How did it start?

Snakes and Ladders originated from an ancient Indian didactic game called ‘Gyan Chaupar, meaning the game of knowledge.

It had several local variations like “Mokshapat, ‘Moksha Patamu’, “Paramapada’, ‘Sopanam’, and other adaptations such as Bengali ‘Golok Dham and the Tibetan ‘Sa nam lam sha’

Who invented it?

It’s not exactly known when or who invented it, though it’s believed the game was played as early as 2nd century BC.

According to some historians, the game was invented by Swami Gyandev in the 13th century AD.

The ancient Indian version

The Indian version of the board had 72 to around 300 squares wherein snakes were allegories for various vices and ladders represented virtuous activities.

The goal was to reach enlightenment after journeying through many rebirths and corresponding human experiences.

The ancient Indian version

In the original game, the snakes outnumbered the ladders.

The painted cloth was richly illustrated and the playing tokens were made of ivory. The iconography also depicted cosmological elements, with upper regions depicting divine beings.

The game travels to London

Around 1832, a Captain Henry Dundas Robertson presented what he called the ‘Shastree’s Game of Heaven and Hell’ to the Royal Asiatic Society in London where the 128-squa Gyan Chaupar board can still be seen.

The earliest traceable board

One of the oldest ‘Gyan Chaupar boards that have been traced so far is now in the British Library, originally in the collection of East India Company officer Richard Johnson.

The board game is patented

Frederick Henry Ayres, a famous toy maker from London, patented the game in 1892. But, the squares of the game-board lost their moral connotations. The game was now being sold in England as a children’s game.

Introduction in the US

In 1943, the game was introduced in the US as ‘Chutes and Ladders’ by Milton Bradley.

Soon after, it was given the name Snakes and Ladders.

Other versions

Victorian versions of the game include the ‘Kismet’ board game which is now included in the Victoria and Albert Museum’s collection. Other similar games included ‘Virtue Rewarded’, “Vice Punished’, and the ‘New Game of Human Life!

In the 20th century, ‘Leiterspiel was widely played in Germany. Developed by J.W. Spear & Söhne, it contained circus animals instead of snakes.

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