hist-games: Indian War-games]

Mats Winther mwi9 at swipnet.se
Sat Nov 12 08:24:58 PST 2005

Den 2005-11-12 12:41:23 skrev <sedwilkins at aol.com>:

>  Mats-
> I agree on the spiritual significance of games in ancient cosmologies--but don't you think that games enscribed for ritual significance would have a substantially different appearance than something scratched in a surface for casual use?
> Sally W (who at the moment can actually only call to mind the appearance of the morris boards etched on the misericords at some abbey in England)

Yes, but it's curious how often they are found in temples and abbeys.
In Gloucester Cathedral, according to Murray, there are several Fox
and Geese boards incised on the stone seats. From the well in Norwich
castle (a holy place) was retrieved a game scratched on a flat stone.
Fox and Geese boards also occur in the cloisters of San Paolo, Rome.

In India, according to Prof. Rangachar Vasantha, this is more properly
done. Board games are depicted in murals, and they were deliberately
built into roofing slabs, or the floor of temples in ancient India
(not simply scratched onto the surface).

It might have been the same religious ideas that underlie these
carvings, both in Europe and in India. In case of the temple at Kurna
the worshippers might feel that there is something amiss, so they make
these carvings. Perhaps they had even been to India and been affected
by their tradition.

Of course, in a Christian Cathedral such a practice would be regarded
as pagan by the abbot, but the unconscious is powerful and, after
all, the game board is in the form of a cross. Would monks scratch
graffiti on their own holy cloister? I'd argue that they saw this
game, in itself, as holy.

Pagan religiousness is somewhat different from the modern. The
ancients didn't differ so strongly between the sacred and the profane.
Although they did play the game for fun it was also regarded as a
divine act, a ritual that one could make divinatory inferences from.
There is a book on this subject which I haven't read yet: "Games of
the Gods : The Origin of Board Games in Magic and Divination" by Nigel

This phenomenon of how the divine coincides with the profane is
evident in religious history. Rangachar Vasantha says that "[c]hess
was genetically linked to magical and religious rituals, which have
been known in India from ancient times. Chess and other board games
were derived from, and the moves of the pieces are being closely
related to the movements of the celestial bodies and their numerical

We modern people tend to see chess as simply a martial game for
entertainment. But such a simplistic view was unthinkable for the
ancient people. Pavle Bidev discusses these issues and how Murray,
typically, rejected the notion that original chess was "based upon
certain fundamental conceptions of the Universe."

So these games at holy places could, in some sense, have been
deliberate sacrifices to the gods, and the spirits of the dead, for
their pleasure and entertainment. In the Christian context the
encircling of the Fox could be viewed as an expression of the cloister
community's continuous work to encircle Christ. I mean, it could be
viewed as an unconscious expression. Thus, it is not wholly

A good example of a "holy game" was the Egyptian Senet. The
"...stratagems of the game reflect nothing less than the stratagems of
the gods, [and] senet, when properly understood, can reveal
essential Egyptian religious beliefs about the afterlife."


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