CHENNAI: Chennai is known for some of its ancient and beautiful places of worship like the Kapaleeswar, Parthasarathy and Marundheeshwara temples — all of which attract devotees from across the State. Though there are many who visit these temples regularly, how many would have paid attention to the floors, or the blink-and-you-will-miss intricate patterns on them?
Kreeda, an organisation trying to revive traditional games for the last 15 years, has been visiting temples all across the city to find board games that are carved on temple floors. Surprised? There’s more! So far, Kreeda has managed to find more than seven temples in Chennai with board games carved on the floors. The number of board games in each of these temples varies from two to 15. Apart from temples in Chennai, those in Mahabalipuram, Vellore, Srirangam and Tirupati too have board games on its’ temple floors, according to research done by Kreeda. “Not just floors, these games can be found anywhere in the temples…even on the vaasapadi (entrance) of the temples too,” shares Vinita Siddhartha, who runs Kreeda.
But why are there games inside temples, and why are they carved? “Well, back then, temples were not only just places of worship,” explains temple architectural historian Chithra Madhavan. “Anything they wanted to do, they went to the temple – be it for recreation, religious, or leisure purposes! That’s why you find these games carved on these floors — perhaps people gathered there to play them!”
Rajalakshmi, of Chennai, says she remembers playing in temples in her native village near Panruti back in the 1990s. “My house was within the temple premises, and my friends and I used to meet there and play kattam games,” she smiles.
On the other hand, 80-year-old Jayam hardly recalls such a pastime. “I have never seen anyone play games in temples. Outdoor games were played and board games in the house, but our parents those days were particular that we don’t play board games in temples.”
“We have been travelling to many temples across the country and trying to document these board games,” says Vinita. “We look into the history of the temple, year of construction and also talk to people in the locality.”
Vinita recalls the time she spotted a board game on a pillar at a height of eight feet in a temple at Vellore. “Since it’s almost impossible for anyone to be eight feet tall or for anyone to play a board game vertically, we could only assume that a horizontal board game was carved on the stone in a temple elsewhere. And these stones were later used to build the pillar. This way we can date when the pillar was constructed and document the game carved on it,” she explains.