Next time you play snakes and ladders…
…don’t forget to tell the young ones about its origins! This post has been pending for a very long time in my drafts folder. It was prompted by a statement I read by chance many months ago about the origins of this favourite children’s game. That statement prompted some digging which ended up as this post. To start with this brief extract, courtesy Wikipedia about the origins of this game (emphasis added throughout):
Snakes and Ladders originated in India as a game based on morality called Vaikuntapaali (stairs to Vaikuntha) or Paramapada Sopanam (the ladder to salvation). This game made its way to England, and was eventually introduced in the United States of America by game pioneer Milton Bradley in 1943.
…The game was played widely in ancient India by the name of Moksha Patamu, the earliest known Jain version Gyanbazi dating back to 16th century. The game was called “Leela” – and reflected the Hinduism consciousness around everyday life. Impressed by the ideals behind the game, a newer version was introduced in Victorian England in 1892, possibly by John Jacques of Jacques of London.
Moksha Patamu was perhaps invented by Hindu spiritual teachers to teach children about the effects of good deeds as opposed to bad deeds. The ladders represented virtues such as generosity, faith, humility, etc., and the snakes represented vices such as lust, anger, murder, theft, etc. The moral of the game was that a person can attain salvation (Moksha) through performing good deeds whereas by doing evil one takes rebirth in lower forms of life (Patamu). The number of ladders was less than the number of snakes as a reminder that treading the path of good is very difficult compared to committing sins. Presumably the number “100″ represented Moksha (Salvation). In Andhra Pradesh, snakes and ladders is played in the name of Vaikuntapali..
Image courtesy: V&A
This book by Harish Johari titled “The Yoga of Snakes and Arrows“ tell us more about the moral and spiritual aspects of the “game”:
Four things are necessary for one or more to play Leela: the Leela book and game board, a die (of karma) and a significant object that belongs to the player, such as a ring, to serve as the player’s symbol during the game. Each of the seventy-two squares on the board of Leela represents a virtue or vice, an aspect of human consciousness or a plane of being. The players’ progress is dictated by the fall of a die corresponding to the forces of karma. The seven planes through which the player must pass before he reaches the eighth plane – the plane beyond all planes – are the seven chakras. Leela is not merely an entertainment but a serious method of understanding the phenomenal world of Maya (Illusion), and the spiritual nature of our individual self that leads us to the journey towards liberation.
The saints who invented this game used the game-board to recognize the present state of their own being. By playing the game time and again they consciously observed which snake brought them down and which arrows took them up. Observing their own inner self, they could tell whether they had understood what it is to be not involved. The uniqueness of Leela – the game of self-knowledge – is that it is a study of scriptures and discovery of the self at the same time.
This website informs us that:
The origins of this game appear to be found in 2nd century BC documents from India. Some historians point out that the game may be a variation of the ancient game of dasapada played on a 10×10 grid
In his brief blog post about the “game”, Abhilash mentions some of the original squares and what they stood for:
The ladders represented virtues and snakes vices. In the original game square 12 was faith, 51 was Reliability, 57 was Generosity, 76 was Knowledge, and 78 was Asceticism. These were the squares were the ladder was found.
Square 41 was for Disobedience, 44 for Arrogance, 49 for Vulgarity, 52 for Theft, 58 for Lying, 62 for Drunkenness, 69 for Debt, 84 for Anger, 92 for Greed, 95 for Pride, 73 for Murder and 99 for Lust. These were the squares were the snake was found.
The Square 100 represented Nirvana or Moksha.
Thats it for now…Have a relaxing weekend…and please share the story with the young ones in your family.