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Traditional Games in Pakistan

Instructor: Sunday Moulton

Sunday recently earned a PhD in Anthropology and has taught college courses in Anthropology, English, and high school ACT/SAT Prep.

Did you know some of our most familiar games come from the traditional games played in Pakistan? In this lesson, we'll look at three popular games and discuss their similarities to more familiar games like baseball, tag, and the board game Sorry!

A Young Country with an Ancient History

The country of Pakistan formed in 1947 as an independent nation for the many Muslims living in India at the time Great Britain withdrew their control.

Flag of Pakistan
Flag of Pakistan

Originally, an East and West Pakistan formed on the side of India, but East Pakistan eventually became its own country of Bangladesh, leaving West Pakistan as the only Pakistan. This means that although Pakistan is less than 100 years old it shares the ancient history of India, boasts many historical sites, and celebrates customs from many centuries of tradition. One area of cultural tradition still thriving today involves the games played by children and adults.

Map of Pakistan
Map of Pakistan

Gilli Danda

The game of Gilli Danda dates back to India's Maurya Dynasty (approx. 326 BCE - 180 BCE) and likely inspired the Western sports of cricket and baseball. While the name changes depending on the region playing the game, the rules remain similar. Players use a gilli, a short stick between 3 and 6 inches long and one-inch thick which narrows at each end, and a danda, another stick approximately one-inch thick and between 2 and 3 feet long.

Young girl demonstrates how to play Gilli Danda
Gilli-danda

This game involves two teams, but there is no set limit on the number of players. At the start of the game, a coin toss gives one team their choice of batting first or playing the field first. Unlike baseball, this game does not need a pitcher. Instead, the batter hits the gilli on one end to flip it into the air where the batter will hit it into the field as far as possible. If the batter misses the gilli three times in a row, either when trying to knock it in the air or when trying to bat it into the field, they are out. If someone on the field team catches the gilli before it hits the ground, the batter is also out. You can see the similarity to baseball.

Unlike baseball, however, points do not depend on running bases. Instead, players measure how far the batter hits the gilli and count points based on how many danda lengths it traveled before hitting the ground. This game also differs from baseball because there are no innings. Instead, the batting team continues to play until all their players are out even if that means they are down to one player who bats over and over. Once all the players on the team are out, the teams switch places. Once all the players on the second team are out, the points are added and the highest scoring team wins.

Oonch Neech

Oonch Neech, also called Oonch Neech ka Papda, is one of the most popular games for younger children in Pakistan. In many ways, it resembles the game of tag with a few variations that make the game even more exciting. First, players need a hilly area to play as oonch means hill and neech means valley. One child will begin as the denner, or as they are called in tag, 'it.' The denner chooses whether to capture players on the hill or in the valley. Once they declare their area, the other children run to the opposite. However, they cannot remain in the safe zone and must run back and forth through the oonch and neech zones while avoiding the denner trying to capture them. As soon as one player is tagged, they become the denner and the game starts over.

Ludo

If you ever played the board game Sorry!, you already know much about the rules of playing the Pakistani game of Ludo, a board game growing in popularity around the world. However, Ludo actually comes from the game Pachisi played in India for thousands of years and the areas of India that are now part of Pakistan.

Ludo

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