In the introduction to Sedentary Board Games of India, published in May 1999, Irving Finkel stated that the Anthropological Survey of India, in a joint venture with the British Museum, was going to carry out an ‘Anthropological Investigation of the Board Games of India’ (subsequently called the ‘Indian Board Game Survey‘).

The importance of India, and south Asia in general, in board gaming terms cannot be overstated – it is the probable origin of chess, and has a rich history of race, hunt, war and mancala games. But while Chess is comprehensively covered in H.J.R. Murray’s monumental History of Chess there is remarkably little research available in western languages on the other games. A number of articles were published in journals over the years, were referred to by Murray in his 1952 History of Board Games other than Chess, and were subsequently republished in Sedentary Board Games of India (1999).

At the 2001 Board Games Studies Colloquium Dr Finkel presented a preliminary report on the Indian Board Game Survey – though nothing subsequently appeared in the journal Board Games Studies.

Subsequent colloquia touched on the Indian contribution to gaming, but still nothing much appeared in print:

2002:
Board games from the city of Vijayanagara (Hampi) (1336-1565). A survey and study, by R.Vasantha
Folk board games of strategy in Tamilnadu, by V. Balambal
A contribution to the history of Backgammon from an indological point of view, by Micaela Soar and Irving Finkel

2003:
An inquiry into the earliest game boards, pieces, dice from India, by R.Vasantha
Special features of some traditional board games of Tamilnadu, by V. Balambal

2005:
The arrival and spread of pachisi from India, by Irving Finkel

2008:
Revival of traditional board games — prospects and retrospects, by V. Balambal

2009:
Bondage of Indians with Board Games from Ancient to Modern Times, by V.Balambal
The Game of Chaupad in India, by Ute Rettberg

2010:
A very early counting system in traditional Indian games and some implications, by Irving Finkel

Ancient Board Games in Perspective edited by Dr Finkel and published in 2007 added some extra information on India in the history of backgammon, and India and the Far East Game boards at Vijayanagara, but given its focus on games in the past it had nothing very much to say about the more recent gaming traditions of India.

Currently the web site of the British Museum, where Dr Finkel is Assistant Keeper of Ancient Mesopotamian script, languages and cultures, and which will publish the Indian Board Game Survey, states that it is a ‘major report in preparation‘.

Game historians, enthusiasts and anthropologists are by nature probably very patient people, but this month marks the eleventh anniversary of the first mention of the Indian Board Game Survey in Sedentary Board Games of India, and the ninth anniversary of Dr Finkel’s preliminary report. Does anybody know whether the final report going to be published any time soon?

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I have just received a copy of Sedentary Games of India, edited by Nirbed Ray and Amitabha Ghosh (The Asiatic Society, Calcutta, 1999). This is a book that I had despaired of ever reading – I had searched in all of the sources available to me, but had always been disappointed.

The book contains 28 chapters, each previously published in hard-to-find Journals, and many cited by Murray in his History of Board Games other than Chess. There are, for example, 8 articles by Professor Hem Chandra Das Gupta, and 8 by Jatindra Mohan Datta.

I look forward to reading the book attentively, and posting my thoughts here.

I should mention that my finding of this book owes nothing whatsoever to Amazon.com, who report that the book is ‘Currently unavailable’. They are wrong – it is available. My thanks to Abebooks, who listed the book, and to Manohar Book Service who were the actual sellers, and who got the book to Belgium from New Dehli in only 8 days from the date of ordering.