Monday, April 21, 2008

Snakes and Ladders



An 18th century Moksha Patanu board.

Snakes And Ladders
I have always liked the Jains. During my travels throughout India every Jain I have met without exception has been respectful, helpful and generous. When I visited Palitana in Gujarat the only problem was that they wouldn’t let me leave, so intent were they on offering me their hospitality. Now that I have discovered that the Jains invented Snakes and Ladders I like them even more. As a child, my older sister and I and the kids next door used to play this game all the time. I can still remember the snake’s head in the square Pride and its tail in the square Fall. Tradition says that the Jain saint Gaydev invented Snakes and Ladders in the 13th century to teach children the cardinal virtues. This story is perfectly plausible. Anyone who has ever stayed with Jain monks will know how diligently and creatively they minister to the lay community. The great Indiologist A. L. Basham thought that one of the reasons why Buddhism disappeared in India and Jainism didn’t was because of the attentiveness of the Jain monks towards the laity. It’s an interesting theory. The Jains call Snakes and Ladders Moksha Patamu, Liberation and Decline, which would be Mokkha Patana in Pali. I wonder if the Buddhists of ancient Gujarat played Snakes and Ladders too. The most ancient version of the game have 72 squares and the virtues are faith, reliability, generosity knowledge and simplicity. The vices are disobedience, vanity, rudeness, theft, dishonesty, drunkenness, debt, killing, anger, greed, pride and lust. The last square on the top left is Nirvana. What a delightful and fun way to teach children basic goodness! I suspect that young kids today would be bored stiff by Snakes and Ladders. It wouldn’t have a chance against video games. But to me the game brings back fond memories of a more simple and innocent time.

1 comment:

peter said...

Who hasn't played snakes and ladders. I used to play it with my little sister every night. I my town we are making a contest and the winner would be given a pill of Viagra Online.