Snakes and Ladders

Snakes and Ladders Board Game, United Kingdom, 1895, Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The board game “Snakes and Ladders” originated from “Vaikuntapaali” or “Paramapada Sopanam”, a game from India based on morality.    It was often known as in Ancient India as Moksha Patamu.

In the game, the ladders represented virtues such as generosity, faith, and humility while the snakes represented vices such as lust, anger, murder and theft. The moral of the game was that a person can attain salvation through performing good deeds whereas by doing evil one takes rebirth in lower forms of life. The number of ladders was less than the number of snakes as a reminder that treading the path of good is very difficult compared to committing sins.

The game was transported from India to England by the colonial rulers in the latter part of the 19th century, with some modifications. Renamed as “Snakes and Ladders”, the number of snakes and ladders were equalized and the game was stripped of its moral and religious aspects.

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