Mokshapat (मोक्षपट)

(Article and graphics courtesy: Shri. Shrirang Khare)

Our childhood afternoons and evenings were synonymous with games as all the time we used to play some or the other game after school. We used to play Kabaddi, Chain tagging, Tiger and Sheep, Vish-Amrut, soccer, cricket and so many other games. We used to play both physical and intellectual sports, and slowly came to know that it requires a lot of planning in executing and designing the game as well. Aren’t the games good as stress-busters, icebreakers apart from giving sheer happiness? Have you ever thoughtfully questioned if there is any message from the game? And is it conveyed to our surprise, unknowingly in a playful way? We can observe that the Bharatiya Arts – music, dance, drama, temple sculptures, paintings – are designed to show Bharatiya dharmik or cultural values. Some art forms are even used as tools to attain some spiritual experiences, like bhakti yoga from music and dance. Some ragas can cure illness, asanas and pranayama help attain a healthy life. If this is the case then why can’t games and pastimes give us some message, or are they only meant for entertainment?

Kite flying was used in a science experiment by Benjamin Franklin to demonstrate that lightning and electricity were the result of the same phenomenon. Shri Krishna played many a sport in his childhood to showcase various Shastras. In some of the games we have to bear the fruits out of them: good or bad. One of the examples we know is Dyutakrida (game of dice) in Mahabharata. In modern days we see that games at casinos are played with money. But we consider Dyutakrida or games at casinos as tamasic type. With this logic why can’t sattvic game or a game showing the path of liberation be created? They certainly can be. For example, chess can demonstrate us war strategies, and chess, or Chaturanga as it was known in ancient times, was invented in India.

One of the most commonly played board games today is Ludo, which also finds its origins in the Indian game of Chaupar/Pachisi. It is one of the best pastimes to hone your strategic and managerial skills with its many complex rules and endgame possibilities. It was indeed a game-changer for the fates of the Pandavas and the Kauravas. Ludo, in fact, is a highly simplified version of Pachisi. Interestingly, On August 29, 1891, Alfred Collier applied for a patent in England, claiming that a board game, which he named Royal Ludo, was actually his invention. The patent was approved a few months later, and granted him full commercial rights and barred others from replicating the game. Since then, ‘Collier Ludo boards’ were sold across the world with the patent number inscribed on them!

Among the ancient board games, my personal favorite is the Moksha Pat or mokshapata (sanskrit: mokShapaTa/मोक्षपट) whose simplified version is the worldwide classic – Snakes & Ladders. Surprisingly, or not, the British took the game from India to England and changed it according to Victorian values. But mokshapata has a deep spiritual significance in the Indian ethos. In the original game, the ladder squares depicted virtues like faith, generosity, knowledge and asceticism. The snakes represent anger, disobedience, theft and so on. The final goal leads to Moksha, hence mokshapata or the path to Moksha – how beautiful!

I have played the game mokshapata created by Samanvayamaharshi Saint Shri Gulabrao Maharaj. He has written a small book on it : “Shrauta Krida Vishesha – Mokshapata” (Mokshapata – Example of Vedic games). It’s a very small book but Gulabrao Maharaj assures us that we can attain Moksha if we play the game with a belief that the pawn representing me is not just a pawn but literally I, myself. He exhorts that if this world is not real but just an illusion as per vedanta, same as in board games, one can liberate himself/ herself with some effort and God’s grace. To explain this in detail, Gulabrao Maharaj narrates a story from the puranas. Let’s quickly check it out.

Story of Shri Narada

Once upon a time, when Lord Shri Krishna was sitting at his courtyard, Shri Narada Muni entered and Krishna asked him,  “Narada, are you a liberated/ blessed soul?”

Narada said, “God knows everything.”

Hearing this answer by Narada, God thought, even though Narada is an enlightened one, let me do a trick to show the greatness of the Guru, the teacher. So Bhagawan (Lord Krishna) said – “Narada, whoever you will see on door at dawn, accept him as Guru and serve him”.

Narada said “Okay”, and next day at dawn on the door, he saw a man sitting. Then as Bhagawan said, assuming he is the Guru, Narada greeted him with a Namaste and sat beside him. But after Sunrise, Narada realized that the person is a fisherman and got worried and returned again to Lord Krishna’s courtyard.

Then Shri Krishna asked, “Did you serve Guru?”
So Narada answered, “Yes, But –” and saying this, he had a puzzled face and then Shri Krishna said-
“Narada, You should go through the cycle of 84 lacs births for sure. Because whoever doubted Sadguru has never escaped the death-birth cycle.”
This thing touched Narada’s heart and he hurriedly ran to the same fisherman.

Narada prostrated before the fisherman, told the complete story and said, “Bhagawan, please save me, save me”.

The fisherman expressed surprise at this and said that he was a simple fisherman, and how could he become the guru of sage Narada himself, and provide any knowledge. This created a doubt in Narada’s mind. He came back to the court and told Shri Krishna, “My Lord, yes, I am ready to go through 84 lacs of births and deaths. But please draw them on a paper for my knowledge.”

Then Bhagawan said “Okay” and drew all birth cycles on a paper and gave that paper to Narada.
So, Narada put that paper on the ground, laid on it and started rolling over the paper.

Bhagawan said,”What are you doing? I can’t get it”. Then Narada said, “Bhagawan, I told you just now that I will go through these births, and that is what I am going through now.”

Krishna laughed and said, “Hello, by just rolling on a picture, how can one go through the death and birth cycle?”

Narada said, “Yes, for sure, this has not only earthly but has God’s evidence/proof. Because Bhagawan, whatever species are in the world, are created by you. Then what is the difference between those and this? Also this world is just a pictorial illusion as per Brahma-drishti. Because if you get scared by a tiger’s picture then even you see it as real in dream. If this is the case of a drawing by a common man then how can not I believe on the drawing by God?”

Hearing this, Bhagawan quickly got up and did Namaskar with folded hands and hugged Narada and said – “You are already a liberated soul with the blessings of Sage Sanat Kumara. Who that fisherman is to tell you! But I wanted to test your belief in the path of liberation as told by Sanat Kumara, so I did this trick. You are already liberated then why you need to fear of those 84 lacs births? But that time fisherman became your Guru, isn’t it?” Narada said, “Bhagawan, I have developed strong belief in it. As Mother’s milk feeds a child, so mother earth’s food feeds him too, same way, I consider them equal who tells me path and method for liberation and who convinces me strongly about the liberation of soul.”

After this Shri Krishna asked Narada to take his seat.

There are lots of such games in great literature “Yogavasishtha” and even Sant Sadguru Shri Dnyaneshwar/Jnaneshwar Maharaj has also created several games : Jnanapata (Knowledge Board), Sopanapata, etc. With these games one can prepare oneself for Moksha where the game board represents the real world and players play with his/her belief.

Jacob Schmidt-Madsen, a student of philosophy, has done research on various mokshapatas in India and has documented around 400 versions of it. There is a mokshapata by Samarth Ramdas Swami, some mokshapatas are from Gujarat, Rajasthan, Bihar, Bengal, Karnataka, Tamilnadu and various other places in India. Such is the popularity of this game with Indians.

Now,  lets learn about this game called “Shrauta Krida Vishesha” or “Kaiwalya-pata” or “Moksha-pata” or “Board Game for Liberation(of Soul)”. This game is conceptualized, designed and developed by Shri Gulabrao Maharaj.

In this game,

  1. Kaiwalya is the main place. In that, Para-Bhakti is the most important place.
  2. As there are lot of people who want to attain Kaiwalya, so there are a lot of hurdles as well!
  3. If Bhakti is not there even Kaiwalya is also worthless, that’s the secret of all saints.

This mokshapata by Shri Gulabrao Maharaj is designed on principles from Vedas, Shrutis, Shastras and so the name : “Shrauta Krida Vishesha” or “श्रौत क्रीडा विशेष “. We can find some references from Bhagawad Geeta, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, Vedas or Puranas in this mokshapata. Let’s see some instances:
We can find some of the Bhagawad Gita verses in the game in the form of connected snakes.

Bhagavad Gita: Chapter 2, Verse 62 and 63
ध्यायतो विषयान्पुंस: सङ्गस्तेषूपजायते |
सङ्गात्सञ्जायते काम: कामात्क्रोधोऽभिजायते || 62||

While contemplating on the objects of the senses, one develops attachment to them. Attachment leads to desire, and from desire arises anger.

क्रोधाद्भवति सम्मोह: सम्मोहात्स्मृतिविभ्रम: |
स्मृतिभ्रंशाद् बुद्धिनाशो बुद्धिनाशात्प्रणश्यति || 63||

Anger leads to clouding of judgment, which results in bewilderment of the memory. When the memory is bewildered, the intellect gets destroyed; and when the intellect is destroyed, one is ruined.

Here the 1st snake starts with ‘Vishayaanuraga’ and ends at ‘Sanga’. [From Square 129]
2nd snake starts at ‘Sanga’ and ends at ‘Kaama’,
3rd from ‘Kaama’ to ‘Krodha’,
4th from ‘Krodha’ to ‘Sammoha’,
5th from ‘Sammoha’ to ‘Smruti Vibhrama’,
6th from ‘Smruti Vibhrama’ to ‘Buddhi Nasha’ and finally
7th from ‘Buddhi Nash’ to ‘Death’.

One of the Ladders starts from ‘Shravana’ and ends at ‘Samanvaya’, which is key for integration among communities.
Ladder starts at ‘Smarana’ and ends at ‘Sakhya’,
‘Dhyan’ leads to ‘Samadhi’,
‘Paropakara’ leads to ‘Punya’,
‘Satkarma’ leads to ‘Chitta Shuddhi’ and many more.

Unfortunately, games such as mokshapata or Pachisi have now been reduced to mere games of dice where winning is the sole purpose. This serves as an example of how Indian inventions have been appropriated and sold back to us and is a reminder for us to claim what truly is ours. We need more researchers to come forward, explore mokshapata and introduce it for the benefit of devotees.

Can someone take the task to make this mokshapata available as an online game? Can we create new games from similar concepts from Vedas/ Upanishads/Geeta?

For the benefit of everyone, please see below the mokshapata created by Shri Gulabrao Maharaj. You can right click and select “Open in a New Tab” to be able to zoom and see the details:


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