Pachisi and Ashta Chamma are two very famous and favorite board-games of India since ancient times. Pachisi was called the National Game of India for a very long time. It used to be played regularly in palaces, houses of commoners and along road side groups and it is still popular but among fewer people. Locally; we call these games with a slight variation as Pachis and Atta Chamma. They were very popular games of our household too, from my childhood to college days. And this was the case in most houses I know.
I played Ludo, Snakes and Ladders, Chess, Monopoly and Trade with friends but it was Atta Chamma and Pachis with cousins, other relatives and elders like my grandmother. My grandmother used to play Pachis with our maid servant of over 50 years – Balamma, almost every night before dinner. And I remember they used to quarrel over some moves, like small children. Pachis and Atta Chamma boards are normally embroidered cloth spreads. In our house they were actually made with lot of patience and care by stringing tiny colorful beads together and binding it to a thick cloth. The red, green, yellow and black Game-Pieces which are normally made of wood were also made of beads. At my grandmother’s house in Bolarum there were additionally Atta Chamma and Pachis layouts engraved on the flooring of the terrace. It was also a tradition in our families that after marriage the bride brought these boards along with Cowry Shells and the Game-Pieces as gifts along with her, to her new home. Yet another game-board that a Telugu-bride brought with her was ‘Vanaguntala Peeta’, which also I used to play very well.
The game description and rules governing Pachis and Atta Chamma are plenty and complex to describe. But once you begin to play they are very simple and easy to follow. Here I shall make an attempt to explain the basics of the games and how they got their names.
Pachis-board is in the form of a cross / a plus-sign as can be seen in the top picture. Each arm of the cross has 3 columns of 8 squares each. The large centre square is the home – the start and finish point. The game is played by two teams of two members each or by only two members. If there are four members playing, each one has four pieces to play with and if there are two members playing they are to play with 8 pieces each. At Hyderabad 7 attractive Cowry shells of small or large size are used as dice. When a player’s turn comes up he rolls the 7 shells in his hand and casts them down, the shells fall with some shell-openings facing up and the others downwards. There is a different count for different formation. As per the count the game-pieces are moved from the starting point in a counter clock-wise direction a full circle, until it reaches the central square. Whoever returns all the game-pieces first to the home is the winner. The game is called Pachis which means 25 in Urdu and Hindi and as this is one particular count according to a shell formation.
Atta Chamma board is square in shape with 25 small squares in it, as can be seen in the second picture above. It can be played by 2 to 4 players. Every crossed square on the side of the player is his start point and the central square is the finish point. This is played with 4 game-pieces per player and 4 Cowry shells. When the shells are cast and they fall with all shell-openings downwards it is Atta, which means 8 and when the Shells are cast with all shell-openings facing upwards it is Chamma, which means 4. The game-pieces are moved as per the cast number by one player after another in the counter clockwise direction. Whoever reaches all his game pieces to the central square first is the winner.
For various reasons these games are no longer as popular as before and I am afraid that in the years to come I may forget to play what were once my favorite games.