We are looking at a heritage board game called Paramapadham or the Snake and Ladder. It is played with the help of a pair of Dhaaya kattai (long dice in Tamil). It has numerous boxes and each box is numbered in ascending order. When we cast the dice, we will get a number and based on that number we move our piece to the appropriate box. If there’s a ladder in the box, we go up the ladder skipping the numbers in between; for example, we start the game at box number one and reach number seven on our throw and If there’s a ladder in the box, it automatically takes us to the top of the ladder, which might be to number forty-five or so. The ladders usually differ in size from short to tall. Sometimes players might reach the top near the Paramapadham in one throw and other times they might have to go through the whole course. This game is ideally played by two people and sometimes even four. There is no special restriction with the number of players, but it all depends on their availability.
Paramapadham is the feet of Lord Vishnu. The player who first reaches the feet of the lord, which is usually the last number, is the winner. Contrary to the ladder, there are also snakes in the game. The head of the snake is usually in the higher numbers and its tail extends to lower numbers. Some are smaller (extending down to two or three rows) and others are longer (extending down to ten rows). On the course of the game, if a player faces the head of a snake, on any box, then they come down to the box where its tail is located. So, the player who has fallen must climb again all the way.
The Paramapadham is not just a game but an allegory to life. In the game of life, the snakes are the bad habits and the ladders are the good habits. The subtle aspects behind the game where ladders signify a Guru, an Acharya, a good character or a noble company and the snakes signify a cheat, a fraud, a bad character, or an ignoble company. This keeps happening in everyone’s life. But eventually one sure thing to happen is to reach the holy feet of Swami Ranganatha.
In this game of life, we are given the choice, either to just reach His location or to be always reside in Him. This is the concept of it. One may wonder, “Why’s this game being played?” It is not merely to kill time but to understand the vicissitudes of time and the importance of life. Every aspect in life is important. One small mistake or a small step in life may bring us down a lot and a guidance of a good friend, a trait or a quality would help us climb the terrain faster. It takes one closer to the goals of life and certainly to self-realization.
The snakes also signify one’s distractions, desires, greed etc. which may pull one down. The Paramapadham or the Snake and Ladder shows us the kind of life that we choose and lead. Some of it is based on chance, others give you the awareness in life to come out of all struggles and in order to come out of it we need the Guru’s guidance and the God’s grace. Usually in South India during a Vaikunta Ekadashi day, people stay up the whole night and to stay awake they play paramapadham. The objective of the play is to stay up the whole night being completely aware to reach the feet of the God or a higher plane of self-realization.
This game tells us that chance is nothing but our Karma Phala that one has acquired, the result of the karmas that we have done in this life or in the previous. There are also chances that we could smoothly reach the feet of God by neither hitting a snake or a ladder. There are three things that we must me aware of when playing the game of life; we may straight away reach the Paramapadham without a fall or a rise; we may go up and then have a fall, fall, fall and then go up at last; or we may have consecutive rises and falls and then go up to reach the Paramapadham. All of it depends on the player’s karma. A traditional Snake and Ladder game or a Paramapadham keeps reminding us of the karmas on the throw of a dice. However, all the karmas finally lead us to the almighty and helps us acquire God-realization.
There are times when people used to repeat, “Ranga! Ranga!” or “Narayana!” and then play the game. The name of God in our lips helps us succeed in life and feel comfortable irrespective of the outcomes. The thought of God on a day like Vaikunta Ekadashi, staying up in the whole night and being vigilant of all our activities gives clarity in life. Eternal vigilance is the price of peace and joy. Thus, it can be said that Paramapadham is not just a game but game of life.
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