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Renu Bhandari

Evaluation of traditional Indian games and implications for practice.

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What is play?

Roles, resources and relationships are starting points for all play and help in creating an environment that connects and enriches the social psychological aspects of development in children. Play in children is dependent on a range of variables (Brooker, 2011) and the term play itself can encompass a range of activities and opportunities that children encounter. Children make meaning create, engage with others and build on their learning process with play. Different perspectives on play understand and interpret the purpose of play differently (Canning and Goodliff, 2017). This has wider implications for practitioners in early years. Some perspectives define what play does and others define what play means.  The evolutionary perspective talks of how play can enable the child to learn and practice the skills that may be useful for later life. The developmental perspective highlight show play develops through various stages and with age of the children, it becomes more sophisticated and complex. The Education perspective highlights how play can enable children develop thinking, learning and cognitive skills with interaction with the peers and adults around them. Play helps in making social interaction with others and making positive relationships with other people around. The Sociology perspective clearly highlights this view. In the light of the play work perspective all practitioners should create spaces and places for children where they have autonomy and choice.

Play and culture

Studies have attempted to explore the relationship between play and culture focussing on the free time activities of children. Anthropological and sociological observations of children’s play have been evident in studies by Opie and Opie (1969) and Schwartzman (1979). Gosso (2010) explored children’s play in traditional Parakana hunting societies in Brazil. In studies by Lancy (2002, 2007) it was evident that children try and create the adult behaviours and actions in their pretend play. Actions of the hunting community which were gender specific like boys imitating hunting and bow and arrows play and girls recreating grinding flour, weaving baskets was clearly visible. Goldman (1998) researched play among the Huli of the Southern Islands of Papua New Guinea. He found that play helped children to create and practice their linguistic interaction. Further the play activities enhanced the social interaction making children more knowledgeable members of the community. Play helps in identity formation in children (Itsumi-Taylor, 2006). In a study on Hausa children in Nigeria, Salamone and Salamone (1999) found that culturally specific criteria are part of pure play and play ceases when adults intervene. Eifermann (1971, 1979) highlighted that the location, socio economic status and ethnicity are important for the macro culture to which play contributes.    


Socio cultural perspective

The socio-cultural perspective maintains that play is influenced by different ideas, customs and social behaviour of the people around the child. These influence the range and type of play children experience and develop in.  Play is therefore shaped by participation. It enables all to be actively involved in the community and share ideas. Integrating the cultural and environmental influences in play can make all play effective. Long et.al (2007) maintains that children are active agents in their own socialisation process and play is culturally constructed and maintained.  The socio-cultural perspective on play maintains that children have the ability to integrate and fit in with the experiences of the adults, peers around them.  At the same time children have agency or autonomy of making sense of the what is happening around them as a result of their actions and reactions. Mayall (2000) maintains that is its useful therefore to involve children into decision making process about issues that impact them in any way. Further, Goncu et.al. (2000) explored four cultural communities (San Pedro, Guatemala; Kecioren, Turkey; Dhol-Ki-Patti, India; Salt Lake City, United States) for cultural variations in play. The frequency and partners in play varied across different cultures.

Play helps in understanding the society and cultural norms and give context to the meaning a child is making. Besides learning about the culture and making meaning in a cultural context, many play games help in attaining skills like teams building, decision making, planning, strategy and communication. Most traditional play games include singing and micro tunes that add to the enjoyment of the play activity.  Many structured play games are handed from one generation to another as a treasure to engage and learn from. Cultural customs, values and traditions are embedded in these play games. Some of the games can be traced back to mythology and scriptures. It is therefore important to understand the relevance of these play games in the present-day context and their wider implications for practice.

Play helps to connect three important aspects of socio-cultural learning for the children –the natural environment, other children and peers and with the wider community. Tovey (2007) discusses the importance of roles, resources and relationships in outdoor play experiences of children.  Greitemeye and Cox (2013) reported that cooperative play can lead to cohesion which activates trust in players and leads to further cooperation. This can further extend to cooperative behviours outside the play situation in personal and social experiences of children too.  Some studies emphasize the role of nature and playing outdoors on children’s physical and psychological well-being (Gleave, 2009; O'Brien & Murray, 2006). With the limitations in spaces and funds most of the play spaces are barren play fields with little shades and imagination. The onus is therefore on all to enrich the play experiences of children with games and play that integrates the connection with nature well.   

Many traditional play games are set in the outdoors, teaching children the value of environment and giving then an opportunity to connect with nature.  Outdoor play can enhance problem solving and social competence (Greenfield, 2004). Outdoor environment can challenge, engage, inspire and provoke" Davis (2010) (p. 64). Some studies like Carson (1956) and Wilson (2008) highlight the “fascination” of the natural world for the children’s play. Outdoor play is advantageous for its plasticity, complexity and manipulability of materials (Elliot and Emmett, 1997). Children can take risks and outdoors provides open ended opportunities for play that can help children reach their full potential.  (Greenfield, 2004). This risk taking allows children to steer away from behavioral issues that may emerge from risk taking and challenging the social norms and rules.   

With a clear focus on most games set outdoors, in many Indian folklores some games with sticks (Gili Danda), stones (Pithu), body (kabaddi) and rope (Rasa) have been detailed. Lord Shiva has been detailed playing Pachisi with his wife Goddess Paravati in Hindu scriptures.   Dating back to 400BC, written in Sanskrit by sage Vyasa, this epic scribe the details of Hindu dharma (religion) and moral law. The study details the rivalry and battle of evil and good between two set of cousins- Kauravas and Pandavas. In the Sanskrit epic of Mahabharata (The Great Epic of Bharata Dynasty) the Kauravas and Pandavas play many of these games. The notorious dice game that led to the epic battle is detailed here too.  Mahabharata is an important source of information for the development of Hindu religion and beliefs and contains the most famous chapter of Shrimad Bhagwad Gita. The historians have gathered ample evidence from the Mughal era about many games like chausar and chess. The royal chess was played with court members dressed as pieces of chess-horse, king, queen, rook, knight, bishop and pawn in the royal courts.   

For the present review some traditional Indian play games have been selected


Gili Danda- This game involves minimum two people and can be played with up to 5 people at a time. The simplistic toys that are required to play this game are a long stick (danda) about one foot and a block of wood (Gili), which is tapered and shaped from the ends. Each player has to tap and lift the Gili with the Danda and try and toss the Gili as far as possible to win. Once the Gili is lifted and tossed the distance from the start point to the end is calculated with the walk length and the person with the Gili furthest away wins. A score card can be kept on the side and the match can be decided to about 5 -6 turns each.

This game is played in rural Indian areas to a large extend and the urban city areas where the open spaces are limited. This game calls for two simplistic tools. Both Gili and danda are easily available or can be made with real tree branches and available wood. The children can have fun making the Gili and danda from the branches and wood lying around. This helps in allowing the children explore the outdoors around and be creative with their plans of shaping and designing the tools. The Indian culture and tradition pride itself in working with the harmony with nature “prakriti” (Sanskrit word – nature). This game helps children identify the and explore the outdoors with minimum damage and build play toys/tools that are recyclable.  Turn taking and allowing each member of the game to perform best is kept in focus all throughout. The number of turns can be added or reduced depending on the decision of all members playing. The distance the Gili goes to is calculated by the walking strides and can help children learn about maths and simple addition and distance measuring.

Pithu- This is a game played in two teams with minimum two members to twelve members. The game is played with a stack of seven flat stones which are piled in a circle drawn. A ball is then thrown by a team member of the first team to de stack the stones. The team then works together to rebuild the stack of stones in the order the game started off with. The other team members pass the ball around and hit the members as they attempt restacking the stones. Each time the ball touches the team member they have to leave the game and pass the challenge to the rest of the team.


To start the Pithu, the two teams explore the outdoors to find stones that are flat shaped and can be stacked well. Going out individually or in pairs to do this can be an enriching experience and time to bond with the team members. Once the stones are collected and ready the teams then take turns to decide which team takes the turn first to hit the stack.  This game calls for strategy (Hindi word -Rananeeti) and planning (Hindi word-Yojana). The two teams have to work together, plan and guess the moves of each player to make sure that the task of restacking the piles of stones is achieved. The value of perseverance and hard work is a theme throughout this game. 

Kabaddi-The term kabaddi is derived from the Tamil words Kai and pidi – which means “holding hands”This game involves two team usually comprising of seven team members each. A field or open space of about 10 metres x 13metres is chosen for this game. A member of the team is sent to the other team’s side as a “raider”. The raider touching the ground for success. This raider has to tag and wrestle the opposite team members before returning back to the half of his own team in the field. The opponents holding hands have to stop the raider from escaping their side of the field and make him loose his one breath chant of kabaddi.  The raider has to continuously chant Kabaddi in one breath without a break. Twenty minutes halves are set out for the two teams with a break in between.

This is another game where minimum resources are required to create enjoyment and fun in the play. Group identity and team spirit (Hindi word – Shayog Bhavana) become key part of this game. The physical aspects of wrestling, tagging and holding one’s breath to chant Kabaddi while playing builds resilience in children. Strategy and building prompt reaction times (Hindi word-Phurti) are key to winning this game. The competitive spirit in the game helps children to develop positive self-image. This game has gathered momentum and is now played internationally in many countries of south Asia including India, China and Japan.

Gutte-This game is played five pebbles. This game can be played by any number of players.  Children explore the outdoors and the available surrounding in finding evening shaped pebbles that can be held in the same hand all at once.  The five pebbles are thrown on the floor and then the task involves tossing one pebble in the air allowing the player to pick one other pebble at the same time. A winning player is the one who manages to pick all five pebbles in without dropping the hold of others.

 This game calls for psycho motor coordination along with quick swift rhythmic moves. Some rural villages have their own regional micro tunes that are sung by children playing game. Creative engagement (Rachnatamkata) of the children in turning small pieces of wood or beads to gutte is commonly noticed.


Another game played widely across all ages and stages of development (from about 3 years to 12years) is an adapted, creative version of traditional tug of war. This game is known for involving children in their creative choices, allowing participation of all children of all abilities, skills and ages in one.    

Posham Pa- This game requires minimum 5 players up to 12 players. The game starts with two players who are asked to   choose two titles which are not their real names. These could be names of rivers, flowers, fruits, countries. These two players then start the rhyme/micro song “Posham Pa” holding hands to make and arch. The whole team has to pass through the arch while the song lasts and in the last rhyme the player can be caught with the arch coming down. The player is then ushered to a side and his given two choices -names of fruit, flowers, things, toys. The caught player makes a choice and then has to stand behind the chosen arch player. After the whole team or group of players are caught and had their turn, a tug of war is ready between the two team. A line is drawn and all team members hold the two players who made and arch. The winning team is the one that drawn the arch player over to their side on the line.


Micro song

Posham Pa bhi Posham Pa

Posham Pa bhi Posham Pa


Sahthiyo ne kya kiya                                   ( What did my Friends do?)

Sau rupee ki gharee churaiye                     ( They stole a hundred-rupee watch.)

Ab to jail me aana parega                          ( Come to the prison now)

Jail ki roti khanee paragee                          ( You have to eat  prison food)

Jail ka pani pina parega                            ( You have to drink  prison water)

Ab to jail me anna parega.                        (Come to the prison now)



Posham Pa bhi Posham Pa

Posham Pa bhi Posham Pa



Posham pa involves team and team working effectively. The micro tune or rhyme that is sung with this game has moral lessons of not stealing as guided by the social norms. The micro song highlights how as a result of stealing has negative consequences. The micro song is in the Hindi and helps the young players to build the rhythm, language and new words.  Creative choices of names and titles enables the players to explore and embed their ideas and decision making in the process. Besides the physical strength and its exhibition, the fun of this game lies in the gradual building of the two teams and the thrill of who wins in the end in the tug of war. The socialisation of children in the whole process of team building and then working together to achieve a common goal is embedded in the Indian values and traditions of Vishvah Kutubakam” (Sanskrit-The whole world is one big family)


Implications for practice

Inclusive environment in settings with embedding traditional games from various countries-Involving children of different abilities, needs, cultures, religion and beliefs in activities that engage and enrich all can be done easily through these traditional games. According to Ofsted (2019), 'fundamental British values' are: democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect for and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs and for those without faith. These traditional games can embed the British values in children of all ages and stages. The simplicity of the roles, resources and relationships in these games can enable children to develop a Holistic view of self and others. With an increasing stress on the curriculum, behaviour and development (Ofsted, 2019) these games and play experiences can build the substance of education and delivery in all settings.   

Learn from the past to make the best of now and the future- As there is an increasing pressure on schools and early years settings for funds, these games can become an integral part of the curriculum delivery without much funding or resources. It can help both children and staff to connect with the outdoors reaping the huge benefits of being outdoors without much investment in the outdoor space organization and development. Getting to know a culture, it’s   heritage and norms can help children build the knowledge and information about the various countries and world as a whole Vishvah Kutubakam” (Sanskrit-The whole world is one big family)

Language learning and social psychological “cushion” for children with special needs- These games can help both staff and children learn words for Hindi, Sanskrit and some regional languages with ease. Emotional and psychological well-being and “feeling good” factor of these games is undeniable. In children with special needs these games can be instrumental in giving a sense of self-worth, competence and creative expression. Children can be active agents in adapting these games to create their own with their own set of rules. Children’s agency and choice making in teams, pace of the game, rewards and awards can lead to an enhanced experience of play. Language learning and participation can lead to effective group working that can be drawn in real classrooms too.

Window to another culture and its traditions- These games are opportune windows that can enable children and practitioners to develop further curiosity and engagement in different countries, tradition and culture. Working with parents from different cultures to support such efforts in schools and settings can build positive relationships with the parents. Parents who have barriers of language and confidence in dealing with settings can easily interphase with the practitioners to support the development and learning of their children.    

In conclusion, these traditional games are starting points for both children and practitioners. The key stake holders including the parents, and community can further benefit from including these games and types of play experiences in every day delivery of curriculum across settings.  “Tradition is seen as an ongoing process that does not die out but whose manifestations in forms, beliefs and activities wax and wane and transform, making perceivable lineage and setting in motion new ones through time and across geographical space” (Bishop and Curtis, 2001, pg10).This statement can be aptly applied to these traditional play experiences that set in motion some creative and adapted versions of play giving children more agency and control on creating their own unique play experiences to share .


(3591 Words)








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