Kreeda – Bringing Back the Magic of Traditional Games

By Vinita Sidhartha

It all began sometime in 2000. As a busy young professional with two small children, I turned to my grandmother for babysitting support. My grandmother and my grandfather took turns playing traditional games with my children. It only took a few visits for me to understand how much my children enjoyed the games and the bonding with their great-grandparents. In today’s busy world, bonding within families often takes a backseat with changing lifestyles and the pressures of the everyday world.
What struck me at first was the very elemental nature of traditional games. It cut across generations and thinking, and gave both the children and my grandparents a common ground on which to meet and interact. Having understood this first and most important aspect of traditional games, I was keen to do more with it. What followed was a series of articles in the Young World section of The Hindu – about games people used to play. The response to the articles was incredible. There was such widespread interest in these games and such a widespread response to the articles that, to me, it seemed obvious that someone needed to make these games. Even then I was not thinking like a manufacturer or an entrepreneur, but just as someone who would make some games for those who were interested.

What followed was a specially curated series of eight games. The process of bringing out the games, while it seemed easy enough on the surface, was an immense challenge. The question was how would the games look and feel? What were the materials we’d use to package them? What were the materials we’d use for the games, for the game boards, for the game pieces, for the throw pieces? How would we store them in the package? Since at the time I was not looking at mass production, it had to be something easy, something quick to replicate and scale up. What followed were simple boards with the games printed on them. Shells became game pieces for most of the games except a couple that needed colour. In those cases we had to seek outside support.
With a rich culture of traditional artisans in our country, it seemed logical to reach out to some of them. We worked closely with the artisans from Channapatna, a small town near Bengaluru known for its traditional toy industry. They were to provide us with both game pieces and throw pieces as required and later our GilliDanda and Bambaram or Lattu.

The next decision was to place the game pieces and throw pieces in a drawstring bag so they would not rattle around inside the box. The next challenge was our packaging. As we decided to print our games on thick cardboard sheets, we could not fold them. This meant our boxes had to be large enough to accommodate our boards. Most manufacturers would not provide boxes to scale unless our volumes were very large. We settled for brown pizza boxes into which went our board, our game pieces in a drawstring bag and our rule sheet.
Much has changed over the years but looking back at the very earliest of our designs, I think we got some things right. The concept of using brown with red and yellow in a striking screen print which caught the eye and encapsulated the essence of bright Indian colours was one of them. While it was a cost decision at first, the brown boxes with red and yellow soon came to symbolise Kreeda. They stood on the shelves in retail stores – setting them apart from other brightly coloured boxes.
The other thing we got right was the drawstring bag. It exuded an Indian spirit and made for ease and convenience for parents and others who wanted to put away the pieces for the next play session. As a mother myself, I realised how difficult it often was to repack games once they had been unboxed without the boxes ripping open on the sides and the game pieces spilling out. So, strong boxes, neat drawstring bags to safely store pieces and our colour scheme were definitely right.
There was great interest in the first set of games and the response to the few pieces we made was tremendous enough for us to have to restock our games in a short period of time. It also meant we could bring in more games and that’s where the challenges began. Games like GilliDanda and Pallanguzhi would not fit in a normal square carton. So we replaced the carton with larger drawstring bags. Larger boards, more than a foot across, were a problem because our boards wouldn’t fold without some kind of backing on them. I was unwilling to use leather, reluctant to use rexine or anything artificial, and while cotton cloth was an option, it gave the game a very shabby and amateurish look. It was obvious that the era of the board was over for Kreeda. We had to look at other options.

We graduated to printing our games on canvas, making it lighter, easy to roll and package. It became a far more effective medium of use. The off-white colour of the canvas was also a perfect foil for the bright red and yellow print which is part of all our games.
Having come up with the idea of using canvas and realising that we were going to be in the market in larger numbers in inventory, we reached out to carton manufacturers. We looked at different types of cartons and decided on one which allowed the user to lock the carton with a little tab. This again was decided keeping in mind parents who could easily store things away and literally lock the box shut so things would not spill out. I know from experience that lost coins are tiresome when it comes to playing a game and fallen coins can be quite a minefield to navigate in any children’s room.
With the change to smaller, neater, sleeker cartons, we also had to upgrade our packaging for games like Pallanguzhi and GilliDanda. While the original drawstring bags were very attractive, they were not very practical when it came to stocking them at a retailer, or on the shelves of a store. People didn’t know what they were, tags got torn or hidden and it was mostly unsatisfactory. So we redesigned our boxes to accommodate these games too.
Safety has been a huge concern for Kreeda from day one. We have focused on many warnings for small parts and also on the importance of putting away things safely and carefully so that they can be best used, again and again.
The games of GilliDanda, Bambaram and Pallanguzhi brought forth other concerns. The game of Pallanguzhi in particular, is traditionally played with a sort of hinged board. Making the board bigger would make it heavier. But smaller, sleeker boards did not allow for very effective nails to hold the hinges. A curious child who opened and closed the Pallanguzhi frequently could very easily pull the nails out, causing injury or potential for injury. Kreeda chose to go with an open board.

GilliDanda has often had people decrying it, and calling it a dangerous game. The challenge was this – traditional GilliDandas were hand-whittled and filed down to pointed edges on the Gilli. This was not only a hazard if it hit a head but could very easily cause grievous injury to the eyes. We worked with our artisans to round off the edges and redesign the Gilli so it could still be played effectively but not be a hazard to the eyes. Of course, a GilliDanda hit wildly could still hit the head and hurt a player. But since this is a challenge with most games, including a cricket ball, it was important to put this down in very clear guidelines on playing it in large spaces with proper supervision to ensure safety.
The Bambaram or Lattu was yet another challenge. Most Bambarams available in the market had rusty nails filed to a point. We wanted to avoid the safety challenges of both these aspects. We substituted brass nails and ensured that the nails were blunted so that children could not inadvertently hurt themselves. The nails are still pointed enough to allow the Bambaram to spin on its tip.
A few years later, Kreeda was to bring out the KaashtBambaram. Seeing the dying skills of spinning a top, Kreeda believed that it was necessary to introduce the top to younger and younger ages. The KaashtBambaram with a wooden nail is specially designed for young children, allowing them to spin the top without worrying about a metal tip.
Another interesting challenge Kreeda faced was with respect to the shells. In the initial years, Kreeda had used shells for many of its game pieces, as well as cowries as throw pieces – as in ancient times. None of the shells were banned, but a conversation with an NGO working on marine biodiversity led us to follow their recommendation that we do not use shells in our games. Replacing game pieces with pebbles and coloured wooden pieces was easy enough. The challenge came in replacing cowrie shells which were often used as throw pieces. Kreeda worked with numerous options. Bamboo sticks cut in two were not very attractive to the eye and tended to have splinters. Tamarind seeds cut in two looked shrivelled after a point and had very poor shelf life. We even tried coffee beans. While the shape seemed to help, they were too small to play with as throw pieces, left a smell in the games and had a poor shelf life too.
Throw pieces created with a wastepaper powder was a strong contender, but after a few times of use we realised that they became very shabby and worn and also became difficult to make in the rainy season. We hit the jackpot with wooden pieces shaped almost like cowries. The exercise to find the right replacement was interesting. We had to throw these pieces numerous times to ensure the probability remained the same and the throw pieces could be used effectively in our games.
Every game comes with its challenge. How do we play it? How do we make it safe, effective, entertaining, attractive and yet keep the price at a level that works for us and the public? Over the years, Kreeda has adapted its games in response to feedback from customers, retailers and our own team. We’re constantly improving our games, making them better and better so we can give our customers boards that are global in quality but Indian in spirit.
But Kreeda is not just about making traditional games. Side by side with creating these wonderful pieces, Kreeda also started working on understanding more about the games and their relevance in today’s world. Our research took us to many areas and events, where we showcased our games in numerous ways. Not only were these events effective in showcasing special aspects of the games, they also built awareness about traditional games because we realised it was not enough to just put the games back in play. It was important for people to understand their value, understand the reasons and understand why these games are as important today as ever before. From motor skills to sensory skills and hand-eye coordination on the one hand to life skills such as team building, decision-making and goal setting on the other, our traditional games have many lessons to teach us – lessons that are as relevant today as they were when these games were created.

While revival and relevance are no doubt two critical aspects of what Kreeda does, another aspect is research. Research was not limited to simply identifying games and rules, but understanding the games, their history, their culture, and even, if possible, why they were created. While research took us in many different directions, two stand out as unique and critical to our understanding of games.
The first is an effort to document games inscribed on the floors of temples and monuments in our country. While these cannot be dated, the fine lines and geometric precision speak of skilled artisans – perhaps temple builders or those involved in renovation. These give us clues about the origin of these games.
The other key effort has been to document the experiences in play of senior citizens who we believe are store houses of our nation’s culture. This gives us insight not merely into the games they played but also the impact games had on their lives in terms of where they played, when they played and with whom they played.
Today the world is rushing on at a frenetic pace. Adults seem to have lost the ability to play a game – to laugh and enjoy a lazy Sunday in a long endless game of dice with friends and family. With the pressures of the 21st century, children too are slowly losing time for unstructured play.
Somewhere along the way we need to be able to slow down the pace at least once in a while and find time to reconnect with the past and the elemental concepts that have stood the test of time. Perhaps we can find this in our games. As we say in our office – Did you Kreeda today?

About the author: Vinita Sidhartha works as a consultant with the NGO sector using her communication skills for development and change. She is also a Director in Power Centre Private Limited, an IT company, where she handles the Marketing and HR functions. Watching her children play these games, the personal and the professional merged in Vinita. Thus, was born Kreeda, meaning play in Sanskrit, which markets traditional games that are Indian in spirit and global in quality. See for more information.






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