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Racing Ahead On a Vimanam

‘Vimanam’ or ‘Kurankattam’, as this game is called in Southern India, is a 2-player race game played with cowrie shells or stick dice. Earlier studies of game inscriptions suggest the evolution of this game from single track dice games found in India and Srilanka. Irving Finkel, the curator at British Museum in London, observed a game ‘Aasha’ played by the jews in Kochi which shared many similarities with an ancient Sumerian race game (3000 BCE), the Royal game of UR. While we do not have evidence on the precise dating of the game Aasha, several single-track games with ludemes similar to Aasha are noted all over India: Pancha Keliya, Dadu, Bhadrakattam, Vimanam, Panchi, which are some of them.

All these games have different starting tracks which merge onto a common track and then branch out into diverse tracks. The game tracks have safe squares which are used strategically during gameplay. The games have a common objective of racing ahead along the given track to the final winning square based on the throw of shells or dice.

Dice games have been prevalent in ancient India, commonly found carved on the floors of temples, caves, forts and other historic monuments as well as found mention in Sanskrit literature. The occurrence of indigenous games in religious & community spaces of the bygone days is suggestive of the interweaving of games in the moral & social fabric of the people. ‘Play’ for ancient Indians was fundamentally sacred, infused with the philosophy of life and served as metaphors for life. India is one of the oldest civilizations has a rich and diverse cultural heritage. Among the many resilient features of this heritage, one that is largely undocumented is indigenous games. Focussed research to develop a deeper, cultural understanding of indigenous games can go a long way in preserving our cultural heritage.

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