Hindu Version of Chutes and Ladders and the History of the Snakes Childrens Board Game

In the original game, there were more snakes than ladders!

The first version of “Chutes and Ladders” dated back as far as the 16th century. It taught the religious lesson that it’s easier to be bad than to be good, according to Wikipedia, and its name translated roughly to “the ladder to salvation”! In the late 1800s a British version of the game appeared, where the game was first given the name “Snakes and Ladders.” But soon Milton Bradley had transported the game to American audiences, where its title was changed again, to the more familiar “Chutes and Ladders.”

Milton Bradley called it an “improved new version of … England’s famous indoor sport,” but the company has since become a subsidiary of Hasbro. But even four centuries later, Hasbro still describes Chutes and Ladders as a “game of rewards and consequences,” staying true to the original themes that began in colonial India. “As kids travel along the game path,” Hasbro writes on their web site, “they encounter situations that reward them for good deeds by letting them climb the ladders or punish them for misbehaving by sending them down chutes.” They bill it as “the classic up and down game for pre-schoolers,” but they also like to tout the game’s educational content.

“All the while, they are learning to recognize numbers and count to 100.”

In its original version, Chutes and Ladders was an instructional game of “cosmic energy.,” according to one thoughtful analysis. “There is really only one Game, the Game in which each of us is a player acting out his role…” It started as Hindu board game called Leela, where players “seek to attain cosmic consciousness by avoiding squares like ‘envy’ and ‘ignorance’.” That’s the description provided by another web site of religion-themed games, saying the game originally came with a 133-page page booklet of education material, and that the object of Leela is “to move up the paths of spiritual advancement.”

But today, Hasbro has since released variations on the game where the main characters on the board are from Dore the Explorer or its spin-off, “Go Diego Go.” There’s even a version using characters from Sesame Street in which the game pieces are Big Bird, Cookie Monster, and Elmo. But some question still remains over the moral standing of “Chutes and Ladders.” In February of 2009, one site even noted that a South Carolina judge had declared that any game that involved rolling dice constitutes illegal gambling – which would technically include Chutes and Ladders!

That would be quite a switch for a game that began as a tool for teaching spiritual advancement!