Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Saanp - Seedi : Snakes and Ladders

Most of us liked playing snakes and ladders as kids; some still enjoy the game and indulge in it as frequently as possible with their kids, nieces, nephews, friend’s kids etc. For all of you that enjoy the game, here is some cool stuff related to it.

First, some facts about it’s origin; sourced from Wikipedia and this article from the Hindu.

Snakes and Ladders originated in India as a game based on morality called Vaikuntapaali or Paramapada Sopanam (the ladder to salvation) or Moksha Patamu; the earliest known Jain version Gyanbazi dating back to 16th century. The game 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 London. It 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. Moksha Patamu was perhaps invented by Hindu spiritual teachers to teach children about the effects of good deeds as opposed to bad deeds. In this game every time a snake swallows a player he reaches the tail, which is death. He replays and goes up a ladder — this is life again.

The game board has 132 squares arranged in a serial order from the left bottom. There are different pictures on each block. They denote a living creature — animals, birds and men and they stand as a symbol. For example, the picture of a rishi (hermit) in block No 30 stands for nishta (concentration). Some squares have human qualities like Ego (Square No. 75), infatuation (Moham No. 97).

The ladders began from squares that represented virtues, such generosity, faith, humility, etc., and the snakes began from squares that represented vices such as lust, anger, murder, theft, etc. The squares of virtue on the original game are Faith (12), Reliability (51), Generosity (57), Knowledge (76), Asceticism (78); the squares of evil are Disobedience (41), Vanity (44), Vulgarity (49), Theft (52), Lying (58), Drunkenness (62), Debt (69), Rage (84), Greed (92), Pride (95), Murder (73) and Lust (99).

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.
Once the victor reaches the 132nd square (the last), the right number has to fall to "reach God." Until he does so, he would be limping from one dwarapalak to another. Once he gets the right number to reach the Virat swaroopa, he wins the game!

‘Snakes and Ladders’ is also the title of a collection of Gita Mehta’s essays. In this article, Mehta explains that she chose the title as a metaphor for contemporary India because the unpredictability of whether a player rises quickly up a ladder or plunges into the jaws of a serpent seems like Indian life itself.

''Sometimes in our glacial progress toward liberation from the injustices that make a mockery of political freedoms,'' she writes, ''it seems we Indians have vaulted over the painful stages experienced by other countries, lifted by ladders we had no right to expect. At other times we have been swallowed by the snakes of past nightmares, finding ourselves after half a century of independence back at square one.''

And, to end this post, a passage from from ‘Midnight’s Children’ by Salman Rushdie :

The moment I was old enough to play board games, I fell in love with snakes and ladders. O perfect balance of rewards and penalties ! O seemingly random choices made by tumbling dice ! Clambering up ladders, slithering down snakes, I spent some of the happiest days of my life. When, in my time of trial, my father challenged me to master the game of shatranj, I infuriated him by preferring to invite him, instead, to chance his fortune among the ladders and nibbling snakes.

All games have morals; and the game of Snakes and Ladders captures, as no other activity can hope to do, the eternal truth that for every ladder you climb, a snake is waiting just around the corner; and for every snake, a ladder will compensate. But it’s more than that; no mere carrot-and-stick affair; because implicit in the game is the unchanging twoness of things, the duality of up against down, good against evil; the solid rationality of ladders balances the occult sinuosities of the serpent; in the opposition of staircase and cobra we can see, metaphorically, all conceivable oppositions, Alpha against Omega, father against mother; ......but I found, very early in my life, that the game lacked one crucial dimension, that of ambiguity – because, it is also possible to slither down a ladder and climb to triumph on the venom of a snake....

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Anonymous said...

i liked the quote from Rushdie. i dont remember reading it.. nice post zen. Nafisa

Entropy said...

Hi Naffu,
Glad you liked the post.

Can lend you 'Midnight's Children' - it has a lot of nice passages which you feel like reading and rereading.


Anonymous said...

thanks. i have midnights children. will look it up

Entropy said...

Hi Naffu,
The passage I quoted is part of a chapter titled 'Alpha and Omega' or 'Alpha against Omega' - some such thing.