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Vol. XXXII No. 24, April 1-15, 2023

Lost Leisure – The strange case of the solitary Dayakattam Board with six squares on each arm – A house near Kapaliswarar Temple

-- by Vinita Sidhartha

Not far from the Kapaliswarar Temple is an old house. There’s nothing really to distinguish this house from many other old homes you’ll find around temple tanks and temple areas. It’s a typical old home. It had a green door when I first saw it. Perhaps the colour of the door has changed. But what I found interesting about the house is that when you enter, in what is almost the central area of the house, cut on the old floor is the game of dayakattam. 

This game is six squares long on each of the four arms, and is perhaps what most South Indians believe, is quintessentially the version of dayakattam that they used to play. So, what’s surprising about this?

The fact that this is the only board I have seen in Chennai. That’s not to say there are not others. There probably are, which I am yet to see. But I have seen numerous other boards of dayakattam that are eight squares long on each arm resembling the game Chaupad played in the north. This though is the only board of this version.

Assuming this was the favorite version of the people of Tamil Nadu, would it not be logical that we would see more of these? Granted, many people merely would draw these boards with chalk on the floor or with a stick on the sandy ground. I myself remember my grandparents playing on a board drawn with chalk. Yet, when one explores the temples of South India, one rarely sees this board. The fact that you can find it in the home of a traditional Tamil family, perhaps attests to the genuineness of the board being the favorite of the Tamil people, and yet strangely it seems to have disappeared everywhere else.

One would like to imagine the family grouped around this board, playing together laughing together. Where have they all gone? Who was the instigator of the games? An old grandmother with little to do? The bustling women of the house, when they wanted to settle down after a long day’s work? One will never know. The board though, stands as a testament to this wonderful version of the game, very beloved to the people of this state.

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