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Pallankuzhi – Seethakkali or Seethayattam – A Game for the Times

manjadikkuru_pallankuzhi

Manjadikkurus in pallankuzhi

According to legend, when Seetha was imprisoned in the Ashokavana by Ravana, she was allowed just one form of entertainment – a Pallankuzhi. A game with a wooden/metal board with shallow dips and red seeds. And on the Pallankuzhi, there are several two player games you can play; but either because none of the rakshasis (demonesses) guarding her wanted to have anything to do with her or because Seetha didn’t want anything to do with her scary guard detail, she played only a single player game. And this was a game that would never end. She just went on and on with her endless game, all year till Rama and his ragtag army of monkeys built that bridge to Lanka, slayed the demon king Ravana and his army, routed his magnificent city, and set her free.

Well, you know the story, the kidnapping, the searching, the finding, the building, the battling, the slaying, the freeing… and let me stop there on a happy note.

So back to Seetha and her game of Pallankuzhi. She made her own rules to invent this neverending game. And that’s what proved to be her stress buster during that horrid year of fear, anxiety, uncertainty, self-doubt, loneliness, isolation, panic, and hopelessness. (Sound familiar?)

My childhood memories have plenty of spots dedicated to Pallankuzhi and the blood drop seeds of Manjadikkuru or the black beauty spotted Kunnimani. The Manjadikkurus (Adenanthera pavonina or Red Lucky seeds) are all red, flattened rounds (parippuvada shaped?) and a favorite of Lord Krishna. In fact, allowing children to plunge their hands into the huge vessel filled with Manjadikkuru in the Guruvayoor temple is a much cherished rite. (To read why manjadikkurus are important to Krishna, read here.

The kunnimanis (Abrus precatorius/Rosary Pea) are egg shaped, red and had a spot of mischievously gleaming black at one end. Like tiny ladybugs. These are toxic, even fatal if ingested and kids were actually allowed to play with them! Was it trust? Innocence? Or boundless optimism?

We had an old wooden Pallankuzhi and the games most often played were ‘Kettu’ where you claimed corners and collected the red gems; or ‘Muthu” where every dip with three gems were yours. Of course, that’s just a rough outline of the game. There are more specific rules if you want to go into the details. Someone told us about the single player game called Seethakkali or Seethayattam and we tried to figure out how it could be played. But we always ended up getting stuck after a few rounds.

Later, when I set up my own home, I bought a shiny, metal Pallankuzhi. it does not have the reassuring solid feel of the old, wooden one I played on as a child, with its smoothness that only age can bring. But I do like the clink the seeds make in my metal Pallankuzhi. And my second born and I have played quite a few games on it.

Pallankuzhi_manjadikkuru

Now, with social distancing and isolation, I am pulling out treasures from my past – both things and memories – and maybe make one more attempt to figure out the riddle of Seetha’s game. Maybe someone with a better understanding of Mathematics would be able to, but me with my deplorable math skills… But I am going to try anyway.

Pallankuzhi or versions of it can be found in other ancient cultures too (Mancala in Africa). And in several places in and around my hometown near Kanyakumari, there are several rocks with Pallankuzhis hewn out on them. The tales are always the same – made by the Pandavas to entertain themselves during their exile. You see a pattern? Somehow this game is associated with providing succor during times of uncertainty. And maybe that is why, this is the best time to dust off my Pallankuzhi and play a few rounds on it. And who knows? I might even crack Seetha’s puzzle by the end of this era of social distancing.

Meanwhile, this post is dedicated to two people who are inseparable from my childhood memories. Here’s to our friendship Geechi and Shakti and to those good ol’ days!

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3 responses »

  1. Remi
    Your Pallankuzhi tale sent be back to the “thinnai“in my maternal home where on many a hot , humid and still summer noon I have played dip, pick, drop , collect , score with the tiny red manjaadi kurus. Two years ago , I found a lovely wooden pallankuzhi ( not the traditional smooth surfaced one ) while roaming the market place in kualalumpur .And this Feb ,BC times ,played with my parents when they were here with us. 😀

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  2. Reading ur post brings in my childhood memories too with pallankuzhi..Had played with my grandmother mostly…She used to play with it alone most of the time. We play with manjadi and at times with tamarind seeds too…..Expect many such nostalgic memories…I m sure the days at home will bring in more….A good read indeed.!👌

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  3. Dont know why…but reading that last lines quoting your childhood friends brought a sense of longing…..hmmmm….I was part of it….

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