As prescribed by Paulina Constancia

Snakes & Ladders 1: Origins and Versions

After a week of stories from yoga professionals, I now feature something that relates to the country of origin of Yoga; I bring you Snakes & Ladders. Yes, it’s a special series inspired by the board game that few may know originated from India (just like Yoga).

According to Princeton University

Snakes and Ladders originated in India as a game based on morality called Vaikuntapaali or Paramapada Sopanam (the ladder to salvation). This game made its way to England, and was eventually introduced in the United States of America by game pioneer Milton Bradley in 1943.

The game was played widely in ancient India by the name of Moksha Patamu, the earliest known Jain version Gyanbazi dating back to 16th century. The game was called Leela and reflected the Hinduism consciousness around everyday life. Impressed by the ideals behind the game, a newer version was introduced in Victorian England in 1892, possibly by John Jaques of Jaques of London.

Moksha Patamu was perhaps invented by Hindu spiritual teachers to teach children about the effects of good deeds as opposed to bad deeds. The ladders represented virtues such as generosity, faith, humility, etc., and the snakes represented vices such as lust, anger, murder, theft, etc. The moral of the game was that a person can attain salvation (Moksha) through performing good deeds whereas by doing evil one takes rebirth in lower forms of life (Patamu). The number of ladders was less than the number of snakes as a reminder that treading the path of good is very difficult compared to committing sins. Presumably the number “100” represented Moksha (Salvation). In Andhra Pradesh, snakes and ladders is played in the name of Vaikuntapali. via princeton.edu


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

The Game’s Original Content and Mechanics
According to the  Himalayan Academy 

The Western children’s game Snakes and Ladders, or Chutes and Ladders, comes from the Indian game for adults called Gyan Chaupar, the “Game of Knowledge”.  Gyan Chaupar teaches the Hindu spiritual path to moksha, which is liberation from reincarnation.


  • There are 72 numbered squares on the board listing various virtues, vices, states of consciousness and planes of existence.
  • The ladders start from squares with virtues, such as devotion, and move the player up the board.
  • Snakes are found on squares of vices, such as jealousy, and take the player back down the board.
  • Play begins at square one in the lower left corner. In the old days, the player threw six cowrie shells on the floor.
  • The number of shells that landed upright indicated the number of squares to move forward. Nowadays dice are used.
  • If the player lands on a ladder, he jumps to the square at the top of the ladder.
  • If he lands on the head of a snake, he slides back down the snake to a low square.
  • The object of the game is to land exactly on square 68, the center of the top row. This square represents liberation from rebirth and entry into heaven.
  • If he lands past 68, he continues to play until he reaches 72, which takes him back to 51 for another try.
  • The game is an entertaining way to learn about making progress on the spiritual path. By cultivating a virtue, such as devotion, one advances. By falling prey to egotism, one goes backwards.

Info from the himalayanacademy

Play the game online or download the board and full instructions at hinduismtoday

Versions of Snakes and Ladders

“The game was sold as Snakes and ladders in England before Milton Bradley introduced the basic concept in the United States as Chutes and ladders, an “improved new version of … England’s famous indoor sport.” Its simplicity and the see-sawing nature of the contest make it popular with younger children, but the lack of any skill component in the game makes it less appealing for older players.” via pinceton.edu


Game of Snakes & Ladders, United Kingdom, 1895
Victoria and Albert Museum, London

“The game was transported from India to England by the colonial rulers in the latter part of the 19th century, with some modifications. The modified game was named Snakes and Ladders and stripped of its moral and religious aspects and the number of ladders and snakes were equalized.” – V Venkata Rao, Ahmedabad  via timesofindia


Vintage “Chutes and Ladders”
by Milton Bradley, USA
Image via etsy

Here are a few curious versions of Snakes and Ladders through the years:

Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 11.12.42 pm

A game about life indeed!
Image via imgkid

Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 11.17.18 pm

I like it that this vintage one integrates a bit of values,
a little taste of what the original game was intended for
Image via imgkid


Charlie Chaplin Snakes and Ladders
From the Victoria and Albert Museum
via boardgame geek

And in more recent years…

recent variety

More Recent SNAKES and LADDERS 
Top: (L) Smurf, (R) Sesame Street
Bottom: (L) Dora, (R) Frozen

Through the years the game Snakes and Ladders has definitely adapted a variety of  themes – from Chaplin to Dora, and very lately- even Disney’s Frozen. Some designers do not stop with theme though, they have also gone bigger and outdoors…


Giant Snakes and Ladders
From Rittenhouse

life-size snakes & ladders

Life-size version of SNAKES and LADDERS
Special feature at the OCTOBURST Children’s Festival
The Esplanade. Singapore

Make your own Snakes and Ladders board game, check out these Free Templates from Shauna

image for header

So do…play board games for family bonding, but if you can play a game that also instills good values even better!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


This entry was posted on October 20, 2014 by in Bond, Teach and tagged , .
%d bloggers like this: