Thursday, April 2, 2015

Game Boards, Old and New

Editor's Note: To celebrate the upcoming grand opening of the newly expanded Quilt House gallery, International Quilt Study Center & Museum team members are blogging about pieces in the gallery's inaugural exhibition, "Getting to Know You."

Kantha, maker unknown, made in Bangladesh,
circa 1900-1925. IQSCM 2012.001.0004.

By Marin Hanson
Curator of Exhibitions

For many reasons, this kantha piqued my interest as soon as I saw it. I love the Hindu gods Krishna and Radha in the center; I can never resist an elephant; and the British cavalry soldier clearly references India's colonial past (and I was a history major, after all). But obviously, the snakes are the showstoppers here. Every time I look at them, they remind me of board games – Chutes and Ladders, Candyland, even Life. Those were the games I liked as a child, the ones where you seemed to be going on an adventure – linear, yes, but definitely twisty and turny.

So I started poking around online and found out that Chutes and Ladders, a Milton Bradley board game first released in 1943, was simply a version of an old Indian game called Snakes and Ladders. In the game, you roll a die to move through the numbered squares on the grid; if you land on a square with a ladder, you ascend one or more rows, but if you land on a snake, you descend, sometimes all the way back to the beginning.

Snakes and Ladders, India, 19th century
Chutes and Ladders, c. 1952. ("Cnl03" by DASHbot.
Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia)

In the Indian game, Hindu ideas of morality were abundant: "The ladders represented virtues such as generosity, faith, and humility, while the snakes represented vices such as lust, anger, murder, and theft. The morality lesson of the game was that a person can attain salvation (Moksha) through doing good, whereas by doing evil one will inherit rebirth to lower forms of life. The number of ladders was less than the number of snakes as a reminder that a path of good is much more difficult to tread than a path of sins" (Wikipedia). In the Western version, much of this morality is absent, but the fun of seeing who can make it to the top first is still there.

I now want to figure out if I could turn this kantha into a board game of some kind. How would you do it?

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