Snakes and Ladders

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!

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22 thoughts on “Snakes and Ladders”

  1. This is a revelation Manju…traced back to 2nd century BC! Must have been even older. The British took the body of the game, but forgot about its soul. Parts of Modern India are faithfully continuing that great tradition even now.

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  2. Great post and good research, Manju. Perhaps we have lost so much of our history that we are astounded by those seemingly new revelations. And perhaps we have programmed ourselves into thinking that there is no redeeming value in our past.

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  3. amazing research done by you..thanks!:)yes,children learn the most effectively and more quickly through games…as Sagarone says,I get sick of this denouncement of the Indian culture 24/7 too….we are own biggest critics…nothing satisfies us..

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  4. Great find! Manju, I believe that religion played an important role in shaping morality in society in those days. In fact some of the rituals too must have had some meanings and reasons that have been lost with time. Even our epics are not just stories but messages and there is a great deal of symbolism and teachings in each small story. Do continue to share such rare finds for us!

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  5. Vinodji- Our ancestors must have been very wise to think of such an innovative game to teach morals to children. And that, too, many centuries ago!I.V.S.- My siblings and I played this game, too, when I was a child!Nimmy- This is a difficult tag for me- I am not very knowledgeable, musically. 🙂

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  6. What a idea ! I didnt know this earlier. This is rather enlightening !And where we have come to, is like the rest of the things in teh world. Keep the frame but forget the essence ! This is fabulous stuff !! Thanks for sharing !

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  7. oh i dint kno this.. our country is so fun of surprises…snakes n ladders was a favourite game as a kid..as my ludo.. 😀 i hv spend many summer vacations skipping the afternoon nap and playing these board games…

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  8. Sagarone, Indyeah- Thank you!Yes, this thought has been in my mind for some time now that we have brainwashed ourselves into believing that everything in our Indian traditions should be discarded.Gopinathji- I agree, the role of religion must have been important in shaping morality in the past. Its influence probably extended to all areas of society.

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  9. Kavi- Very true! We are following the rest of the world in keeping the frame and forgetting the essence!Mavin- Most of this was new for me, too!Mandira- It is interesting to think that children centuries ago played the same game that children today play. 🙂

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  10. Manju, We were a super intelligent bunch. We developed chess, wrote epics, made clothes and houses and even the most complicated drainage system when rest of the world was hunting for animals in villages without proper clothes.We started praying to all things which provided us shelter and food like stone, trees, animals..and slowly a culture evolved around Sindhu (Indus) river. We never attacked anyone. We never preached our Hinduism culture to anyone and that’s one reason it didn’t go beyond Bharatvarsha. What many agree or not we had much developed brains when we showed Pushpaka vimana in Ramayan, Kunti getting 5 children from diff. men like IVF. Peaceful and intelligent country could develop this and many more. Thanks for this post. My daughter plays with something similar called Candyland.

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  11. Children do learn a lot through fun and games! Saanp-Seedhi (Also Chaupad and Shatranj) had to be Indian origin … snakes have been a regular part of ancient Indian life and folk lore :)@Solilo My kids also had Candyland 🙂

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  12. I hope some of the game makers have read this.I feel instead of numbers they should re-introduce this concept of moral values in the squares!Also, if game-makers are here, I suggest them to send a few free copies of this game to political leaders. Such a discount would be great social work!! 🙂

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