Traditional games: old memories

KTB had International Day at her school a while ago, and as part of the Indian display, her mother decided to display a game that she calls “guttE”

You can read about it


The game was very popular with the children…and amazingly, some of them picked it up immediately!

This brought back some old memories to my mind. My mother was, I suddenly remembered, very good at this, and she could collect up to a dozen “stones”, one by one, before she caught the first stone on its gravity-bound return. There were a lot of turns of successive difficulty…for example, one had to pick up stones two by two each time one threw the stone up.

For the game, I also remembered, she had some round seeds, which were called “kazhakkOdi”. I can find only

one reference to this seed

on the net.

We also often played the traditional snakes-and-ladders game that, in Tamizh, was called

parama padha shObAna padam

(“the picture of the Ultimate Attainment”)

which had the various levels of heaven and hell, attained by ladders, and snakes, respectively.

There was also a spoof that a Tamizh magazine had published, called

parama pathavi shObAa padam

(“the picture of Ultimate a job!”)

This one had some really humorous stuff like two ladders which led from two squares, one saying, “The lady has no good looks!” and the other, “The lady has no singing voice!” and both led up to the square that said, “Movie star”! Both of these are still lying somewhere in my brother ad sister-in-law’s home in Chennai. (My brother passed away and my sis in law lives, for her livelihood, in Gurgaon.)

Two other traditional games that we played regularly (especially during the summer vacation) were

dAya kattAm

(dAyam being dice…they were beautiful ones made of brass, long and square-shaped, not cubes like today’s dice. kattAm meant “square”)

which was a very intricate version of Ludo.


pallAn kuzhi

(kuzhi means, “hole” or “depression” in Tamizh, and the wooden playing “board” had 7 such depressions on each side.)

I remember the regular game, played with 12 beads (we used small cowrie shells) in each “kuzhi”, with a “kAsi” in the centre. The shells would be distributed, one at a time, along the line…every time 6 of the shells gathered in a “kuzhi” belonging to someone, they could collect it as “pashu” and use them as the game proceeded. If one did not have enough shells to fill all of one’s “kuzhi”s, we had other shells, with spiral patterns on their flat bottoms (the tops were rounded) called “rAvaNan muzhi” (Ravana’s eyes). One could get the shells very cheaply in seaside towns like Rameshwaram or Kanya Kumari.

There was also another game, played with 5 beads in every hole. My aunts in rural Tamil Nadu were brilliant at knowing the moves far, far ahead (several of theri children played blind chess!) and many of them would also cheat quite shamelessly…and skillfully…even when playing with children.

We also had

pANdi Attam

which was today’s hopscotch.

Later, of course we played Monopoly (the original London version, and also the Bombay version. We never got a Kolkata version.)

Games which needed no electricity, but which needed several people, playing together…suddenly floating into my consciousness after a day of being “Indian” in a foreign country!

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