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Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Classic Rant: Dice in the Bharata Kingdoms

In Jagat, the setting for Arrows of Indra, dice are a hugely important pass-time, and also of significance in ritual (as they were in epic India).

The “dice” of the Bharata lands (or of the historical India) are typically cowrie shells or knucklebones; though in some cities they use square (2 or 4-sided) sticks to the same effect.
Cowrie shells were typically used in gaming and gambling, while knucklebones were used for the former but also had a powerful ritual significance; the bones (coming from dead creatures) were connected to Kali in her form as Nirrti (the utterly black manifestation of Kali who represents dissolution). Thus the knucklebones are a powerful oracular tool; used by shamans or priests alike, typically by rolling three knucklebones to get one of 64 combinations of possible fortunes.

Cowrie shells were usually rolled in groups of three or four; where the top (opening) part of the shell was “1″ and the bottom was “0″. However, rolling all 0s was usually given a double-top score (so that with four shells, rolling four 0s meant you had a result of 8; so that the possible results for the shells was 1, 2, 3, 4, or 8).

Just as Bharata citizens like to gamble on the kalari arena, and horse races, and almost anything else, they love to gamble on dice games. Most dice games involved the use of a board or track, where pieces must make a full circulation in order to win (in a game not unlike parchesi, ludo, or “Sorry”, with the chance of eating other pieces). But it is also common to have straightforward rolling-contests where after a number of tosses the higher roll wins.

(it should be noted that a dice game forms a crucial part of the Mahabharata, as the even that leads to the inevitability of the apocalyptic Kurukshetra War)


(Originally posted April 10, 2013)

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