Gambler's Lament

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The image shows rounded sides of a green fruit set on a muddy ground.
Fallen fruit of Terminalia bellirica (Vibhīdaka) which was used to make dice in ancient India.

The Gambler's lament (or "Gamester's lament") is one of the hymns of the Rigveda which do not have any direct cultic or religious context. It is found in the late Tenth Book (RV 10.34), where most of such hymns on "miscellaneous" topics are found, suggesting a date of compilation corresponding to the early Indian Iron Age.[1][2]

Moriz Winternitz considered the poem to be the "most beautiful among the non–religious poems of the Rig Veda."[3] Arthur Anthony Macdonell writes the following about the poem: "Considering that it is the oldest composition of the kind in existence, we cannot but regard this poem as the most remarkable literary product." [4]

The poem comprises a monologue of a repentant gambler who laments the ruin brought on him because of addiction to the dice.[3] The poem is didactic in nature and shows early indications of the proverbial and sententious poetry in later Hindu texts.[5] Arthur Llewellyn Basham believed that Gambler's Lament was originally constructed as a spell to ensure victory in a game of dice, which was later converted into a cautionary poem by an anonymous poet.[6]

The poem testifies to the popularity of gambling among all classes of Vedic people.[7] The gambling dice (akșa) were made from nuts of Terminalia bellirica (Vibhīdaka),[8] into an oblong shape with four scoring sides— kŗta (four), tretā (trey), dvāpar (duce), kali (ace). The gambler who drew a multiple of four won the game.[7]


The hymn consists of 14 verses in the tristubh meter. In verses 2-3, the narrator describes how the dice have ruined his domestic life (trans. Ralph T. H. Griffith 1889):

2. She never vexed me nor was angry with me, but to my friends and me was ever gracious.

For the die's sake, whose single point is final, mine own devoted wife I alienated.

na mā mimetha na jihīḷa eṣā śivā sakhibhya uta mahyamāsīt

akṣasyāhamekaparasya hetoranuvratāmapa jāyāmarodham

3. My wife holds me aloof, her mother hates me: the wretched man finds none to give him comfort.

As of a costly horse grown old and feeble, I find not any profit of the gamester.

dveṣṭi śvaśrūrapa jāyā ruṇaddhi na nāthito vindatemarḍitāram

aśvasyeva jarato vasnyasya nāhaṃ vindāmikitavasya bhogham

The poem then describes the lure of the dice:

4. When I resolve to play with these no longer, my friends depart from me and leave me lonely.

When the brown dice, thrown on the board, have rattled, like a fond girl I seek the place of meeting.

anye jāyāṃ pari mṛśantyasya yasyāghṛdhad vedane vājyakṣaḥ

pitā matā bhrātara enamāhurna jānīmo nayatābaddhametam

The dice are referred to as "the brown ones", as they were made from the brown nuts of Terminalia bellirica.[9]

In the following verses the dice are described as "deceptive, hot and burning" and being similar to children in that "they give and take again". In verse 13, the poet addresses the gambler in an attempt to reform him, invoking the god Savitr.

13 Play not with dice: no, cultivate thy corn-land. Enjoy the gain, and deem that wealth sufficient.

There are thy cattle there thy wife, O gambler. So this good Savitar himself hath told me.

akṣairmā dīvyaḥ kṛṣimit kṛṣasva vitte ramasva bahumanyamānaḥ

tatra ghāvaḥ kitava tatra jāyā tan me vicaṣṭe savitāyamaryaḥ

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Griswold 1971, p. 331.
  2. ^ The Rigveda is mostly dated to between about the 15th and 11th centuries BC, with the tenth book dating to roughly the 11th century. See e.g. Singh, Upinder (2008), A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India: From the Stone Age to the 12th Century, Pearson Education India, ISBN 978-81-317-1120-0 p. 184, or see Rigveda for more details.
  3. ^ a b Winternitz & Sarma 1981, p. 102.
  4. ^ Macdonell 1990, p. 127-8.
  5. ^ Griswold 1971, p. 331–2.
  6. ^ Basham 2008, p. 403.
  7. ^ a b Bose 1998, p. 179.
  8. ^ Macdonell 1990, p. 128.
  9. ^ Kaegi 2004, p. 83.


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