Pachisi is a cross and circle board game that originated in ancient India which has been described as the "national game of India". It is played on a board shaped like a symmetrical cross. A player's pieces move around the board based upon a throw of six or seven cowrie shells, with the number of shells resting with aperture upwards indicating the number of spaces to move.
The name of the game derives from the Hindi word pachis, meaning twenty-five, the largest score that can be thrown with the cowrie shells. Thus the game is also known by the name Twenty-Five.
Pachisi is a game for four players, usually in two teams. One team has yellow and black pieces, the other team has red and green. The team which moves all its pieces to the finish first, wins the game.
|This section may be confusing or unclear to readers. (August 2010)|
Each player has four beehive-shaped pieces. The pieces of one player are distinguishable from another by their colour: black, green, red and yellow are used for each player.
Six cowrie shells are used to determine the amount to move the players' pieces. They are thrown from the player's hand and the number of cowries which fall with their openings upwards indicate how many spaces the player may move:
The board is usually embroidered on cloth. The playing area is cruciform. There is a large square in the centre, called the Charkoni, which is the starting and finishing position of the pieces. The four arms are divided into three columns of eight squares. The players' pieces are moved along these columns during play.
Twelve squares are specially marked as castle squares. Four of these are positioned at the end of the middle columns of each arm; the other eight are four squares inwards from the end of the outer columns on each arm. A piece may not be captured by an opponent while it lies on a castle square.
Each player's objective is to move all four of their pieces completely around the board, counter-clockwise, before their opponents do. The pieces start and finish on the Charkoni.
The playing order is decided by each player throwing the cowries. The player with the highest score starts, and turns continue counter-clockwise around the board.
Each player's first piece may leave the Charkoni on any throw. Each player moves their pieces down the centre column of their own arm of the board, then counter-clockwise around the outside columns.
A player may have any number of their pieces on the board at one time. One piece only may be moved with a single throw, or if the player chooses, they can decline to move any piece on a throw.
If a 6, 10 or 25 is thrown, the player gets a grace. This enables them to introduce another of their pieces from the Charkoni onto the board, and they also get to repeat their turn.
More than one piece of the same team may occupy a single square. However a piece may not move onto a castle square that is already occupied by an opponent's piece.
If a piece lands on a square (other than a castle square) occupied by any number of the opponent's pieces, those pieces are captured and must return to the Charkoni. Captured pieces may only enter the game again with a grace throw. A player making a capture is allowed another turn.
A piece completes its trip around the board by moving back up its central column. Returning pieces may be placed on their side in order to distinguish them from pieces that have just entered. A piece can only return to the Charkoni by a direct throw.
Four of the castle squares are placed so that they are exactly 25 moves from the Charkoni. A common strategy is for returning pieces to stay on these squares, where they are safe from capture, until a 25 is thrown. Then they can finish the game directly. This is where the name of the game comes from.
Pachisi may be quite ancient, but so far its history has not been established prior to the 16th century. A 6th- or 7th-century representation of Lord Shiva and the Goddess Parvati said to be playing Chaupar (a closely related game) in fact depicts only dice and not the distinctive board. A Song Dynasty (960–1279) document referencing the Chinese game ch'u-p'u 樗蒲 (Wade–Giles, pinyin chupu), "invented in western India and spread to China in the time of the Wei Dynasty (AD 220–265)" may relate to Chaupar, but the actual nature of the Chinese game (which may be more closely related to backgammon) is uncertain. Speculation that Pachisi derived from the earlier game of Ashtapada is plausible but unsubstantiated.
At the 16th-century palace at Fatehpur Sikri in northern India:
The game of Pachisi was played by Akbar in a truly regal manner. The Court itself, divided into red and white squares, being the board, and an enormous stone raised on four feet, representing the central point. It was here that Akbar and his courtiers played this game; sixteen young slaves from the harem wearing the players' colours, represented the pieces, and moved to the squares according to the throw of the dice. It is said that the Emperor took such a fancy to playing the game on this grand scale that he had a court for pachisi constructed in all his palaces, and traces of such are still visible at Agra and Allahabad.
To date, these grandiose boards still represent the earliest secure evidence for the existence of the game in India. The game's role in the history of India still remains to be investigated. It is often assumed that the gambling game that plays so significant a role in the Mahabharata, the classical literary epic, is pachisi, but the descriptions, such as they are, do not tie in with the game, and this conclusion is perhaps erroneous.
See also 
- Ashte kashte, a game with similar rules
- Finkel 2004 p 47; who in turn cites Falkener (1892, p 257) as the originator of the term.
- Murray 1913, p 50.
- Parlett 1999, p 43.
- On chupu see http://www.cultural-china.com/chinaWH/html/en/11Kaleidoscope2132.html.
- Murray 1952, p 36.
- Parlett 1999, p 43.
- Falkener 1892, pp. 257–58; quoting M.L. Rousselet: India and its Native Princes, 1876.
- Finkel 2004, p. 47.
- Falkener, Edward (1892), Games Ancient and Oriental and How to Play Them (rpt. New York: Dover Publications, 1961 ed.), London: Longmans, Green and Company
- Finkel, Irving (2004), "Round and Round the Houses: The Game of Pachisi", in Mackenzie, Colin; Finkel, Irving, Asian Games: The Art of Contest, Asia Society, pp. 46–57, ISBN 0-87848-099-4
- Murray, H. J. R. (1913), A History of Chess (rpt. Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2002 ed.), Oxford: Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-827403-3
- Murray, H. J. R. (1951), A History of Board-Games Other Than Chess (rpt. Oxford: Oxbow Books, 2002 ed.), Oxford: Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-827401-7
- Parlett, David (1999), The Oxford History of Board Games, Oxford: Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-212998-8
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