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Alternative Education—Learning through Ancient Indian Games
WHEN Dec 28, 2013
WHERE Society House, Sri Aurobindo Society, Puducherry

“How can we use our glorious past as a spring board to leap into the bright future?” With that question, Dr Sampadananda Mishra, Director, Sri Aurobindo Foundation for Indian Culture (SAFIC, a unit of Sri Aurobindo Society), began the day on a high note, briefly introducing Sanskrit and the guest speaker, Mr Aman Sureka. Aman, an entrepreneur by profession but an avid game-player by choice, took the participants through a succinct presentation, which illustrated how by employing ancient Indian games such as Gyan Chaupar, Pacheesi, etc., in the current education system, Indians can help avoid reinventing the wheel.

Aman further explained how games help build resilience—physical, mental, emotional and social—and teach children to disassociate themselves from the result of the game, inspiring them to play purely for the joy of it! A special feature of most ancient Indian games was that though they have rules to play them by, the games are not designed to end until the players decide to end them. The games imitate life quite closely, since they usually have storylines highlighting virtues and vices, and involve the inevitable element of chance.

Taking up several games in detail, Aman demonstrated how certain Western civilizations modified Indian games into simpler, less profound versions that led players to compete for supremacy and popularized them so forcefully that the original games lay forgotten. For instance, Chaupar gave birth to the westernized ‘Ludo’, and Gyan Chaupar to ‘Snakes and Ladders’. Next shown were several versions of these games, used in different regions of India by different faiths and during different periods of time. What followed was an insightful discussion on the subtle and gross differences between them. The game that sparked great interest among all age groups was Gyan Chaupar, or Leela, or The Game of Life. It depicts the eight planes of consciousness on the game board, and leads a player from one state to another, surpassing pitfalls represented by snakes and climbing ladders that assist in reaching the ultimate goal: Baikunth (god’s abode). Interestingly, the starting point of the game, Baikunth, is also the end point of the game, which in itself is a spiritual lesson about how life is perceived in Indian culture.

Opening up the game boxes, and handing out the rulebook Khol Khel (Open Play) that accompanies them, Aman gave the audience a real taste of playing these engrossing games. The pegs, the cowries (kind of dice), the game mats—everything seemed heavily interlaced with rich stories and heritage, immediately teleporting one to several millennia ago. The mat, often replaced with a playing board in contemporary versions, contained several faces with different designs and motifs each of which could be used to play a number of games, making way for divergent thinking where the players themselves can devise new games with new rules using the same mats, cowries and pegs.

Predictably, most members of the audience wanted to own a game box, and Aman encouraged them to not only purchase one, but also help in making these games accessible to a larger audience base so that this dying art could be revived and resurrected. Aman left behind a few game boxes with the SAS teams for their use, and the Research and Management teams are motivated to play these games regularly and employ them in the workshops they hold.

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