Which Of These Popular Board Games Was Originally A Tool For Teaching Indian Children About Karma?
Answer: Chutes and Ladders
It’s probably been a few years since you’ve played the classic Milton Bradley board game, Chutes and Ladders, but the basic premise is likely still clear in your mind. Players roll a single die or use a spinner to determine the number of spaces moved on a checkerboard-like grid where some of the squares have a ladder (which helps you up the board) and some have a chute, or slide, that sends you back down the board. In some versions of the game, there is no labeling, and in other versions of the game, there are small bits of artwork that loosely link the rise on the ladder or the descent down the chute to some moral act (like rising when you help a kitten in trouble or descending if you eat too much candy).
The allusion to winning through moral action or losing through vice is a direct nod to the history of the game. Originally introduced in India and known as Moksha Patam, the game (using snakes and ladders) served as a teaching tool for morality and karmic punishment. In the original game, the virtues are Faith, Reliability, Generosity, Knowledge, and Asceticism, and engaging with them lifts you up the karmic field. The vices are Disobedience, Vanity, Vulgarity, Theft, Lying, Drunkenness, Debt, Murder, Rage, Greed, Pride, and Lust, and tangling with them causes the snakes to pull you back down the karmic field.
Through English colonialism, the game jumped from India to England, where the virtues and vices were tweaked to reflect Victorian ideals and the game was known as Snakes and Ladders. It eventually made its way to America where, through various adaptations over the ensuing years, the moral aspects of the game have been watered down to the kittens and chocolates version found on shelves today.
Image courtesy of Nomu420..