How the path to salvation became Snakes and Ladders

A board game intended to teach the virtues and vices of life in ancient India became a worldwide classic of modern times.

What we know today worldwide as Snakes and Ladders was a board game that originated in ancient India by the name Mokshapath – path to salvation. It was taught to students in schools at a very young age so that they started identifying and differentiating the good and bad karma (deeds), to stay away from bad deeds and to do the good throughout their life, with the game ending at the last square (at 100) of Moksha or Salvation or Liberation.

Mokshapath – The original Snakes and Ladders – above is a Jain Version of the game

The moral of the game was that, if you do good karma in life you will quickly attain salvation or spiritual liberation and your bad karma will keep you tied down, preventing you from achieving the ultimate success in life. So, every snake represented a vice, and every ladder represented a virtue.

There were more snakes than ladders in the original Indian version, there by teaching the students that it is easy to do bad things, but difficult to do good and achieve success in life.

For every good deed in life, the person was rewarded with a ladder to climb up towards salvation. Following were the ladders in the original Indian version of the game.

  • 12 was Faith
  • 51 was Reliability
  • 57 was Generosity
  • 76 was Knowledge
  • 78 was Asceticism

For every bad deed in life, the person was punished with a snake bite taking him down and away from liberation. Following were the snakes in the original Indian version of the game.

  • 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

The British came across this game in India during their colonial rule, and introduced it in England in around 1892. The British version had almost equal number of snakes and ladders.


The popular phrase “back to square one” has its origins in this game, where a snake bite could take you back to where you started!

Unfortunately, this beautiful concept of virtues against vices, where virtues raise you towards glory and vices pull you down, the related ancient Indian spirituality and philosophy is not popular in modern incarnations of the game.

And the modern name, Snakes and Ladders seems so boring and pale compared to its original name “Path to Liberation”. Isn’t it?

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  1. 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.


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