PALLANKUZHI- An amazing Traditional Board Game of TamilNadu


Today in the woods of digitalization, children, young and old are found busy on mobiles playing games, reading books, listening to music and learning. People are found less interacting and less physically involved. But years ago people would find ways and create new entertaining games for leisure. One such ancient game is Pallankuzhi also called Mancala. There are lot of online Mancala game apps available on Internet.

Pallankujhi, Pallamkuzhi, Pallangulli, Pallankulli or Alagulimane is a traditional game played in South India particularly in Tamil Nadu and northern Sri Lanka. It is also called Mancala which is said to be originated in Egypt and an European game. Basically Pallankuzhi when distorted into 'Pal' which means MANY and 'kuzhi' which means PIT or HOLE is translated as many holes. It is a game having a wooden board with many pits and SEEDS. The seeds could be small pebbles, stones, actual tamarind seeds, shells. In some places even actual pits are made in the ground and played by the men. There's an evidence of such pits in Egyptian pyramids in historical books. Pallankuzhi or Mancala is based on Mathematics and a very good game for children to learn hand and eye coordination along with counting and reasoning. In order to promote this age old game, competitions of Pallankuzhi game involving women are held in Tamilnadu.

Photo of PALLANKUZHI- An amazing Traditional Board Game of TamilNadu 1/3 by Nishant Tyagi
Photo of PALLANKUZHI- An amazing Traditional Board Game of TamilNadu 2/3 by Nishant Tyagi

The game is played between two players using a wooden board having 14 pits (holes). Each pit contains 6 seeds, in some places it is also played with 5 or 4seeds. The rule is to play in turns; the person with first turn can start by picking all the seeds from any of the holes from his/ her respective side. After picking the 6 seeds from say Pit A4 (see pic above), the player has to drop the seeds one by one in the succeeding pits i.e. pit A5, A6, A7, B7, B6, B5. Remember the game is played counter clockwise. The same player will continue to play by picking all the seeds from the pit next to the pit into which last seed was dropped i.e B5. So the player A will pick all the seeds from pit B4 and continue to drop in counter clock direction. There are some strategies and important things to remember:

1. If the last seed falls into a pit with an empty pit succeeding it, then the seeds in the pit beyond the empty pit are captured as bonus by the active player.

2. If the last seed falls into a pit which is followed by 2 empty pits then the turn is over and the next player starts playing.

3. If in the process of dropping seeds, the pit count comes to 4 then the respective pit owner captures those 4 seeds as bonus and keeps it aside.

Photo of PALLANKUZHI- An amazing Traditional Board Game of TamilNadu 3/3 by Nishant Tyagi

4. If there are no seeds left in any of the pits to move from either of the sides, then the round is over. The seeds remaining in opponent's pits are captured by the opponents as bonus.

In the next round the bonus seeds are filled into the pits with 6 seeds each. If any of the pits are not completely filled then that pit is considered useless and it is covered with a leaf or paper and not used in the new round. The extra seeds left are kept individually by the opponents. The game continues with the rules and ends with a winner having maximum number of seeds as bonus.

In the past, the game, which is based on the concept of 'sowing and harvesting', was played using tamarind seeds, roadside pebbles or cowry shells. Today, if you order a set online, you might be unwrapping a neatly-packaged cardboard box, complete with a board made of highly-compressed waste wood, carefully-selected pure white pebbles, and an elaborate list of rules.There is elaborate mention about it in A Book of Historic Board Games by Damian Gareth Walker, and a documentation by Irving Finkel.

Despite a strong mention about communities gathering to play games, and temple floor patterns standing as proof for the same, there is a tendency to ignore games while talking about Indian heritage.