Popular Games that Originated in Ancient India

Popular Games that Originated in Ancient India

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Do you know that the modern-day games like chess, Ludo, cards were originally invented in India? These were some of the ancient India games that were very popular amidst kings, courtiers, common people and children. India has a list of traditional Indian games that people entertained themselves with in their moments of leisure. Not simply that, such ancient India games also improved their skills of concentration, memory, hand-eye coordination, mathematics and reasoning. In this article, we will be presenting you such ancient games of India that people played back in the past.

So, without any delay, let us start exploring!

Ancient India Games


  • Chaturanga was one of the ancient India games that was played by the aristocratic society. This ancient game slowly evolved to become the modern-day chess.
  • The earliest version (7th century) of Chaturanga was known as “Ashtapada” that meant sixty-four squares of the board game.
  • The size of the board measured 8×8. The chaturanga that was played on a 10×10 board was known as Dasapada and when it was played on a 9×9 board was known as Saturankam.
  • Although much information is not available regarding the game’s rules, it is widely speculated that Chaturanga was a combination of chess and modern-day Ludo that involved some kind of racing between players.
  • Chaturanga that means “four-limbed” started off as a didactic game originally meant to teach young princes about the four parts or angas of the royal army, namely the infantry, the cavalry, elephantry and the chariotry.
  • In the 4th century B.C Buddha was against playing Chaturanga as it could “spoil the spirit of wise men and make them plunge into violence, and hence should be avoided”.
  • The accounts of an Ashtapada were deciphered through ancient Indian texts like Amarasimha’s Amarakosa and Banabhatta’s Harshacharita. The word “Chaturanga” can be found in ancient Indian epics like Mahabharata and Ramayana. According to an American ethnographer Stewart Culin, the earliest chaturanga’s description can be found in the Hindu text Bhavishya Purana.



  • Pachisi,also known as Chaupar was one of the ancient India board games that originated during the medieval times.
  • It is mentioned in the Indian epic Mahabharata and was played by the Pandavas and the Kauravas.
  • Historians also mention that one can find evidences of Pachisi in the caves of Ellora.
  • Pachisi particularly became famous during the reign of Akbar. At the behest of the Mughal emperor, a giant outdoor game board was built in the courtyard of the Fatehpur Sikri to entertain the players of Pachisi.
  • Pachisi meant 25 as this was the highest score of cowrie shells that one can throw. The board game was played by two-four players on a piece of cloth with an asymmetrical cross.
  • The game depended on strategy, counting, tactics and probability for the players to win.
  • Pachisi or Chaupar evolved to be called as the Ludo.



  • Mokshapat is an ancient indoor game of India. The other names of Mokshapat are Gyan Chaupar, Parama Padam, and Moksha Patamu.
  • The British modified Mokshapat and it came to be called as the game of “Snakes and Ladders”.
  • The game was created by Sant (saint) Gyandev in the 13th century.
  • Mokshapat was a game of morality in Hinduism that consisted of 100 squares with ladders and snakes in between that represented the virtues and vices respectively.
  • It was a game meant to teach young kids about life in general. The 100th square represented Nirvana or liberation which should be the goal of life. One keeps shifting between virtues and vices until the journey concludes at the 100th square.
  • If one commits good actions, he will quickly progress through life whereas if one commits bad actions, his evolution will regress and he will be reborn.
  • Examples are: Square 12, square 51, square 76 represented faith, trustworthiness, knowledge respectively. Likewise, square 41, square 49, square 84 represented the negative traits of disobedience, vulgarity, anger respectively.



  • Krida-patram is the modern-day card game played by many. It was used as a source of recreation both for common people as well as the royal families in India.
  • When India comprised of princely states, Krida-Patram was made out of clothes depicting motifs from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. The pieces of cloth were glued together to provide thickness to the Krida-patram.
  • The game of Krida-patram was further evolved by the Mughals in the 16th century to form the Ganjifa. These were completely hand-made cards with traditional paintings on them.
  • The Mughal emperors even commissioned artists to develop their own Ganjifas. The game was very popular in the courts of Kashyapa Meru, Deccan, Rajputana and Nepal.
  • Later, instead of clothes, the Ganjifa was made with ivory or tortoise shells and were studded with precious jewels, gemstones or metals. Thus, playing these Ganjifa was a costly affair.


Gutte (Five stones)

  • The traditional game of Gutte is played with five small stones or pebbles. It was played by both children and adults in ancient India.
  • From a group of stones, the player needs to toss one stone into the air and pick up another stone from the ground. The next step is to catch the first stone before it touches the ground. This should be followed by flinging the two stones up in the air and meanwhile collecting another stone from the ground. After you catch the two stones, you are left with 3 stones in hand. The process is repeated until one becomes a winner by collecting the maximum number of stones.
  • Gutte can be played either by oneself or in a group. It is also known by other names like Gutte, Pacheta etc. It improves hand-eye coordination and concentration power.


Aadu Puli Aatar (Lambs and Tigers Game)

  • Aadu Puli Aatar, also known as the Lambs and Tigers Game originated in southern India. It is still played in Indian states like Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
  • It is a strategy games and asymmetric in nature.
  • A player is given 3 tigers whereas the opponent has 15 lambs. The tigers on one hand, try to hunt down the lambs whereas on the other the lambs stay united and prevent the tigers from defeating them.
  • Aadu Puli Aatar is a mind puzzle game that requires a good memory power alongwith precise observation.



  • Dices have been unearthed from ancient sites of Harappan like Lothal, Alamgirpur, Desalpur, Ropar and also Mohenjodaro.
  • Back in those days, dices were mainly used for gambling. Chowka Bhara is one game where dices were used.
  • Unlike modern dices whose opposite sides add upto seven, a Lothal dice made from red clay consisted of 1 opposite 2, 3 opposite 4, 5 opposite 6 etc. Harappan dices followed the present day rule of opposite numbers adding up to seven.
  • Eventually, dice became popular and was adopted by the Persians in their board games.
  • Ancient texts that has the earliest mention of dices include Rig Veda and Atharva Veda. Those texts mention that dices were made up of Vibhitika wood.


Chowka Bhara

  • Chowka Bhara is one of the games with their origins in India. The game was introduced during the Vedic period and is a game of chance just like Ludo or snakes and ladders.
  • Chowka Bhara was played between the Pandavas and Kauravas. It was in this game that the Pandavas gambled away everything including their wife Draupadi.
  • Chowka Bhara was originally meant to teach mathematics to kids. It was traditionally played with cowrie shells. The cowrie shells have different points depending on whether they fall upward or downward.
  • As per the game, the winner must defeat the opponent by getting all his coins inside the innermost square.
  • Similar to strategy games, the moves are dependent on the number that the dice shows up.
  • Different places in India have different names for Chowka Bhara. For example, it is known as Kanna Kauri in Hindi, Challas Aath in Maharashtra, Mach Kooki in Gujarati and Khaddi Khadda in Punjab.
  • Although the boards of such games were not deciphered, Mohenjodaro and Lothal bricks containing squares are presumed to may have functioned like boards.


Jhandi Munda

  • Jhandi Munda is one of the ancient games of India that is also a game of chance. It was popular during the 18th century and originated from north-eastern region of India.
  • In Jhandi Munda, a tabletop board is divided into 6 parts or symbols like Spade, Diamond, Heart, Face, Club and Flag. The game has total 6 dices with the 6 symbols etched on top.
  • The player places a bet on the symbol that will come up the most when the six dices are rolled together. If more dices are obtained for a particular symbol, the player wins the game.
  • Sailors in the British Royal Navy played Jhandi Munda as “Crown and Anchor“. In Nepal, it came to be known as “Langur Burja“.


  • Pallankuzhi is one of the board games with their origins in India. It originated during the reign of the Chola dynasty. The game is played equally by children and old men and women.
  • Pallankuzhi was played on the temple premises in southern India.
  • It was most popular in Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka. Later on, Pallankuzhi spread to other southern parts of India like Andhra Pradesh, Kerela and Karnataka. It was even introduced to Malaysia as a form of entertainment.
  • Pallankuzhi was originally meant to hone the mathematical skills of children. It also proved hand-eye coordination, concentration, numerical and reasoning skills.
  • The game is also played by the Tamil population in Singapore, Indonesia, Guyana, Trinidad etc.
  • Pallankuzhi consists of a rectangular wooden board with two horizontal rows and seven vertical columns. The board has 14 pits, holes or cups where the 146 counters are placed.
  • The game is usually played between two players with counters like cowrie shells, tamarind seeds or small stones.
  • The goal is to have more counters than your opponent. The person who captures more counters at the end of the game is the winner of Pallankuzhi.
  • The other names of Pallankuzhi are Mancala, Pallankulli, Alagulimane, Satkoli Pallangulli etc.


Modern versions of ancient India Games


What is the Modern version of Chaturanga?

Chess is the modern version of Chaturanga. It was also known as Shatranj. The earlier version consisted of a mono-coloured board unlike modern-day chess board that has white and black squares. The rules of chess are similar to Chaturanga. For an instance, white makes an initial move followed by the black. The pieces are the Raja (king), Mantri (queen), Ratha (rook), Gaja (elephant), Ashva (knight), Bhata (pawn). Similar to chess, Chaturanga needs to checkmate the opponent’s king to win the game.

What is the Modern version of Pachisi?

Ludo is the modern version of Pachisi. In Pachisi, cowrie shells were used to play the game whereas the Britishers included a dice cup to throw dice in the modern version of Pachisi or Ludo. In 1896 England, they modified Pachisi and patented the game as Ludo.

What is the Modern version of Mokshapat?

Snakes and Ladders is the modern version of Mokshapat. Nowadays, board games like Ludo comes with snakes and ladders. We kept on playing the game of snakes and ladders, largely remaining unaware of its significance and its association with Nirvana.

What is the Modern version of Krida-Patram?

Cards is the Modern version of Krida-Patram. Card in ancient times were made of clothes or ivory but in today’s world, they are either made of paper or plastic. Today, popular card games mainly include Bridge, Rummy, Fish, Bluff etc.


Final Thought!

Some of the ancient Indian games are still played all over the world. While games like ludo, chess, snakes and ladders boards can be found in households, other games are rare to find. One direct source for children to know about such ancient games of India are through their grandparents. Nowadays, with the emerging online games, people are forgetting the traditional medium of entertainment and recreation. The best way to entertain yourself is to sit with others and enjoy the game over talks. Doing this not only develops your gaming skills but also enhances your relationship with others. Children must be taught and encouraged to play these ancient India board games with their friends and family so that the tradition of ancient Indian gaming goes on.

Do you play board games with your near and dear ones? Did any of the above games inspire you to take a break and try it out with others?

Let us know in the comment section below.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Which game was very popular in India?

Ashtapada or the modern-day chess was one of the games that was popular in ancient India.

Which game is originated in India?

Games like Pallankuzhi, Pachisi, Chaturanga, Krida-patram originated in India.

What modern game was invented in ancient India?

Modern games like ludo, chess, cards, snakes and ladders was invented in ancient India.

Which is the oldest game in India?

Chaturanga, also know as Ashtapada, Saturankam, Dasapada (modern-day chess) was one of the oldest games in India that was mainly played by the aristocratic section of the society.

Which Indian games are traditional?

Some of the Indian games that are traditional include Chaturanga, Pachisi, Mokshapat, Krida-patram, Gutte, Aadu Puli Aatar, Pallankuzhi, Chowka Bhara and Jhandi Munda.

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