Do you know that the popular ‘Snakes and Ladders’ is a modern version of an ancient Indian board game? It was known as ‘Moksha Patam’ or ‘Moksha Path’.
Moksha Patam was a simple race contest based on sheer luck. It was played between two or more players on a board having gridded squares. These squares were numbered sequentially.
A number of “ladders” and “snakes” were pictured on the board was either to help or to hinder the player. The player moved forward in a specific square grid based on the result he/she obtained after rolling the dice. The object of the game was to navigate one’s game piece from the start (bottom square) to the finish (top square) as early as possible.
The historic version of this game had a root in morality lessons, which was inspired by Hindu philosophy of karma and kama (destiny and desire). The game taught the impact of good and bad deeds on the destiny, where a player’s progression up the board represented a life journey complicated by virtues (ladders) and vices (snakes). The ladders represented ‘good karma’ (destiny – such as generosity, faith, and humility), while the snakes represented ‘kama’ (desire – such as lust, anger, murder, and theft).
In Hindi, this game is called Saanp aur Seedhi, Saanp Seedhi and Mokshapat.
In Andhra Pradesh, it is called Vaikunthapali or Paramapada Sopana Patam means the ladder to salvation in Telugu. The board was covered with symbolic images, the top featuring gods, angels, and majestic beings, while the rest of the board was covered with pictures of animals, flowers and people.
Britishers introduced this game to Europe in 1892 and rebranded using Christian philosophy of morality. Ladder were associated with thrift, industry, penitence while snake were associated with indulgence, disobedience and indolence.
Milton Bradley have been publishing Chutes and Ladders, a commercial version with different morality lessons since the 1940s.
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