Pati, pallankuzhi aada varela?

Red beads

"Pati, pallankuzhi aada varela?" ("Grandma, will you come to play pallankhuzhi?")

"O, varendi ma!" ("Yes, coming dear!")

My grandma(1915 - 1994) never said no to us. If she was busy with her prayer beads she would just nod her head to affirm and signal 'later' with her free hand. If she was resting with her head on the pillow or sometimes a 'palagai' and reading a Tamil magazine she would roll it up, tuck it under the palagai and get up slowly adjusting the folds of her 'ombad gajam'. It would always be, "O, varendi ma." My sister and I would immediately fetch the pallankuzhi box, the carefully stored red and black seeds and arrange the board while Pati settled down.

She was a beautiful lady at 70 with wrinkles and folds, grey eyes that seemed to hide a tinge of sadness behind the sparkle and spoke of the many hardships she had faced in life. Yet she always managed a smile that would show us a glimpse of her uneven broken teeth. Pati was said to be the beauty queen of her village as she was blessed with a rosy complexion and good personality. The diamond ear-studs and nose ring she always wore were not only indicative of her prosperity later but seemed to reflect her fiery person. Apart from that she is said to have been witty and called a spade a spade! The one quality I have always heard from relatives who knew her was that she would stand up for justice always and fight for anyone's rights.

At the tender age of 12 she was a much sought after girl married off to my Tata (the 't' is pronounced soft). Since then she had never worn anything other than an 'ombad gajam' even during her stay in Kashmir. By the time we really knew her, Pati was in her 60s, well past her youth but yet a 'pretty woman' - not in the physical sense but in a more soft rounded way. I hear very often about how skilled she was. I think it was not only her, but most people of her generation were skilled and self-taught as they had been through a lot of political turmoil and seen the Country going from a Colony to a free State and followed by the trauma of partition. Even essential food supplies were scarce and they naturally learned to value money and improvise with whatever was available. Pati would 'cut' frayed or worn ut sarees in her 'aruvamanai' and sew 'inner skirts' or 'pavadai' with them with her hand as a tailoring machine was a luxury few could afford. Though she would scrooge over every penny at home she was always generous, both in her attitude as well as in terms of material things - always willing to share and help people in distress.

Some of my most cheerful moments were spent in the verandah sitting on garden chairs or charpois listening to stories of Krishna or playing Tamil verbal games like;
'kadai tengai ya edduttu vazhi Pulayar ku odachavan yaar da?' (who stole the cookie from the cookies jar),
'ondar dakkar dakkar done' (Out in the garden each fine day with my ball I like to play.....)
'iddu enna kodam?' (I don't think there is an English or Hindi equivalent) and of course, pallankuzhi.

That is where this post was meant to go before Pati took it over!

Pallankuzhi is a pretty ancient and traditional board game for two players. I guess it might be played elsewhere too in India but as far as I know it is basically from Tamil Nadu. It is a strategy oriented game. The board is a wooden foldable plank with 7 depressions on each side. The fourth hole in the center of each side is called 'Kasi'. Kasi is the bank where both the players deposit their loot. The depressions are called 'houses'. Each player receives a certain number (equal) of shells (chozhi)/red beads/tamarind seeds/red and black beads. These will be distributed equally in all the houses except the kasi. When it is my turn I have to collect the beads from any one house and go on dropping it one each in every house till it gets over. The full house next to the now empty house is open to the opponent for capture. Each player plays in turn with the aim of collecting all the beads of the opponent making him go pauper.

I have watched my kids playing a similar video game on TV. The principle is the same. When I was searching for pallankuzhi to revive my memories of the game I came across 'Ageless bonding', a blog by Usha which had a similar topic. From there I learnt, like the author about 'warri'. Isn't it odd that pallankuzhi is also played in West Indies as 'warri', and in Africa as 'oware' and 'kalah'?

Would you like to share about traditional games you played as a child? I will give the lyrics and wordings of a few more games we played as kids in further posts!

Glossary for this post:
Pallankuzhi - also 'pallanguzhi', pallamkuzhi' - a traditional board game from South India (Tamilnadu)
Pati - Grandmother. Also Tati.
Tata - Grandfather. Also Pata
Palagai - A small rectangular wooden plank elevated used as chopping board and sometimes instead of a pillow. It may be elevated slightly with two stands.
Ombad gajam - Traditional saree style as worn by South Indian brahmin ladies in earlier days. The length of the saree is nine yards hence the name. Ombad - nine, gajam - yards. To this day the bride in a Tamil Brahmin wedding wears this saree during marraige.
Aruvamanai - A foldable sickle shaped knife fixed on a wooden plank at one end and shaped into a coconut grater on the other.
Pavadai - Pleated long skirt worn by young girls in the earlier days. Nowadays you still find girls wearing it during festivals or weddings.
Red beads - Scientific name - Adenanthera pavonia. Here are the various names by which it is known in different languages - in case you have some memories of it!

Red beads
English - red wood tree/bead tree/saga tree/gem tree.
Hindi - ratangunj or badi gumchi.
Sanskrit - ratnagunj.
Malayalam -
manjadi kuru.
Tamil - Ani gundumani
Telugu -
Gurivenda, Enugaguruginji
Kannada - Ane golaganji
Bengali - Ranjana
Marathi - Thorlagunj, Ratangunj
Gujarati - Ratna Gunja, Moti Chanothi


  1. Harini, an excellent post on the long forgotten game - pallankuzhi. Your post made me relive the memroies of many summers spent in my paati's house playing the game. We play with tamarind seeds. Tatha used to be our partner. When I visited Madurai temple, I got one palankuzhi and chozis. I am not sure if the present day kids will hv the patience to sit and play the game.

  2. Harini, I loved the way you described your pati-I could very clearly imagine her. somehow to me your pati is more interesting that pallankuzhi!!

  3. Touching post.....

    Grandmoms are really special... :-)

    check out Birthday 09on my blog

  4. Your post indeed kept me smiling all the while. :) Took me way back into memory land. We used to play the same game ardently all summers. We call it 'CHINCHE' though.

  5. Hi Harini, Enjoyed reading. We also played with our patti pallankuzhi. I still have one with kundhumani , yet to teach my daughter. As u said, our kids play video games or computer games or TV.

  6. wow harini, this is such a lovely post...loved reading abt your granny..and remembering those red beans again!...its been ages since touching them!!!

  7. Hi Harini on running through your passage i could feel the emptiness and sadness in my heart, with time running so fast, eventhough we missed all our loved ones, the memories always cling to us forever and comfort us then and there like these games we've shared with them. Will the next generation have time and thought to think about us in the same way? Don't know. May be it is yes or no?

  8. Am late :-( But such a beautiful post Harini!
    Glad to know about a new game ... gladder still to read about your Pati ... reminded me of my grandmoms. :-)

  9. Hi harini

    I had the samegame in my old nokia mobile also , forgot the name but.As usual ur way of writing a simple post always impresses me.

  10. Great post, but you should have written something about tata also. Remember how enthusiastically he would play cards always scolding poor Gayu. And his kona kona puliyangai. I can imagine Tata telling paati right now-naan panta in pannindu 85 years la kooda smaarta iruppen, inda Harini onnodu onbadu gajam podavai patti ezhdurka. Better write something about tata also.

  11. oh god! i remember these!...i found them in my paati's home after a treasure hunt in her old almirah...does bring good memories :)

  12. Harini, very nice description of your grand mother and Pallankuzhi game. I think, I have met your patti (nani?). She had visited Kanpur during Bhanu's birth. I remember playing Pallankuzhi at your place!

    I have seen manjadi in Guruvayoor temple. It is kept in big urns.

  13. hi.. i dunno how i chanced upon ur blog! :) i have been unlucky enough to have lost 3 of my grandparents before i was even born. my appa's amma(the only paati of whom i have some vague memories) passed away when i was barely 5! but the memories of others with their grandparents really moves me. was a wonderful read. thank you. I play pallankuzhi with my mother even now :) :) and mine's shaped like a fish :)


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