Traditional Games of India

Traditional Games of India

Lagori, Kancha, Gilli-danda, Kho Kho,Five stones,Ashtapada,Kite Fighting,Moksha Patam,Pallanguzhi,Pittu Garam,Poshampa,Kith Kith,Krida-patram,Kalari,Chaupat,Hide and seek,Lambs and Tigers,Dog and the Bone,Maram Pitthi  These are Amazing Childhood Games Do You Know? Recognize any of these names? Here's a clue - they are an integral part of Indian culture and have been around for centuries.

Confused? They are traditional games that have been played since time immemorial in India. Born in 80’s kids will know these games.However, with the advent of video games and gadgets, people, especially the younger generations, have forgotten these games. We take a closer look at some of them to revive fond memories and give our children a glimpse of the past.It’s time to pass on the magic of these childhood games to our current generation which tends to live in a virtual world.

Sports and games have always been an integral part of India’s rich culture and history. Sadly, today’s kids are so engrossed in playing video games that traditional games like Pallanguzi, Lippa, Kabaddi, Gilli-danda have been completely forgotten. Gone are the days when kids simply couldn’t wait to go out and play a few rounds of Pithoo or Kith-Kith (Hopscotch) with their friends. The reduction in physical activity has given rise to a host of health issues in kids. Therefore, reviving traditional games will provide a host of health benefits.

Indian Traditional Indoor Games:


Ashtapada is an Indian board game which predates chess. Chess was invented in India and originally called as Ashtapada(sixty-four squares). Later this game came to be known as Chaturanga. It could be played by two to four participants and data used to determine the amount of houses to be moved in the board.

It’s believed that this game might have originated around 7th-8th century AD. “Ashtapada” in Sanskrit denotes a spider -“a legendary being with eight legs” and this game was played with a dice on an 8×8 checkered board. Back then the chess board were not black and white checkers, unlike the one we see now.

Other Indian boards included the 10×10 Dasapada and the 9×9 Saturankam. Later this game came to be known as Chaturanga. The Sanskrit name Chaturanga means ‘quadripartite’ — the four Angas (divided into four parts) which symbolize “the 4 branches of the army”, which has been said in the Amarakosh, an ancient indian dictionary. Like real Indian armies at that time, the pieces were called elephants, chariots, horses and foot soldiers. Unlike modern chess, Chaturanga was mainly a game of chance where results depended on how well you rolled the dice. Played on an authentic cloth  by 2, 3 or 4 players, Chaturanga combines the basic strategy of chess with the dynamic challenge of chance as each move is determined by the random roll of a wooden dice.

Rules of Game:
The game begins with all the pieces  off the board. Each player throws the dice. If using four sticks, the score is the number of light sides facing up, if cowrie shells are used, the mouths are counted instead. All four back sides facing up count as 8. The player who throws highest starts the game, play passing to her left when she has completed her turn. A player starts her turn by throwing the dice repeatedly, noting the throws made, until a two or three is thrown. Once the series of throws ending in two or three is complete, the pieces can be entered and moved, using in any order the throws noted.A piece not already on the board can only be entered using a throw of 1, in which case it is placed on the player’s own right hand X marked box.If a player has no pieces on the board, any throws made before a 1 are discarded. A piece already on the board may be advanced along it using any of the throws individually or combined.The order in which the numbers were thrown is not significant except as noted in rule 7.A piece does not move twice; when combining two or more throws to move one piece, the piece moves the total number of squares without stopping on any intervening squares.If one of the throws is 1, a piece may, however, enter the board and advance in the same turn.Each player’s pieces follow a path starting on their own right hand X marked box. The route is shown in the diagram. Every throw in a series must be used, if possible.Any number of the same player’s pieces may occupy the same square.A player’s piece on an X marked box is safe and cannot be landed on by an opponent and knocked off.There are no special rules for triplets or quadruplets. If a piece lands on a square occupied by enemy pieces, those enemy pieces are removed from the board and handed back to their owner.Such captured pieces must re-enter the board as if they had never been on it.After capturing, a player is granted another turn. So after completing her moves she again proceeds as per rule 4 on wards. Twins can be captured only by other twins. Single pieces landing on twins will simply share the same square as if it were a palace or the keep.Twins being captured are separated and re-entered as single pieces.Twins may capture singletons.The keep is at the end of each player’s course, and may only be entered by an exact throw.Twins entering the keep are there regarded as two individual pieces.When a player has all her pieces in the keep, she may start bearing off.On a throw of one, a piece completes its journey and is removed from the board (borne off).When a player has borne off all of her pieces, the game is over and she is declared the winner.

The game is relatively simple but still involves some tactical skill. The first thing to take advantage of is the differing chances of each of the throws: 2 is the most common, followed by 1 and 3, followed by 4 and 5. Positioning a piece two squares behind an opponent, threatening capture, is a good way to force the opponent to move that piece. Similarly, you should avoid leaving a piece in an unprotected square when an enemy pieces is two squares behind.

The path around the board is easy to remember, but the difficulty comes in recognizing (and remembering) that the opponents paths are not the same as your own: they are rotated versions of it. It is easy to forget this, and make plays to threaten enemy pieces that in actuality you can never reach.

2.Moksha Patam:

The game had its origin in India and was called Moksha Patam or Parama Padam or Mokshapat. It was used to teach Hindu Dharma and Hindu values to children. In the original game square 12 was faith, 51 was Reliability, 57 was Generosity, 76 was Knowledge, and 78 was Asceticism. These were the squares were the ladder was found. Square 41 was for Disobedience, 44 for Arrogance, 49 for Vulgarity, 52 for Theft, 58 for Lying, 62 for Drunkenness, 69 for Debt, 84 for Anger, 92 for Greed, 95 for Pride, 73 for Murder and 99 for Lust. These were the squares were the snake was found. The Square 100 represented Nirvana or Moksha.

Also known as ‘paramapadam’, there are a hundred squares on a board; the ladders take you up, the snakes bring you down. The difference here is that the squares are illustrated. The top of the ladder depicts a God, or one of the various heavens (kailasa, vaikuntha, brahmaloka) and so on, while the bottom describes a good quality. Conversely, each snake’s head is a negative quality or an asura (demon). As the game progresses, the various karma and samskara, good deeds and bad, take you up and down the board. Interspersed are plants, people and animals.

The game serves a dual purpose: entertainment, as well as dos and don’ts, divine reward and punishment, ethical values and morality. The final goal leads to Vaikuntha or heaven, depicted by Vishnu surrounded by his devotees, or Kailasa with Shiva, Parvati, Ganesha and Skanda, and their devotees. In this age of moral and ethical degeneration, this would be a good way of teaching values to children who think they already know more than their parents.

If paramapadam teaches moral values, pallankuli develops skill and quick thinking. Two players compete on a board consisting of between seven and twenty pits per player; each player has to collect the coins or shells or seeds with which the game is played, the player with the maximum number being the winner. There are nine variations of this game, each a ‘pandi’, with regional, caste and religious variations. It was very popular among women and required a good memory and alertness, as they had to count and remember the number of coins or seeds accumulated by the opponent.

The British took the game to England in 1892 and named it Snakes and Ladders and changed it according to Victorian values.


Pachisi, a board game, was quite popular in ancient India. The game finds its mention in the Mahabharata. Akbar and his descendants also played this game. It involves two to four players who strategise their pawn’s moves on a piece of cloth designed in the shape of a symmetrical cross to win the game.Chopat is claimed to be a variation of the game of dice played in the epic poem Mahabharata between Yudhishthira and Duryodhan.Pachisi is often referred to as the national game of India. The game originated in Ancient India and it is one of the best known games from it's era.

The name of the game comes from the Hindi word - pachis, meaning twenty-five - this is also the largest score that can be thrown with the cowrie shells. The game is also known by the name Twenty-Five. Pachisi was at its height during the Mogul period, in the 16th to the 19th centuries, when the emperor - Akbar played games with human pieces on boards of inlaid marble, the remains of which may still be seen.There are also other well known versions of the game - chausar, chaupar, chaupur or caupur.

Chaupar is also a board game which was invented around the 4th century. It includes two to four players who use cowry shells and wooden pawns to plan their manoeuvres and win the game. The contemporary version of Pachisi/Chaupar is Ludo which you might have played in your childhood.

Pachisi is played on a cross-shaped board. The middle space is the start and finish point for all BEADs. Each arm of the cross has a middle column and two outside columns, the outside columns are a track. Each player owns one middle column. There are 12 s Pachisi requires 6 cowrie shells. You can use 6 dice; odd numbers representing 1, and even numbers 0. Moves are calculated as the sum of the dice (2 – 6) or 10 for a roll of 1 odd number. If a throw shows 6 even numbers, the players moved 25.  Each player selects four BEADs the colour of their choice. BEADs start off the board. Players decide who begins by rolling the dice. Play occurs in a counter-clockwise direction.

How to play:
A player must roll a grace (a 6, 10 or 25) to put a BEAD on the center of the board.Anytime a grace is rolled, a player receives another roll.In turn, each player rolls the die and moves their BEAD the number of spaces indicated down their column and then around the full track counter-clockwise, before proceeding back up their column.Players must use the full number of moves on a single BEAD or forfeit their turn.Players can choose not to use their roll. Players can land on a square that is occupied by one of their own BEADs. If a player lands on a square that is occupied by their opponent’s BEAD, the opponent’s BEAD is removed from the board, requiring a roll of a grace to move the BEAD back into play. If a player removed an opponent’s BEAD, they receive another turn. BEADs cannot be captured if they are a square marked with an X. Players require an exact roll to land on the centre square and finish.

How to Win:
To win, a player must move their BEADs around the board and proceed up their home column back onto the centre square.


It is one of the famous games which was played in ancient South India. Pallankuzhi is believed to have originated in Tamil Nadu and later spread to other places like Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, and even Malaysia and Sri Lanka. Variations of the game are called Kuzhipara in Malayalam, Ali Guli Mane in Kannada and Vamana Guntalu in Telugu. The game includes a rectangular board, divided into two horizontal rows and seven vertical columns. Thus, there are 14 cups on the board and 146 counters. Usually, cowry shells or tamarind seeds function as counters. Two people can play this game at a time.

The word "pallankuzhi" is also used in Tamil according to Balambal Ramaswami as a generic name for mancala games that are mostly played by Tamil women in South India and northern Sri Lanka.

Pal means in Tamil "many" and kuzhi means "pit" and could literally be translated as many pits, a fitting description of the mancala boards used to play mancala games.

Pallankuzhi plays an important role in Tamil literature (see the Kriti below). There is even a film about women poets called "SheWrite", which has a famous Pallankuzhi scene.

The game is popular among children and older people. It is encouraged for children to learn to count and to improve the eye-hand coordination while playing.

Pallankuzhi is also played in Sri Lanka, Trinidad, Guyana and Singapore, with a sizable Indian population living in those countries.

Pallankuzhi Song:

O Ruler of Ayodhya, of the inestimable form! 
I have the desire to listen 
To my hearts fill and my ears delight, your sweet speech 
That you and Sita and spoke with true love and understanding, 
Gazing at each other, when you played a game of Pallanguzhi 
With her and won, which was heard by Bharata and Hanuman. 

In this Kriti (Hindu devotional music popular in southern India) Rama demonstrates the superiority of males by winning in the woman's domain.

5.Gutte/Five Stones:
Gutte is a fun game can be played by both adults and kids. It generally requires five pebbles or small stones. There is no limit on the number of players who can play this game at a given time. The player needs to spin a stone up in the air and gather the remaining stones lying on the floor with one hand without allowing the one in the air to fall to the ground. Next, the player has to throw two stones up in the air and collect the rest and so on. The player who finishes eight steps in the minimum number of tries is the winner.

Antakshari is an entertaining Indian desi game is often played by grown-ups and children alike. It originated in Indian and is now played worldwide with alterations. Variations can be made to the original idea to suit the occasion such as family gathering, weddings, parties, etc. To play this game, two teams are made. One team sings a song, typically a Bollywood song. The other team has to sing a song beginning with the last consonant of the song sung by the first team. Both the teams keep taking turns until one can’t think of a song and thus loses.

The popular game of cards originated in ancient India and was known as Krida-patram. It was one of the favorite pastimes of Indians in ancient times. This game was patronized especially by the royalty and nobility. In medieval India, playing cards was known as Ganjifa cards which were played in practically all royal courts. Cards were known as Krida-patram in ancient India. These cards were made of cloth and depicted motifs from the Ramayana, Mahabharata, etc. A tradition carried on today with floral motifs and natural scenery.

8.Lambs and Tigers:
Lambs and Tigers Game locally referred as Aadu Puli aatam is a strategic, two-player (or 2 teams) leopard hunt game that is played in south India. The game is asymmetric in that one player controls three tigers and the other player controls up to 15 lambs/goats. The tigers ‘hunt’ the goats while the goats attempt to block the tigers’ movements..
Played by: two-player or 2 teams

Lattoo is a game that involves spinning a wooden top (lattoo), which has grooves in it lower half and a nail at the bottom, on which it spins. A thick string  is wrapped around the grooves on lower half and pulling the string makes the top spin.
Played by: one or more people

10.Chidiya udd: 
We even have a game for our index fingers! A quick game for two or more, this one tests your brain like no other. We have made dogs and chairs fly while playing this game too.

Indian Traditional Out Door Games:

1.Gilli Danda/Lippa:
An amateur sport, Gilli Danda is one of the most thrilling games invented on the Indian Subcontinent thought to be originated 2,500 years ago.

Gilli Danda is an older version of modern-day baseball and cricket. Its fame once matched that of cricket in India. All it requires is two unevenly sized sticks. The smaller stick(oval-shaped wooden piece) is called the Gilli and the longer one which is used to strike the Gilli is called the Danda. Standing in a small circle, the player balances the gilli on a stone in an inclined manner somewhat like a see-saw with one end of the gilli touching the ground while the other end is in the air. The player then uses the danda to hit the gilli at the raised end, which flips it into the air. While it is in the air, the player strikes the gilli, hitting it as far as possible.Having struck the gilli, the player is required to run and touch a pre-agreed point outside the circle before the gilli is retrieved by an opponent. This aspect of the game is similar to runs in cricket or home-runs in baseball.The secret of winning this game is all in the technique of raising and hitting Gilli.

One of the amazing things about the game is that there are no strict rules about the upper limit of the number of players. It can be played between four players all the way up to 100 or even more players.
Played by: many people at the same time.

2.Pittu Garam or Seven Stones

Pittu Garam (Seven Stones) is a traditional South Asian game played between two teams. The game requires a tennis ball and set of seven stones which can be stacked up to form a small tower. The aim of the game is to be able to break the tower and then rebuild it before getting hit by one of the opponent.There are two teams of players. One player of the attacking team needs to strike the pile of stone with the ball to knock them over in three shots. Then the whole team has to try and restore the pile before being hit by the ball and declared ‘out’.
Played by: two teams, with a minimum of 3 players and a maximum of nine on each team.

Lagori is a game which is a popular game in India. It is called Dappa Kali in the northern parts of Kerala, especially in Kannur. This game requires a considerable amount of physical exercise and is mainly played by boys. This game is played between two teams. It consists of 10 marble pieces piled one above the other. One team targets this pile and once they strike it then their next aim is to keep it back while the other team has to block the opposing side from arranging it back. This is almost same as Seven Stones game.
Played by:two teams

Kancha was one of the most popular games among children in the neighborhood. It is played using marbles called ‘Kancha’ or ‘Goli’. The players are to hit the selected target ‘kancha’ using their own marble ball.This is an One of the exciting childhood games played in India was Kancha.It began during the Harappan age. The game involves the use of round glass marbles or kanchas. Several people can participate in this game. The objective is to collect the maximum number of marbles by striking the chosen kancha with another one. The winner gets to take home all the marbles of the other players.The marble is held between the right hand and the forefinger of the left hand. The finger is pulled backward and is released with pressure almost in a spring action.

There are various versions of the game ranging from easy all the way to the more complicated ones.
In simpler game, the player has to target a marble among other ones in the circle from a distance. Then in another version, Kancha is almost played like a miniature version of golf where the player has to send his marble into a hole a couple of yards away from him/her.

Kancha was a hit amongst youngsters considering that the marbles were inexpensive and the game could be played on any surface and weather.

Chain is another delightful children’s game. This game is more fun to play when there are more players. The ‘denser’ has to catch the other members. When the denser catches someone, he joins hands with the denser to form a chain. Together they try to catch the other remaining members. Thus, the caught members keep joining to form a chain till all the players have been caught.

Two people stand with their hands locked together above their heads and sing a song. The other kids pass from under that bridge and the one who gets caught (when the hands come down like a cage at the end of the song) is out.

7.Four Corners:
Four corners is a game often played by primary school children. Four corners are designated, and a player is chosen as being “it”. The remaining players have to swap corners without being caught by “it”. If a player is caught by “it” or is without a free corner to stand in, he becomes “it”.
Played by: 5 people

Langdi is a popular childhood game, especially in the state of Maharashtra. The game consists of two teams, and the team that wins the toss defends first. The opposing team sends a player to tag as many defenders as he can, while hopping on one foot. The team that tags the most defenders wins.
Played by: two teams, 12 players each

9.Kith Kith or Pandi Attam/Nondi/Hopscotch:
Nondi or Pandi Attam is a very funny hopping game played by the girls in many rural villages of Tamil Nadu. It is known as Tokkudu Billa/Tangidi Billa in Andrapradesh and Kunte Bille in Karnataka it is played by the girls in many villages, even today. A popular playground game in which players toss a small object into numbered spaces of a pattern of rectangles outlined on the ground and then hop or jump through the spaces to retrieve the object. This popular game is also played in other countries and is loved by all.

10.Hide and Seek/Chhupam Chhupai/Kannamoochi:
The origin of this game is unknown. It is commonly played all over the world under different names. The players hide in a previously decided marked area. The ‘denner’ has to shut his eyes and announce numbers loudly while the other players get time to hide. Then, the denner has to find the hidden players. Any number of people can play this game.It isn’t only children who enjoy it – a natural instinct for parents is to play a facial form of hide and seek with their children from the earliest age, as it teaches children about attachment and detachment in a safe and caring environment. Leaving aside the psychology, however, the outdoor game provides wonderful interaction amongst children is easy to play and never gets boring.
Played by: any number of people

The game is the Indian equivalent of the western game “Tag.” There are two teams in the game – one team of thieves (chor) and the other team of sipahi (police). The sipahi try and catch the chor, after which the turn changes (that is, the chor become the sipahi and vice versa)
Played by: two teams, any number of people

12.Dog and the Bone:
The game consists of two teams, and an object such as a bottle or handkerchief, tick is designated as the ‘bone’etc., which is designated as the “bone.” A player from each team comes forward and attempts to take the bone (placed at the center of the playing area) back to his team. The player who fails to take the bone has to go out of the game.The aim is to retrieve the bone without being caught by the other player.
Played by: two teams of usually 5-10 members each.

Kabbadi is a contact sport that originated in Ancient India. In the international team version of kabaddi, two teams of seven members each occupy opposite halves of a field of 10 m × 13 m in case of men and 8 m × 12 m in case of women. Each has three supplementary players held in reserve. The game is played with 20-minute halves and a five-minute halftime break during which the teams exchange sides.
Played by: two teams of 7 members each

14.Vish Amrit:
It is the Indian version of the game “lock and key”. The aim of the denner is to touch the other players, giving them vish. As soon as vish is given the person stays there until teammates come to give him/her amrit. The game ends when all players have been caught and there is no one left to give amrit.
Played by: any number of players

15. Kalari:
Kalari is considered to be the most complete and scientific martial art and is the mother of all martial arts. Bodhidharma, a Buddhist monk from India, introduced Kalari into China and Japan in the 5th century. He taught this art in a temple. This temple is today known as the Shaolin temple.

16.Maram Pitthi:
Maram Pitthi is similar to dodgeball. It comprises of two teams with any number of players. A large area is required to play this game. Players from one team form a circle and hit the opposing team members who enter the circle with a ball((usually made of sponge)). The opposing team players have to try and evade being hit by the ball and those who get hit by the ball are declared ‘out’.( Once a player is hit, he is out of the game. Passing between players of the same team is also allowed.)
Played by: two teams, any number of members

17.Kho Kho:
The game consists of two teams, who are required to chase down and tag the players of the opposite team to win the game. The chasing team sends out nine players onto the field, who sit in a straight line with alternate players facing opposite sides. The chasers have to make sure they catch the runners (who enter the field one at a time) before time runs out.
Played by: two teams of nine players each.

Dhopkhel, also transliterated dhop khel and dhoop khel is a popular game in Assam. The game is played between two eleven member teams on a 125m by 80m field bounded by four flags, dhop is the name given to a rubber ball used by these two teams. The players take turns throwing the ball at the opponent to knock them out of the game, while seeking to catch the ball and evade other players. It is a test of speed, stamina, and acrobatic skills.

19.Kite Fighting:
Fighter kites are kites used for the sport of kite fighting. Traditionally most are small, unstable single line flat kites where line tension alone is used for control, and an abrasive line is used to cut down other kites.

These are mention of games above like Pallankuzhi,Vish Amrit,Kancha, Chhupam Chhupai,Lagori, and Kho Kho is sure to make you nostalgic about your own childhood.

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