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Tales of Dhayam

Once at the office, we all sat down to play a game called Dhadu, a game that has nothing to do with the digital realm, a game that lets you have fun as a group! That session surprised me with how similar yet distinct old practices across the country are. Until that day I didn’t know there was a North Indian version of this amazing game! Ah sorry, I just realised I haven’t told you guys what the game is! It is a game that involves strategic thinking, somebody to play with, and a lot of fun. Trust me, in games like this, the more the merrier. I am talking about Dhayam. With a great amount of time being spent at home with my grandmother, we sat down to play round after round of Dhayam. My grandmother went on listing all the games that she used to play in her young days ranging from Chozhi and Pallankuzhi to Paramapadham and Dhayam. Of the many she listed, the game of Dhayam, which involves two brass sticks (usually brass, called Dhayakattai) that are generally rolled as the dice, 12 coins (seeds from fruits or plants, chess coins, paaku, etc. would do) and a team (ranging from 2-6 members) is my most favourite.

A handmade Dhadu board

The game is said to have its roots in the well-known Indian epic of Mahabharatham and is popularly believed to have changed the flow of history in India. I am not sure if it was for this reason that we were introduced to this game as kids, nevertheless, we found it enjoyable. Now that I have played the North Indian version as well, it is even more exciting! Dhayam is easy to comprehend, easier to play and works the mind. The game has taught me many things but the excitement to get the dhayam, or one on the dice, only with which you can start, is still the same as it was on the first day!

I still remember during my high school vacations, after brunch in the morning, those who had some time on their hand would come together for a Dhayam session. It was surely one of our favourite past times, two hours that would be filled with conversations and stories. As in Ludo where you need to ensure the safety of your coins from being ‘cut’ by the opponents, the elder members of both the team would teach and encourage the younger members to move their coins strategically, without losing them, and in the due course share a proverb or an experience. If transferring or imbibing experiences and knowledge is of utmost importance and one is searching for a way to do it, I guess it is through instances like these, where a story ends up being a life lesson. This game has a lot of stories associated with it, has been a great ice breaker and conversation starter, but this is entirely relative to the people involved.

With the given scenario we don’t have a huge team to play with, but the joy and excitement are still the same. The anxiety when I play with my grandmother, when she gets a dhayam before I do, or if the other team is winning and have more coins in the den (referred to as maalai in the Dhayam setup we play with) is real. It just struck me that in the times of games like Ludo King and PubG, it’s not a regular experience to play Dhayam or Dhadu, the games that have, in a way, opened the gates of my mind for me. It has helped me see an entirely fun side of my family members and colleagues.

At home, we have designed an upgraded version of the Dhayam board, with chart paper stuck on a piece of wood for sturdy support, and the squares are drawn using a marker. Of the many old practices and rituals that are now part of my system, I am glad about this game being an intrinsic part, with the memories from these games carried forever.

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