Traditional games of India

From Bharatpedia, an open encyclopedia

A kho-kho defensive player (center) runs from one half of the court to the other to avoid being touched by an opponent.

India has several traditional games and sports,[1] some of which have been played for thousands of years.[2][3][4] Many of these games do not require much equipment or playing space. Some traditional Indian games are only played in certain regions of India, or may be known by different names and played under different rules and regulations in different regions of the country.[5][6] Many Indian games are also similar to other traditional South Asian games.


An Indian stamp from 1990 commemorating the introduction of kabaddi, India's most popular traditional sport, into the Asian Games.

Kabaddi and kho-kho may have had certain aspects of their gameplay mentioned in the Mahabharata, which was written before 300 AD.[3][4] Atya-patya is mentioned in the Naṟṟiṇai, written in 300 AD or before.[7] Chaturanga is an ancient board game which experienced various modifications as it was transmitted from India toward Europe and became the modern game of chess.[8]

Traditional Indian games served various purposes throughout and had various connections to Indian history; for example, certain aspects of the Bengali hopscotch game of ekka-dokka may have represented concepts of social division of property,[9] and kabaddi may have been used as a preparation for hunting.[10]

During the time of the British Raj, Indians began to focus more on playing British sports such as cricket, hockey, and football rather than their traditional sports.[11] Part of the reason behind this was so that they could rise up the ranks by imitating the culture of the colonisers;[12] later on, some Indians also started to see British sports as an activity in which they could "beat" their colonisers.[13] A notable traditional Indian sport which continued to be played during this time was polo, which the British helped to codify and support as an official sport.[14] Some British board games, such as Snakes and Ladders and Ludo, were also inspired by Indian board games.[15]

In post-Independence India, kabaddi is the most popular traditional sport, with the highest viewership and most career opportunities; its growth was spurred on by the creation of the Pro Kabaddi League.[16] Kho-kho has also had a franchise league started for it, Ultimate Kho Kho;[17] the Pro Kabaddi League and Ultimate Kho Kho are respectively the most and third-most viewed non-cricket competitions in India.[18]

In addition, the Indian government is starting the 'Bharatiya Games' initiative to revive traditional Indian games with the view that they are more affordable for rural Indians to play, and are important for reviving Indian culture as well as increasing team spirit.[19][20]

Traditional games[edit]

Gilli Danda[edit]

Gilli Danda is similar to many other games around the world, such as the English game of tip-cat, and also has similarities to the popular Indian sport of cricket. It is a game where a player hits a short stick on the ground up into the air using a longer stick held in their hand. They then hit the airborne stick with the hand-held stick again so that it travels as far as possible. If a player on the other team catches the stick before it touches the ground, then the hitter is out (eliminated).[21][22]


Nondi (known by several other regional names) is a game similar to hopscotch. In it, several connected boxes are drawn on the ground, and players throw a rock or similar object onto one of the boxes and then attempt to hop their way to the box the rock lands in.[23]

Ball games[edit]

A pile of seven stones and a ball that can be used to play the game of seven stones.

Seven stones[edit]

In the game of seven stones (which is known by several other names in different parts of India, such as Lagori or Pittu Garam), one team throws a ball at a pile of seven stones to knock it over and then attempts to re-create the pile as fast as possible, while the other team tries to throw the ball at the first team's players to eliminate them from the game.[24]

Maram pitti[edit]

Maram Pitti is similar to dodgeball; one player attempts to throw a ball from a stationary position at other players to eliminate them from the game.[25]

Ball badminton[edit]

Ball badminton is a native game of India that is similar to badminton.[26][27]

Games involving simple objects[edit]


Some Indian games involving marbles are also known as Kancha/Kanche or Golli Gundu. Several games are played involving players flicking marbles at other marbles, often in order to "capture" as many marbles as possible by the end of the game to win.[28][29][30]


Players throw a stone in the air, and then try to pick up as many of the remaining five stones on the ground as possible while making sure to catch the airborne stone before it falls.[25]


In Pambaram (also known as Bambaram, Lattu, and other names), the game revolves around making a spinning top spin without falling for as long as possible.[31]

Variations of tag[edit]

There are several Indian variations of the game of tag (sometimes referred to in India as "running and catching"), with kabaddi and kho-kho being the two most popular such games and being played in professional leagues (Pro Kabaddi League and Ultimate Kho Kho respectively).[32][17]

Note: In many Indian variations of tag, the player who is supposed to tag the other players is referred to as the "denner".[33]


Kabaddi defenders tackling a raider.

In kabaddi, an offensive player known as the "raider" crosses into the other team's half of the court to try and tag as many of their players as possible. The raider must then return to his own team's half of the court without being stopped (tackled) by the opponents. If the raider makes it back safely, then he scores one point for every player he tagged; but if the opponents successfully stop the raider then the opponents score a point.[3]


The kho-kho court is divided into two halves by a central lane which goes down the length of the court and connects two poles at either end of the court. All of the offensive players, except for the "attacker"/"active chaser", sit in the central lane. The attacker's goal is to tag the defensive players on the court in order to score points and eliminate the defensive players from the field. The attacker can not change direction once he starts running towards either pole, and also must not cross the central lane. However, the attacker can switch roles with a teammate by touching their back and shouting "kho".[4][34]


Langdi is similar to tag, except that the offensive players are restricted to hopping on one foot while trying to tag players on the defensive team.[35]


An offensive player (front right) attempts to run past the defender (second from right) standing in the trench.

In atya-patya, the teams each have two turns on offense and two turns on defense. The offensive team scores points by having its players cross as many of the nine "trenches" on the field as possible while the defenders (who are restricted to standing within the trenches) try to stop this by tagging the offensive players to eliminate them.[5][36]

Chor Police[edit]

Chor Police (referred to as "cops and robbers" in other English-speaking countries) is a game where one team, the "Police", try to tag all the Chors (thieves) to put them into jail.

Oonch Neech[edit]

In Ouch nich if the dener says nich all players have to go some place high of he says ouch then all players have to says down whatever the dener picks he has to stay on that platform

Dog and the bone[edit]

In Dog and the Bone (known by various names in India, such as "Cheel Jhapatta", and more commonly in other parts of the world as "steal the bacon"), there is an object placed in the center of the field, with two teams placed on opposite ends of the field. One player from each team rushes towards the object to try to take it back to their team; a point is scored either if a player successfully retrieves the object, or if a player tags an opponent who is holding the object before the opponent safely makes it back.[5]

River or mountain[edit]

River or mountain, which is known as Nadee-Parvat in Hindi, and Nadi ki Pahad in Marathi and other regional languages, is a game where the field is divided into areas referred to as "rivers" and "mountains". At the start of play, the denner shouts out either "river" or "mountain", with all players then attempting to go to the areas referred to by the denner. While outside of those areas, the players can be tagged and eliminated by the denner.[5]


In Surr, the offensive team tries to go around the four quadrants of a square without being tagged by the defenders, who stand in the lanes between the quadrants.

Chain tag[edit]

Chain tag involves the denner tagging other players, who are then required to form a chain with the denner by holding hands. Only the two players at either end of the chain can tag the remaining players (since they have a free hand not trapped in the chain.) The game ends once all players are part of the chain.[5]

Lock and key[edit]

Also prominently known as Vish-Amrit/Vish-Amrut (Poison-Antidote), lock and key is similar to the Western game of freeze tag, in which the denner(s) can "freeze" opponents by tagging them, with the frozen players' teammates able to "unfreeze" them by tagging them. A unique feature of lock and key is that players may be required to shout out "lock" or "key", as appropriate, when tagging other players.[5][37]

Aankh micholi[edit]

Blindfolded player in Aankh micholi

Aankh micholi is the Hindi name for blind man's buff (blindfolded tag).[38]

Kokla chappaki[edit]

One player goes around all the other players, who sit in a circle, and eventually drops a handkerchief behind one of them. That player must grab the cloth and then attempt to tag the first player.[39]

Four corners[edit]

Players attempt to run between the four corners of a square without being tagged by the denner, who is in the middle of the square.[23] In a Telugu variation of the game, Nalugu Stambalata, there is a pole in each corner of the square that the players must touch.[5]


One team has a king stationed at a distance from the "home". The goal of the king is to reach home without being stopped by the opponents, who themselves attempt to avoid being tagged out by the king's teammates, who start at home.[5] A similar Bengali game exists known as "Bouchi", in which the players must hold their breaths upon leaving the home in order to be eligible to tag the opponents; failing to hold the breath leaves a player at risk of being tagged out by opponents.[40][41][42]

Tree-climbing monkey[edit]

The denner tries to tag players who can climb up trees to escape; these players can try to touch a stick kept within a circle on the ground in order to become safe from the denner.[43]

Siya satkana[edit]

Siya satkana is similar to tree-climbing monkey, except that it does not feature tree-climbing.[44]

Combat sports[edit]


Gatta gusthi[edit]

Page 'Gatta gusthi' not found


Pehlwani is a form of wrestling from the Indian subcontinent. It was developed in the Mughal Empire by combining native malla-yuddha with influences from Persian varzesh-e bastani.[45][46] The words pehlwani and kushti derive from the Persian terms pahlavani and kosht respectively. It is likely that the word derives from the Iranian word "Pehalavi" denoting to people of Iranian descent.

Martial arts[edit]

Indian martial arts refers to the fighting systems of the Indian subcontinent. A variety of terms are used for the English phrases “Indian martial arts”, usually deriving from Dravidian sources. While they may seem to imply specific disciplines (e.g. archery, armed combat), by Classical times they were used generically for all fighting systems.


It originated in Punjab in the 15th century but much of the Gatka forms practiced today in the west are Europeanised versions of what was the original martial art of Sikhs known as Shastar Vidya. There has been a revival during the later 20th century, with an International Gatka Federation was founded in 1982 and formalized in 1987, and gatka is now popular as a sport or sword dance performance art and is often shown during Sikh festivals.[47]


Kalaripayattu mock combat in rural Kerala.jpg

Kalaripayattu, IPA: [kɐɭɐɾip:ɐjɐt:ɨ̆]; also known simply as Kalari, is an Indian martial art that originated in modern-day Kerala, a state on the southwestern coast of India.[48] Kalaripayattu is known for its long-standing history within Indian martial arts. It is believed to be the oldest surviving martial art in India, with a history spanning over 3,000 years.

Kalaripayattu is mentioned in the Vadakkan Pattukal, a collection of ballads written about the Chekavar of the Malabar region of Kerala. Kalaripayattu is a martial art designed for the ancient battlefield (the word "Kalari" meaning "battlefield"), with weapons and combative techniques that are unique to India.


Silambam revolves around participants fighting using bamboo sticks.[49]

Board games[edit]


The carrom board. Each of the four players must strike from between the two lines on their side of the board.

Carrom is played on a small board, with gameplay similar to pool and billiards (cue sports). The main unique feature of carrom is that players flick a puck-like object with their fingers in order to impact the other pieces on the board, with each of the four players having two designated lines on their side of the board between which they must flick/shoot their striking piece from.[50]


Chaturanga was an ancient Indian game which is the predecessor of chess.[8]


Two of the alternative versions of Pachisi are Ludo and Parcheesi.[51]

Lambs and Tigers[edit]

Three variations of empty grids on which this game can be played

The Lambs and Tigers Game locally referred as the Game of Goats and Tigers (Tamil: Aadu puli aatam,

Telugu: Meka puli aata, Kannada: Aadu Huli aata) or Pulijudam, is a strategic, two-player (or 2 teams) leopard hunt game that is played in south India. The game is asymmetric in that one player controls three tigers and the other player controls up to 15 lambs/goats. The tigers 'hunt' the goats while the goats attempt to block the tigers' movements.

Snakes and Ladders[edit]

Snakes and Ladders originated from the Indian game of Gyan Chaupar.[52]


Pallanguzhi is a variation of mancala.[53]

Card games[edit]


Ganjifa, Ganjapa or Gânjaphâ,[54] is a card game and type of playing cards that are most associated with Persia and India. After Ganjifa cards fell out of use in Iran before the twentieth century, India became the last country to produce them.[55] The form prevalent in Odisha is Ganjapa.

Boat racing[edit]

Vallam kali[edit]

Aranmula Boat in Uthrattathi Boat Race
Vallam kali (vaḷḷaṃ kaḷi, literally: boat game) is a traditional boat race in Kerala, India. It is a form of canoe racing, and uses paddled war canoes. It is mainly conducted during the season of the harvest festival Onam in spring. Vallam kali includes races of many kinds of paddled longboats and 'snake boats'. Each team spends about 6 lakh rupees for the Nehru Trophy.

Hiyang Tannaba[edit]

Hiyang Tannaba (Meitei: ꯍꯤꯌꯥꯡ ꯇꯥꯟꯅꯕ) (literally, "Boat race"[56]) is a traditional boat race ceremony performed as a part of the religious festival of Lai Haraoba.[57][58] It is generally organized in the month of November at many places including the Thangapat (moat).[59][60] The boats called Hiyang Hiren are regarded as invested with spiritual powers and the game is associated with religious rites.[61][62] The Meiteis believe that the worship of the Hiyang Hiren will bring protection from the evils.[63]

Other physical activities[edit]

Various poses in mallakhamb.


Yoga (/ˈjɡə/ (About this soundlisten); pronounced [joːɡɐ]) is a group of physical, mental, and spiritual practices or disciplines which originated in ancient India and aim to control (yoke) and still the mind, recognizing a detached witness-consciousness untouched by the mind (Chitta) and mundane suffering (Duḥkha). There is a wide variety of schools of yoga, practices, and goals in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, and traditional and modern yoga is practiced worldwide.


Mallakhamba or mallakhamb involves athletes doing yoga or gymnastic aerial postures while gripping a pole.[64]


Kite-flying is a popular activity in India, especially during certain holidays.[65] In certain competitions, participants fly kites in an attempt to cut the strings of opposing participants' kites.[66][67]

Events involving animals[edit]

A Kambala participant driving his two bulls forward.


Kambala involves one person racing a pair of bulls across a paddy field.[68]


Jallikattu features people attempting to grab onto and stop a wild bull.[69]

Miscellaneous games[edit]


In Antakshari, participants sing songs, with the last letter of the song sung by one participant required to be the first letter of the next song sung by another participant.[1]

Raja Mantri Chor Sipahi[edit]

Raja Mantri Chor Sipahi involves players taking on various roles, with points scored based on guesses by one player as to the roles of the other players.[70]

Traditional games in specific regions of India[edit]

Yubi lakpi[edit]

Yubi lakpi is a traditional game played in Manipur with similarities to rugby.[71]


Dhopkhel is a traditional game of Assam with similarities to dodgeball and kabaddi. One team throws the ball at a player on the other team, who then attempts to catch the rebounded ball and make it back to his own team's half of the field without being tagged by any of the opponents. The team that gets more of its players successfully through this process by the end of the game wins.[29][72]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Bharatan, Nisha (2020-12-16). "List Of Top 25 Traditional (Desi) Indian Games For Kids". MomJunction. Retrieved 2022-11-01.
  2. "India has a sports history going back a thousand years". Retrieved 2023-01-30.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Kabaddi: How to play India’s 4000-year-old indigenous sport
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Kho Kho, a kabaddi-like sport linked with Indian epic Mahabharata - know all about it
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 Satyam, Amitabh; Goswami, Sangeeta (2022-04-18). The Games India Plays: Indian Sports Simplified. Bloomsbury Publishing. ISBN 978-93-5435-256-0.
  6. "'Gilli danda' among 75 'Bharatiya sports' set to be introduced in schools". Hindustan Times. 2022-07-30. Retrieved 2022-11-04.
  7. Arasu, S. T. (2020-07-04). "Galah Panjang and its Indian roots". On the sport. Be part of it. Retrieved 2022-11-01.
  8. 8.0 8.1 "World Chess Day 2022: History, Significance And Quotes About The Game". News18. 2022-07-20. Retrieved 2023-01-14.
  9. A Historical Study of the Origin and Features of Some Selected Folk Games in North Bengal Badal Roy
  10. "kabaddi | sport | Britannica". Retrieved 2023-01-09.
  11. Love, Adam; Dzikus, Lars (26 February 2020). "How India came to love cricket, favored sport of its colonial British rulers". The Conversation. Retrieved 2022-12-31.
  12. Disappearance of Traditional games by the imitation of Colonial Culture through the Historical parameters of Cultural Colonialism Md Abu Nasim
  13. "'The Revenge of Plassey': Football in the British Raj puviarasu". LSE International History. 2020-07-20. Retrieved 2022-12-31.
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  15. "Reviving traditional games of India". The Hindu. 2012-06-10. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 2023-01-21.
  16. "Pro Kabaddi leagues rising fortunes rub off on prospects of the rural game". Business Standard. 2022-10-06. Retrieved 2022-12-31.
  17. 17.0 17.1 Saini, Lavanya Lakshmi Narayanan & Abhishek (2022-09-17). "Ultimate Kho Kho — Welcome revival or departure from roots?". Retrieved 2022-11-06.
  18. Khosla, Varuni (2023-01-17). "Ultimate Kho Kho S1 claims total reach of 41 million viewers from India". mint. Retrieved 2023-01-20.
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  20. "'Gilli danda' among 75 'Bharatiya sports' set to be introduced in schools". Hindustan Times. 2022-07-30. Retrieved 2023-01-21.
  21. "About Gilli-Danda and Dandi Biyo". Retrieved 2022-10-31.
  22. Krishnamohan, Theviyanthan (25 September 2014). "Gilli-Danda: A dying Indian traditional game". Retrieved 2022-11-04.
  23. 23.0 23.1 Jadia, Varun (2016-05-08). "15 Forgotten Indian Childhood Games That Need to Be Revived Before They Are Lost Forever". The Better India. Retrieved 2022-11-04.
  24. "Now, a premier league to popularise Lagori". DNA India. Retrieved 2022-10-31.
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  26. Donaldson, Oliver (2019-05-26). "A whole new ball game". Cherwell. Retrieved 2022-11-01.
  27. "Exploring the Fast Fading Game called Ball Badminton". Chase Your Sport. Retrieved 2022-11-01.
  28. neeru (2015-11-16). "Marbles". D'Source. Retrieved 2022-11-01.
  29. 29.0 29.1 Pareek, Shreya (2014-05-15). "10 Popular Games You Probably Didn't Know Were Played In Ancient India". The Better India. Retrieved 2022-11-06.
  30. Kumar, V. Saravana (2016-11-24). "Benefits of Traditional Indian Games, Importance & Advantages of Traditional Games for Children | ParentCircle". Retrieved 2023-01-03.
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  32. Kabaddi to Gilli Danda to Kho Kho: Traditional games played in India
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  37. neeru (2015-11-16). "Vish Amrit". D'Source. Retrieved 2022-11-15.
  38. Sariya, Tasneem (2021-02-10). "Top 10 Traditional Games of India that Defined Childhood for Generations". Caleidoscope | Indian Culture, Heritage. Retrieved 2022-11-15.
  39. neeru (2015-11-16). "Kokla Chappaki". D'Source. Retrieved 2022-11-17.
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  45. Alter, Joseph S. (May 1992a). "The "sannyasi" and the Indian Wrestler: The Anatomy of a Relationship". American Ethnologist. 19 (2): 317–336. doi:10.1525/ae.1992.19.2.02a00070. ISSN 0094-0496.
  46. Alter, Joseph S. (1992b). The Wrestler's Body: Identity and Ideology in North India. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-07697-4.
  47. Sikh martial art `Gatka' takes the West by storm. (Press Trust of India). The Hindu
  48. Gopalakrishnan, K. K. (2011-02-10). "King of Kalarippayattu". The Hindu. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 2021-05-23.
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  50. "11 Basic Carrom Board Rules For Beginners". India Today NE. 2022-05-13. Retrieved 2022-11-06.
  51. "Pachisi | game | Britannica". Retrieved 2022-11-01.
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  53. "10 traditional Indian toys that are good for play and the planet". March 2021. Retrieved 2022-11-15.
  54. Many different spellings and transliterations can be found, such as Ganjafa, Ghendgifeh, Gunjeefa, Ganjapa, Kanjifa, Kanjifah and so on. In arabic, the spellings كنجفة or جنجفة or غنجفه can be found. The Persian word is ganjifeh (گنجفه). In Hindi the term is गंजीफा.
  55. At the start of the 21st Century production in India was still ongoing in the town of Sawantvadi in the west, and Odisha in the east for example. See Abram (2003: 53) and Crestin-Billet (2002: 189).
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  72. "Dhopkhel- The Indigenous Game of Assam". Chase Your Sport. Retrieved 2022-11-21.

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