Game of Snakes and Ladders, gouache on cloth (India, 19th century)

Game of Snakes and Ladders, gouache on cloth (India, 19th century)

S+ Stimulant: Snakes and Ladders


For most of us Snakes and Ladders is a board game best associated with rainy Sundays inside; and it’s unlikely that you learned anything more from it than that snakes are to be avoided and that ladders can be climbed. However, the game’s origins are steeped in more profound teachings about morality, destiny, and life’s path.

The game was originally created in the 13th Century by the poet, Saint Gyandev, and was called Gyan Chauper (game of knowledge). Gyandev’s intention was to teach both children and adults about karma, morality, the positives of virtue, and the pitfalls of vice.

Like the version of the game that you’re probably more familiar with (which was rebranded and taken to Victorian England in 1892) the Hindu version includes ladders which ascend your position on the board and snakes which send you tumbling down. The ladders in Gyan Chauper represent virtues such as faith, generosity, and knowledge, while the snakes represent evils such as vanity, lying, and greed. 

The journey through the board represents the journey through life, and its completion represents the achievement of enlightenment. It was intended to teach that a person can attain salvation by doing good, whereas by doing evil one will inherit rebirth to lower forms of life.

There is something about games and sports (any type of playing actually) that helps us to learn to see things in a different way – whether that is grasping the concept of morality, or simply understanding a little better the other person holding the dice.


W.K. 2015

Published: April 30th, 2015

Previous in this series:

A case for going beyond words

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