No, this is not a metaphor. I am referring to the board game, ‘Snakes and Ladders‘.

I read the other day that the game Snakes and Ladders had originated in India. So I looked around the Internet and found some interesting information.

Apparently this game originated in ancient India, and was known then as Mokshapat or Moksha Patamu. The game was played as early as the 2nd century BC.

The bases of the ladders were placed on the ‘squares of virtues’ like Faith, Reliability, Generosity, Knowledge, while the snakes started on the ‘squares of evil’ like Lying, Drunkenness, Debt, Rage, Greed, Pride. It was a game of morality. The last square, number 100, represented Moksha or Salvation.

In the 16th century, a Jain version of the game was played in India- Gyanbazi.

The moral ideals of the game probably appealed to the Victorians, and it made its way to England as ‘Snakes and Ladders’.

The basic concept of this game was later introduced to the U.S. by Milton Bradley as Chutes and ladders.

I am not surprised that Moksha Patamu was used to impart moral education to children in ancient India. Even our traditional stories for children, like Panchatantra or Hitopadesha , were not intended to merely entertain children, but to teach them the philosophy of life.

And modern education experts say that teaching through games is very effective, particularly for young children. Our ancestors had evidently realized this.

History shows us that the individuals in times past, that we look up to, had some essential virtues that enabled them to attain greatness.

But it is not enough that only some individuals in a society have those virtues.

Our society or our nation as a whole should be able to stand the test of time, as a strong and just, society or nation. For this to be possible, it is necessary that not only some individuals, but most of the individuals in our society be of strong moral character.

Our ancestors from ancient times seem to have had this in mind when they encouraged children to play Moksha Patamu!