10 Popular Games in India that Originated During Ancient Era

In India, games have been played for recreation, physical fitness, and mental health since ancient times. Games from indoor as well as outdoor sports are played on a large scale. Some of the popular games in India are played on an international level. Let us have a look at the history behind some of these games.


One of the popular games in India is Chess that was known as Ashtrapada (which means 64 squares) and was devised in India. Earlier it used to be played with dice on a check board, without the black and white square, very different from how it is played today. With time, different names have been given to this game. The game was called Chaturanga (which means quadripartite) after a few years it consisted of four parts called angas, which were the symbol of four branches of an army. It had pieces called elephants, horse’s chariots, and soldiers, just like the real ancient Indian army. This game was used to devise war strategies. The game was later named Shatranj in 600 CE, by the Persians. Shah-mat, Checkmate was some of the names given to this game which comes from the Persian term in the game.


Carrom popularly played throughout South Asia and in a few Middle East countries, is said to have originated in the Indian subcontinent. Carrom is one of the popular games in India, played at social gatherings and families for fun. The Indian Maharajahs invented the game centuries ago (though there isn’t any particular proof). There exist some ancient glass carrom boards found in Patiala, Punjab. Carrom is a strike-and-pocket game and has gained popularity after World War I.   


A popular board game, Ludo is a board game we all have played in our life. In the early stage of India, it was called Pachisi and the board was made out of jute or apiece of cloth. The game was quite popular in the Medieval Era as per the findings. A depiction of Pachisi is found in the caves of Ajanta. Akbar the Mughal Emperor of India also liked playing Pachisi. In, around the late 19th century, different variations of the same game were played in England. Later in 1896, a similar game appeared game called Ludo became famous. Now ludo has become one of the popular games in India. 

Snakes & Ladders

When one talks about popular games in India, Snakes and Ladders has its own name and fame. Saap Sidi, Snakes and Ladders was once called Moksha Patam, Mokshapat, and Padama Padam, in ancient India. In the 13th century, Sant (saint) Gyandev created this game to teach good values to children. According to Hindu Dharma this game of Vice and Virtues was used, where the snakes represented vice and the ladders virtues. The square where the ladders were found were used to depict virtues, for example, square 12 was faith, 51 was reliability, 76 was knowledge, and so on. The squares where snakes were found were known as vices. Square 41 was disobedience, 49 was vulgarity, 84 was anger, and so on. The 100th square represented Moksha or Nirvana.


Dice are used in many games. But some know it’s a game in itself. Oblong dice found at Harrapan sites like Ropar, Lothal, Kalibangan, Desalpur are certain accounts that are made to believe. It became a popular part of board games in Persia. These dices were used for Gambling. Mentions of dices are also found in Rig Veda and Atharva Veda.


Krido -Patram were cards played in ancient India. These were the modern playing cards that originated in ancient India. They were called Ganifa cards and were made of cloth pieces that showcased ancient designs from Ramayana and Mahabharata. They were played in the royal courts of Odisha (then Utkal), Kashmir (then Kashyapa Meru), Rajputana the Deccan area as well as Nepal. Several cloth pieces were bound together to make their thickness sufficient. At that time there were no machines and the cards were handmade with traditional painting.  Although with time cards were played by all levels of the society, which were usually made from ivory shells or tortoise. Also, they were decorated with precious metals and pearls. Cards have been one of the popular games in India.


One of the most popular games which are recognized as a traditional Indian sport, Kho-Kho, or the game of chase was earlier played in Maharashtra. Kho-Kho became popular when Akhil Maharashtra Shikshan  Mandal published the rules of the game officially. In ancient times it was called Rathera (played on Raths). The first kho-kho championship was organized in 1959 under the Kho-Kho Federation of India. Kho-Kho was included in the Indian Olympic Association in the year 1982.

Bull Fighting

Bull Fighting has been one of the popular games of India, known by different names. It is a bull training sport in Tamil Nadu. Jallikattu, Manju Viratu, and Eruthazhuvathal were the various names of Bullfighting. Bull Fighting was a popular sport of Tamil Nadu’s ancient tribes. For this sport, the bulls are specifically bred.  Over time it has become a part of the entertainment. Many of them use it to win some prize money. Hence Bull Fighting is a popular game in India and has become a platform to showcase bravery.


Another sport that started in Tamil Nadu, and developed from ancient village defense tactics and group hunting is Kabaddi. It is a contact sport and is 4000 years old. Sanjeevani, Amar, Punjabi, and Jamini are some of the forms which are under Kabaddi. It is an umbrella term. It is also played according to International rules. Rugby and Wrestling are some of the types that are played internationally. It is a game of seven players on each side and the game goes for 40 minutes. Kabaddi is a game that requires great power and skill.

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