Popularly known as Snakes and Ladder, a term coined by the British, this game owes its origins to the 13th century Indian poet saint Gyandev who created it to teach children the moral instructions of dharm and values. Originally called ‘Mokshapat’, even though the game underwent several modifications through time, the underlying learning remained the same: Good deeds take us to evolution and evil to a cycle of rebirths.
A very deep and profound game, Snakes & Ladders was earlier played by cowrie- shells. While, the squares with ladders represented all the good deeds like faith, reliability, generosity, passion, knowledge, good conduct and asceticism; the squares with snake heads represented bad deeds like disobedience, arrogance, vulgarity, theft, lying, drunkenness, debt, anger, greed, pride, murder and lust. Needless to say, the good deeds take you higher and the bad deeds bring you lower. The final square represented moksha or liberation, crossing this square meant that you have won the game or you have attained the level of moksha which means freedom from the cycle of birth and re-birth.
Some express that the forces of good and evil within each individual grew stronger or weaker depending on one’s action. Since the way to moksha is through gradual perfection, a person can shorten the journey and reduce the number of rebirths by doing good deeds. On the Mokshapat board, good deeds enable the soul to climb ladders of higher enlightenments. And the wicked souls slide downwards travelling on the back of the snakes. So a soul can go to heaven by striving enlightenment or get destined to repeated cycles of birth and re-birth by getting indulged in evil actions. How amazingly (so many years back), such an important lesson was taught through a small and simple looking board game, which even today’s technology cannot disregard.
In its original version there were pictures of gods in every square of ladder and in the squares of snake heads there were demons painted. This game was extremely popular not only with children but with housewives also. It served the purpose of teaching right things to your children as well as occupy them. But when the colonial rulers transported this game to their countries, they modified it as per their rules and deleted its moral and religious aspects. Also the number of ladders and snakes were equalized.
But then Snakes and Ladders is just one of the many in the reservoir of games or learning, that India has to offer…
2 thoughts on “Snakes and ladders – A game of moksh and rebirth”
If it dates back to 2nd century, how can Gyandev be the creator of this game? This must likely is a Jain invention, looking at the concepts & typical attributes of the game. Jainism was predominant all over India, even the most scholarly men & women were Jains. Another indication is the Siddhashila on top of the game, that is the place of Moksh, which Jains still use while making their symbolic swastik.
Want one for children. Where available.