CHENNAI: Sitting on the thinnai of their house, children of a bygone era played several games — ones that also tested their skills — with their parents and grandparents and cousins to pass time. Over time, parents pored over their office work, grandparents chose other modes of entertainment, and children joined their friends to play outdoor games. Then came the era of video games and online gaming, completely shutting children behind closed doors. Cut to 2020, the evergreen games are making a comeback. Games that just required the floor, coloured chalk pieces, a few stones, pebbles and seeds, proving that the game wasn’t in the materials. Vinita Sidhartha, founder of Kreeda, has spent the better part of her life searching and reviving such games. She shares seven popular games of Tamil Nadu played using seeds from local trees.
Long ago in Guruvayur, an ardent devotee of Lord Krishna sought to dedicate an offering to him at the famous Guruvayur temple. Alas, she was poor and couldn’t offer money or food to show her appreciation to her God. Instead, she collected small red shiny manjadikuru (in Malayalam) seeds on her way to and from the temple, and decided to place them as an offering to Lord Krishna. As she was waiting in the line for devotees, temple guards making way for some important person who had just showed up bumped into the woman, causing her to spill the seeds onto the floor. Just then, the loud heavenly voice of Lord Krishna resonated through the halls of the temple. He demanded for the woman and her seeds to be picked up as she had shown her devoted love to him by collecting each seed herself and offering them to him. The guards obeyed and helped the woman make her offering. So, the game involves scattering the kundumani seeds in sand or clay and picking as many as you can.
This centuries-old game is quite popular even among the Gen-Z. It can be played using shells, pebbles and seeds. In Tamil Nadu, kundumani seeds (red sandalwood seeds) are commonly used to play this game. It requires a wooden board with 14 depressions made into it. Players are seated on either side. The seven depressions in front of each player are filled with the number of seeds consecutive to the number of the depressions (one seed in the first depression, two in the second and so on). Players are required to distribute their seeds among the depressions, till they gather the highest number of seeds in one depression and pick them all up together. The game requires keen mathematical deductions and is played by children and adults alike.
A heated game of odd or even, Otheiya Retheiya challenges its players to bet on their predictions. This one is often played with flat seeds like that of the tamarind. Each player throws a bunch of seeds in the air and quickly tries to catch as many when gravity does its work. The number of seeds caught are counted to determine if the player’s prediction regarding the number of seeds was right or wrong.
Tossing and Picking
This is another game played using tamarind seeds/pebbles. Players place a bunch of seeds/pebbles on the back of one hand. In one swift motion, they are to toss the seeds in the air, turn their hands and catch as many as they can in the palm of their hand. The player who catches the most number of seeds wins the game. It was once a popular game played by the present generation of senior citizens in Tamil Nadu.
This is played using small pebbles and five grey nicker beads also known as kazhaikode seeds. All five seeds are spread out in front of the player. He/she is supposed to toss a pebble in the air and see how many seeds they can pick up before catching the pebble with the same hand. This game requires excellent hand-eye coordination and speed. Players tend to get competitive once they begin.
The coconut shell walk
You’ll find this game in almost every village in the state. Two halves of a coconut shell are first cleaned, then peeled and polished. A hole is drilled on the top of each half. The ends of a long rope are let into the holes and knotted to secure it. The player then stands on the shells, holds the rope in between their toes, and pulls up the rest towards their chin. He/she then has to walk as if on stilts. The person who walks the farthest without falling, wins. This is a fun game for young children who are still learning how to walk.
Seven stones with Dried mango seeds
This game, using dried mango seeds, is to be played by two teams. One builds a tower using seven dried mango seeds and the other is supposed to keep the tower from being built by using a ball to break it. The team to have stacked the mango seeds, quickly, wins the game. The western version is called Seven Stones, of course.