Another factor that traditional games have going for them is that such games consist of the most basic equipment. The boards are often hand-sketched, and seeds, pebbles, twigs, and any miscellaneous items are used as pawns. Or as in the case of lagori and gilli-danda, stones and sticks are used, and there is no need for expensive equipment. Besides, there are multiple ways to play a single game. For example, with just four kavades, you can devise and improvise games to keep old and young engaged for hours! These games were usually played by the entire family, and so, as in all family-oriented activities, a deep bonding tends to develop within its members.  Arati Prabhakar, who lives in a joint family, says that her entire family gets together to play choukabhaara every weekend. They have lots of fun and share warm moments together, and Arati believes that this time with family will form priceless memories for her daughters in later years. Aditi Anil Kashyap, a student of Christ University, is another person who believes that there is nothing like playing traditional games to bring families together. She enjoys playing kavade, choukabhaara and lagori with her cousins whenever they meet.  Playing traditional games is also a great way to relax. You tend to lose yourself in these games. And in contrast to electronic games that leave one drained after a while, these can actually rejuvenate you. Since these games involve actual interaction with people, they are becoming popular with corporates who are looking for team activities.  Sreeranjini has organized several games like pagade, choukabhaara, tiger-goat game, navakankari, at corporate events through Kavade, and she says that the response is very good.  Aravinda Bharadwaj US, a Project Manager at a software company, has a similar story to share. He organized a lagori tournament at his previous workplace, roping in the senior management to play in the demonstration session. The response, he says, was overwhelming. The intense involvement required in the games, combined with the fact that all those playing the game got an immediate trip back to their childhood days, resulted in very enthusiastic participation. The event was remembered for days afterward. Several organisations are popularising traditional game. Kavade, Bangalore, for instance, besides making available traditional board games also gives instructions on how to play the game. 

Chintana Balaga, Mysore organises competitions like Lagori, Pagade, Choukabhaara and Aligulimane. Ramson's Kala Pratishthana, Mysore organises a biennial board game event called Kreeda Kaushalya. 

Traditional games are a good way to teach the child about winning and losing too. Arati says that her daughter was initially very upset when she lost in the games, but gradually, she has now learnt that winning and losing isn’t all there is to a game, and she has now learned to take it all in her stride, which is an important life-skill! But of course, the bottom line is – sheer fun! Everybody I spoke to had much to say about the great levels of boisterous fun, and ribbing and laughter that accompanies these games. Aditi says that very few people of the current generation are aware of these traditional games. “It is very sad because they have no idea how much fun it can be,” she says. “We must teach them to younger generations.” 

Perhaps you could try playing with your family or friends for an hour each weekend, see how it goes, and take it from there?  Let the fun begin!

* Pagade/Parcheesi/Chaupad: Often called the National Game of India. Played by the Pandavas and Kauravas in the Mahabharata – The board is usually cloth-based in the shape of “+” with six pawns for each player. The throw of dice decides how many steps your pawns move. The aim is to get them all safely to the end point or “home.”

* Choukabhaara/Ashta chemma/Daayam: A 5x5 grid or 7x7 grid game. The aim is to move all your pawns from the starting point to the end point, without getting hit by your opponents pawns.

* Tiger-goat game/Adu-huli aata: Game of skill, planning and strategy. Tigers try to kill goats, and goats try to corner the tigers.

* Aigulimane/Channemane/Pallanguzhi/Mancala: A game board with cups containing seeds – the aim is to capture all the seeds of the opponent and render him/her unable to play.

* Navakankari/Saalu mane aata: Each player starts with nine stones or coins, and the aim is to line 3 stones in a row. Though it is a little like noughts and crosses, this involves moving your stones, and capturing your opponent's stones.

* Lagori/Pitthu: One team hits a pile of seven stones with a ball to knock them over, and the members of that team seek to pile the stones up again. They are out if the members of the opposite team succeed in throwing balls which make contact with them.

* Chinni-dandu/Gilli-danda: A player hits a gilli (a small, oval-shaped stick) with a danda (a long stick) to flip it in the air, and then strikes the gilli to send it as far as possible. The player then runs to a pre-arranged point before the gilli is retrieved by the opponent.

* Naaku Kallu Aata/Four-stone game: Players standing in 4 boxes try to take4 stones placed at the centre, without getting caught by the chaser.

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