CHENNAI: The whistle blew, and there was a scramble as the boys climbed on the backs of their partners who tried to hurry to the finish line, lumbering as they tried to balance the weight on their back but determined to win.
‘Uppu mootai’ is a familiar game for many. But some of the children, who participated in the game, had not even heard about it before. Fourteen-year-old R Nahimuddin was an example of this when he said it was the first time he had played the game but thoroughly enjoyed it.
In a generation which seems to be immersed in smartphones and tablets, games like thattangal, pallanguzhi and uppu mootai which were once played in almost every household have become a rarity.
A variety of these traditional games were held in the form of school competitions at the Hindu Spiritual and Service Fair at A M Jain College — where hundreds of schools participated – earlier this month.
Nahimuddin’s classmate M Sampath, who was one of the participants, said he had a “jolly time” playing the games after a very long time. “I had learnt these games in my village but hardly anyone here in the city plays them. Even in the village, fewer people are playing when compared to before,” he said.
Although video games may be the go-to for many kids, the students themselves admitted that these native games were a better alternative. “Our eyes aren’t strained, we get some vitamin D and we also maintain a healthy weight,” observed Sampath.
In contrast to most mobile or computer games that isolate children with technology, these games are also a social exercise where students are forced to play together or work in teams.
“Sitting in front of a tablet or computer for hours due to its addictive quality is only going to increase obesity which is increasingly becoming a problem,” added teachers.
Not just this. Teachers pointed out that each of the native games have different benefits. A game like pallanghuzhi involves fast addition and multiplication while tattanghal and other board games involve fine motor skills, counting and quick hand-eye coordination.
“There are games like football, throwball or netball which also involve co-ordination. However, this doesn’t mean that we give up games that originated right here,” said Alli Rani, a teacher at Vivekananda Vidyalaya, Kundrathur.
Swathishree, a Class 7 student from Vivekananda School, pointed out that these games gave more exercise to the brain and also not strain their eyes.
“I had been exposed to these games through my mother at home but there are many of my classmates who have not played these games at all,” she added.
Given such limited awareness about these games in the current generation, experts even suggest that these games be introduced in schools and homes as they are the best social exercises.
Some schools like Vivekananda are already practising this. School coordinator Veeraswamy said that competitions involving these traditional games were conducted religiously every year. However, this practice should be brought into other schools too, he added.
A game like pandi (hop-scotch) forces a child to play with others, and all it requires is some chalk and stones.
“There are also easy ways to discharge the stress and need not be materialistic,” said Rajalakshmi, managing trustee of Initiative for Moral and Cultural Training (IMCT).
“Games do not have to be necessarily only football, cricket, throwball or volleyball. These kind of native games also should be given importance and is something that crosses the age barrier unlike many physical sports,” she added.
How to play the traditional games
Pallanguzhi – Passuppandi: It is an indoor game, played by two people. It is a strategic game with skillful moves and memory about the position and number of coins kept in the opponent’s pit. Game board has 14 pits.
Benefits: Enhances coordination, memory, observation skills, maths and motor skills.
Sonalu Kattam: The goal of the game is to make all the game pieces reach the centre (turn fruit) and the first person to do so wins. It is an indoor/outdoor game, played by 4-8 persons as individuals or groups of two usually.
Benefits: Enhances concentration, strategic skills and quick thinking.
Thattangal-Ezhamkal: It is an indoor game played by two or more people. The player has to keep seven stones in the hand. Game starts with one stone being thrown in the air while other stones below are grabbed by the time the other lands. The player can’t drop any stones while picking and catching and if he does, it passes to the next player. It involves several rounds and the goal is to complete all steps without failing and the first person to complete it wins.
Benefits: Enhances coordination and concentration skills of children and develops sensory skills and hand-eye coordination.
Thanjavur Kattam (also referred to as Pagadai): It is an indoor game, played by 2-4 persons. The goal of the game is to bring all the six coins home before the opponent does. Cowries (used as dice) is used to move the six coins along the board by the players and players can cut each other in the process to race ahead of others.
Benefits: Enhances quick thinking and decision making