Snakes and Ladders game
This board for a Sufi Muslim version of the game of gyan chaupar (Snakes and Ladders) is painted on British watermarked paper. With inscriptions in Persian and English, it was made for a British patron.
Gyan chaupar, ‘the chaupar of divine knowledge’, developed in India several centuries ago as a board game played with dice, which instructed its players in the many stages and pitfalls of the spiritual path: while the ladders bring rapid promotion, the snakes bring equally sudden demotion. The earliest versions, played by Jains and Hindus, were mainly based on the workings of good or bad karma, which impelled the players upward from low, hellish states to the heavenly realms and ultimately to enlightenment. By the eighteenth century this Sufi version had also developed, of which very few examples survive. From ‘non-existence’ (1) and ‘birth’ (2) at bottom left, the player progresses upward to the Throne of God, housed within a Mughal mosque structure. A direct ladder leads to it from fana fi Allah (‘mystical extinction in God’, 84). Most of the snakes are found in the lower half of the board, with names like ‘greed’, ‘envy’, ‘infidelity’. Two disastrous diagonal snakes lurk in the top row, near the end of the game: ‘pride’ (ghurur, 91) demotes the spiritual seeker to ‘anger, violence’ (ghazab, 18), while Shaitan (Satan, 100) plunges him down to ‘lust’ (shahwat, 10). Thus on the very threshold of salvation, the devil waits to lure the seeker astray.
Via Mahindra Vist on Facebook