Treasure in the Cups
BENGALURU: Hey, you have a pasu, take the coins’, and ‘There you go, it’s a kasi’, were the common lines children in Tamil households heard while playing the classic and traditional game of Pallanguzhi. While, most of us cherish the memories of playing the game with our grandparents, this two-player game is still a favorite among traditional board gamers. At Jhoola, an activity center for children run by Deepika Arun, we relived childhood memories of playing this game, which literally means ‘treasure in the cups’.
Kuzhi means cup or a hole in Tamil and this game is called by different names in different parts of the world, including Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and Africa (where it’s called Mancala).In Andhra Pradesh, it’s commonly called Vamanaguntal.
“If you notice carefully, only terms that symbolise positivity are used in this game unlike games like dayakattai which has the repeated use of the word vettu (cut), which denotes something negative,” says Deepika. Aditi, Deeksha, Arjun and Venkatesh are all six-year-olds who are proficient in this game — thanks to their mentor, Deepika.
A rectangular board with two rows, seven columns and 146 game coins is all that it takes to indulge in Pallanguzhi. Often played with puliyankottai (Tamarind seeds), small-seashells or pebbles, this game is said to improve the motor skills and mathematical skills of the player.
For people who are unaware of the game, here’s a peek. The 14 kuzhi’s (except the fourth hole on both sides) in the board are filled with six or 12 shells (game coins) each. Thus, each player has seven holes and 42 shells (If six shells are used). The first player takes the shells from any kuzhi from their side and distributes one shell in each hole (in clockwise direction) covering all the 14 holes. Once the shells or game coins are distributed, the player continues to take the shells from the succeeding kuzhi (irrespective of which row) and continues the game until he/she reaches an empty hole.
“The fourth kuzhi on either rows are called Kasi’s. So, when a person reaches an empty hole, the player should dip the empty hole and take all the coins that have so far been accumulated in Kasi,” says Deepika. Why Kasi? “I am not sure about the history of the name. But, my grandmother says that it signifies our karmas. So, when we dip the empty hole, we take the good karmas and leave the bad ones!” she chuckles.
Once the first player reaches their Kasi, the next player repeats the same. The game continues until all the holes are empty. “One more interesting aspect is Pasu. If there are three/six shells on a player’s respective side, the coins automatically become their wealth. This is called Pasu. Now, don’t ask me why!” she laughs. The player who collects the maximum number of shells is declared the winner of the game of wealth!
Though the game is most often played with two players, a variation, Rajapandi allows three players, wherein each player gets four pits/holes to play. “More the number of players, the duration increases,” she explains.
As we talk, Venkatesh yells and declares himself the winner of the game. “Anyone can play Pallanguzhi. I would suggest this game to anyone who visits me,” he grins.