Mokshapath – Snake and Ladder

Snake and Ladder is an ancient Indian game which was brought to west by the British in 1892. It was called Mokshapath meaning Path to Salvation. In sanskrit Moksh=Salvation and Path=Path !!

Let us understand its basics.

The vedic (hindu) belief about life and death is of rebirth. One life form might be reborn as any form of life after its death. A human in this birth might be reborn as an insect in his next birth. A frog in this birth might be reborn as a human in its next birth!

This cycle of life and death and rebirth continues, which is why the vedas say that soul never dies! Depending on how well a soul spends its life doing good things, it can be freed from this cycle of life, death and rebirth and attain Moksha (Probably enter heaven and live happily ever after!).

So the aim of life is to attain this Moksha or Nirvana! Vedas say that it is extremely lucky to be born as a human and that one should not miss this opportunity to get the most out of it. One has to use this to get Moksha where a normal soul (Aatma) gets united with the Universal soul (Paramaatma) and is freed from the cycle of birth and death! There are stories in vedas where even other life forms like animals attained Moksha by their good deeds! So its not limited to humans alone!

Well, these things interest me from a point of enquiry as to what we really are? Where did we come from? What is all that is going on here :)

In kannada there is a poem which says
Allide Nammane Illi bande Summane
which means My house is out there, I came here just for some time pass :)

Well, another kannada poem says
Niddegomme Nitya Marana Edda Sala Naveena Janana

which means, A daily death every night we sleep, a new birth every morning we get up! What a wonderful thought!

Coming back to the original topic of Snake and Ladder, this game originated in ancient India and was called Mokshapath which means the path of salvation. The ultimate goal of the game was to achieve salvation by reaching the top. Every time a person does a bad deed, he ends up at the snake’s mouth and is demoted in the game of attaining salvation.

Every time a person does a good deed, he ends up at the ladder’s bottom and is promoted upwards in the game of attaining salvation.! The aim of this game was to teach children the basic tenets of hindiusm that lies in the vedas. Good deeds we move up in life. Bad deeds and we move down in life. The ladders represented virtues and snakes vices.

The game was drawn out on a cloth divided into blocks called houses, each representing emotions. For ex: the snake at hinsa (violence) would take one down to mahanarak (great hell) while ladder at Vidyabhyas (education) would take one up to the Shastras (knowledge). The game was played with dices and cowrie-shells.

In the original game, these were the squares where ladder was found to move upwards.

  • 12 was faith
  • 51 was Reliability
  • 57 was Generosity
  • 76 was Knowledge
  • 78 was Asceticism.

Snakes were found at the following squares.

  • 41 was for Disobedience
  • 44 for Arrogance
  • 49 for Vulgarity
  • 52 for Theft
  • 58 for Lying
  • 62 for Drunkenness
  • 69 for Debt
  • 73 for Murder
  • 84 for Anger
  • 92 for Greed
  • 95 for Pride
  • 99 for Lust

100 was the square of Moksha or Nirvana! The ultimate goal of the game. You win when you reach the 100th square!

The british took this game to England from India in 1892 and called it snakes and ladders (which I feel is a rather very uninteresting name, compared to Mokshapath – Path of Nirvana )

  • harsha

    excuseme it is not british game………… was found in our hindus veda……….u ara saying lie………..

    • itzguru

      Read the article completely and properly.

      “which was brought to west by the British in 1892″

  • Vikram

    I believe that these games are played in Haridwar, Uttaranchal, India in Har ki paudi ghat….

    • Gurudev

      Thanks for that info Vikram. I didnt know that.

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  • Gurudev

    Simply amazing information.
    Your comments have the unique ability to make me spend good time reading in the blog :)
    Thanks a lot for sharing this beautiful information.

  • Gurudev

    No I actually dont know about the places where people play these games. But I have heard that many people who live at some of the north Indian holy shrines still play this game.

  • ursri

    Dear Gurudev
    Thanks again for such wornderful information.

    The quest to understand reason for sorrow and happiness, Karma, Rebirth stopped me leaving a shop which was about to close and two learned unkown pple discussing deeply about such matter.
    Thanks to them for allowing me to listen and to the destiny for giving such opportunity to me

    Reg: Moksha- Hope interested may find it useful.

    1. Every deed bears fruit., ie bad deed bad result, similarly good deed good result.
    It is uncertain when you get the result.
    2. Good and Bad deeds are accountable and they fall into different account. It is just not bad results are deducted when you do good deeds. Might be the punishment may not be that harsh but punishment is inevitable.
    3. On the judgement day- at end of one’s life, one is sent to heaven/hell for the proportionate period of time according to balance good and bad deeds.
    4. At the end of his/her-rather soul’s term in hell or heaven the soul must come back to bhuloka. And takes designated birth. This cycle continues.
    Note: Islam- mentions till judgment day. It says one has to bear fruit of his karma in his present birth itself. Based on the balance deeds he/she permanently resides in hell or heaven. Yet to know about the view in Christianity. Sanathana Dharma speaks about recycle of birth and death.

    5. Lets say a person has more good deeds than bad before death, he is assured of taking birth in learned/good family so that he can continue with good deeds rather than struggle to find right association for right path.
    6. Again if he does only good deeds it is not sufficient to get salvation. He only ends up landing in Heaven. It is only that person who has his good and bad karma ZERO is eligible to get salvation.
    7. A soul or pranavayu finds exit in 21 outlet in our body. As per info got the 11 exits like 5 sensory organs, eyes, nose, ears, skin, etc… 5 karmendirya- throat, excretory orgrans, sexual organs, etc and the ultimate point – brahmarandra – the crown point. One can notice that after a person death, either eyes/mouth/ nose are opened and later closed.
    8. It is said only when the soul breaks open crown point and moves towards sky – as soul has akasha tatwa – affinity towards sky, soul found solace that is reached its destiny.
    9. Though man has zero balance of good and bad deeds, only HE – supreme picks the soul of his choice to find salvation.
    It is beautifully explained by the elderly person like this with Hindi verse.
    Translated as follows:
    The grinder is always hungry and breaks seed say a wheat seed, which enters for grinding. Later the when wheat flour is sieved, no course seed is allowed to escape. It is very easy to identify course seed if it has escaped fine grinding and sieve while preparing dough and kneeding. But it is still wonder one gets a seed while eating the roti which had escaped all the process of grinding, sieving, dough prep., kneeding, and cooking.
    That’s how LORD identifies the soul of good individual to cross all hurdles and reach him. This should be the actual goal of human birth. .

    10. Well one may think that we can abstain from bad deeds as much as possible. But should we say no to good deed in order not to have balance at the end? In such case One should keep doing good deeds and never aspire for result. One should say KRISHNARPANAMASTU. Leave the result to HIM . That’s how one , who is sansari / comman man can lead his life. He has the chance of getting salvation faster than a Sanyasi(who is less karma oriented – so less good/bad results). As the common man is constantly trying to strike balance between needs, desires, happy and sorrow – he faces lot of problems and thinks of GOD more than Sanyasi. This information is confirmed by our spiritual Guruji and Dwaraka peetadhipathi.
    11. The way how to obtain salvantion, one needs good association and right Guru.

    Many more to add about
    - diff. Bwtn Gyan and Vignyan,
    - right and wrong Guru,
    - source of Karma the mind in that diff. Bwn Buddhi and Manas.

    Shall include in next post.

  • Sergey

    Dear Gurudev, I want to ask you. Do you know places in India where people still play this type of religious game?

    • harsha


  • Sainath

    only you can provide such info…thanx :)