A sweet game of sour seeds

Chowka Bhara, played with tamarind seeds or cowries, is one of the best board games to bring people together, irrespective of age or social status

KOCHI: Whenever I think of the game of Chowka Bhara or Ashta Chamma, childhood memories of hours spent smoothening tamarind seeds come to mind. Also known as Chakka in northern regions of Karnataka, it is a purely a game of chance, like Snake and Ladders and other board games.

The game was known as a royal pastime; it improves hand-to-eye coordination, counting skills, and also introduces children to ‘war tactics and strategy’. But for me, the appeal was the game’s ability to bring people together, irrespective of age or social status. I have even played a game with my great-grandmother, who would sit with her assortment of paans.

The game is played with four or six cowries or tamarind seeds, which are smoothened on one side. How they fall decides the movement of a player’s pieces. If they fall face up, the player scores one, and if they fall face down, the score is zero. So with the four seeds, a player can score 1, 2, 3 or 4. There is a jackpot combination — when all the tamarind seeds fall face down, which adds up to eight and not zero.

If a player scores four (chakka) or eight (yentu), he/she gets another chance to roll the shells again. But if the player throws four or eight thrice, he/she loses all the points.If this scoring system is too complicated, you can also use dice.

The square board is divided into 25 squares (5X5) or 49 squares (7X7). Each player, sitting on one side of the board, picks four pieces of anything — glass bangles of different colours, unsmoothened tamarind seeds or chickpeas. We called the pawns kala. The game can be played either by two, three or four people.
The winner is the one whose all four pawns reach the centre square first. You move the pawn according to your score, anti-clockwise in the first circle and clock-wise in the inner circles.

Two players can’t have their pawns in the same square, except when they are marked ‘safe’ with an X. In a 5X5 board, the starting point of every player that are marked with X becomes a safe square. If player A’s pawn lands in the square which has player B’s pawn, then pawn A ‘hits’ pawn B and pawn B returns to the starting point and has to start all over again. The player with pawn A gets an extra chance to throw the seeds/roll the dice.

Cheat Codes
■     The trick to win this game is to cut opponents’ pawn as many times as possible so that you move ahead of them.
■     If you score four or eight twice and you are afraid that you might lose all with the third throw, move the pawn to the fourth or eight square before throwing the shells. This could save a few points.
■     This game can help in developing counting skills.
■     As it requires planning, it helps in understanding how to develop strategies.
■     It is a great pastime for children and can be played in summers when the weather is not suitable for an outdoor game
Also called...
Chauka Bara in Kannada, Mysuru region
Katte Mane in Kannada, Rural Mysuru
Gatta Mane in Kannada, Rural Mysuru
Chakaara or Chakka, Kannada, North

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