boys playing the traditional game khokho

Indigenous Games that Both Kids and Adults Love Playing in India

Sports and games have always been a part of human history. Complex and coordinated movements, along with important skills such as agility, strength and alertness were initially used by hunters and gatherers to defend themselves in the wild. With time, they developed into competitive and enjoyable games played for entertainment, training for battle or ritualistic purposes. Hence, games have been a prominent part of every civilization throughout history. And every one of them has managed to invent their own set of games.

Many of these games may have been inspired by similar games found in other cultures. But, the games in question today are those that originated naturally in a place without external influences. Games that are unique to the place. These are also known as indigenous games.

India is an old and culturally rich country where one can expect to find a long list of indigenous games. Sports and games have a long history in the country, with many of them dating back thousands of years. Popular games such as badminton, chess, dice, cards, snakes & ladders, polo and some forms of martial arts all find their origins in ancient India.

There are, of course, more games in the country. In fact, every state has its own native games. For example, Gatka from Punjab, Dhopkhel from Assam, Jallikattu and Mallakhamba from Tamil Nadu and Vallam Kali boat race from Kerala, among others. Some games are played commonly throughout the country. And in today’s post, we will discover 3 such indigenous games that are frequently played and enjoyed by adults and children alike.


Kabaddi is the most popular indigenous game in India. It is an outdoor contact sport played between two teams. Each team has 12 players, but only 7 of them play on the field. The remaining 5 act as substitutes. If any one of the 7 players is injured, the substitute takes their place in the game.

The field is divided into two halves and each team lines up in each half. The teams take turns at being the offensive and defensive teams. One player from the attacking team is sent to cross the midline and go over to the defensive side. This person is called the raider and their job is to touch as many players as they can in the opposing team.

boys playing kabaddi in the field
The raider going into the defensive side. Image Credit: Dailyhunt

The raider, within 30 seconds, must run to the other side, touch the players and run back to their side while holding their breath and continuously chanting ‘kabaddi kabaddi kabaddi’. As the raider tries to run back to their side, the defence team tries to catch and tackle them before they cross the midline. If the raider crosses the midline without getting caught, the players that they touched will be declared out. But, if the raider is caught, he/she is declared out. The players declared out can no longer play in that round unless revived.

Ultimately, the game continues until all the team members of one of the teams are declared out. That indicates the loss of that team and the victory of the other team. Once the round ends, all members are revived and they play again.

Brief History of Kabaddi

The exact origins of this game are unclear, but many believe that it originated 4000 years ago in present-day Tamil Nadu, southern India. It was seemingly practised by warriors to train for battle in the early days.

Other sources believe that the sport was developed in prehistoric times when hunters and gatherers needed to defend themselves from unforeseen attacks by wild animals.

The sport is described in the Mahabharata, a Hindu epic that was penned down 2000 years ago. And even Buddhist literature mentions the sport as it was seemingly a game that Gautama Buddha played with his friends in his early years.

Status of Kabaddi Today

Kabaddi is played all around the country but it is known by different names. Kabaddi is the name commonly used in northern India. In Eastern India, for instance, it is known as ha-du-du-du and chu-kit-kit, in western India it is known as hu-tu-tu and in the south, it is known as gudugudu.

The game is inexpensive as it doesn’t require any equipment. It only demands a little bit of open space, strength and stamina. Today, it is mostly played in schools and rural areas. In urban areas, it is played by kids who still go outside to play with their friends, which is usually in the evenings, after school.

Though kabaddi has existed for thousands of years, it only gained international recognition in the last century when it was demonstrated in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Today, the sport is played all over the world and Kabaddi is even a part of the Asian Games, Kabaddi World Cup and other international games. However, it is still not as popular as mainstream sports like football, rugby, cricket or basketball.

Nationally, an interest in kabaddi has resurged after the launch of the Pro Kabaddi League in 2014, featuring teams named after Indian cities and states.

players playing kabaddi at the pro kabaddi league
Players in the Pro Kabaddi League. Image Credit: DNA India

Kho Kho

Kho kho is the second most popular indigenous game in India after Kabaddi. Like kabaddi, kho kho is also an outdoor game and is played in teams of two. One is the chasing team while the other is the defending team. Kho kho requires minimal equipment and skills to play, it needs only two sticks for the poles, open space and players with good stamina and agility.

Playing Rules of Kho Kho

The court is divided into two halves and at the end of the midline, two poles are erected. 8 players from the chasing team sit in squatting positions on the midline, leaving sufficient space between each other. Each player alternately positions themselves in opposite directions and prepares themselves to run at any time. The 9th player, known as the chaser, stands by one of the poles ready to run.

Once the chasing team is in position, 3 players from the defending team enter the field and the game begins. The 3 players begin running and the chaser tries to tag each of them. Tagging them declares them out.

girls playing khokho in the field
Players alternately seated facing the opposite direction. The chaser (in blue) is trying to tag the member of the defending team (in red).  Image Credit: Sportstar The Hindu

Here’s what makes it interesting. The 3 defending players can run further away from the midline, up to the sidelines (the lines enclosing the court from the sides) and they can run zigzag in between the players sitting down, crossing the midline. While the chaser can run up to the sidelines, they cannot cross the midline. If they have to change directions, they must run all the way to the other pole and turn. Similar to making a U-turn.

As the defending player will get away by the time they change direction, the chaser can select any one of their teammates closest to the defending player by tagging them on their backs and yelling ‘kho’. The chaser sits down and the selected player then becomes the chaser.

Once all 3 defending players have been tagged, another 3 enter the court and the game continues until all 9 players of the defending team have been tagged. Then, the chasing team becomes the defending team and vice versa. The team that manages to tag out all 9 defending players the fastest, becomes the winner.

Brief History of Kho Kho 

Kho kho evolved from an early version of the game called Rathera. This game was played on raths (chariots) in ancient Maharashtra.

The present version of kho kho was developed at the Deccan Gymkhana of Pune in Maharashtra, western India. A committee formed at the gymkhana in 1914 played a major role in giving structure to the earlier version of the game, by adding some rules and a point system. The game became more standardized for everyone to easily understand and play.  The game took another 45 years to popularize throughout India.

Scene of Kho Kho Today

Kho kho is still largely an informal sport, mostly played in rural parts of India. Occasionally, schools will make students play the game as part of physical education. Today, the game has been somewhat popularized in other South Asian countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka but it hasn’t yet appealed to other parts of the world.


Ludo is a board game played by 2-4 players. The game can be played anywhere, as long as there is a flat surface. To play, minimal equipment is required, such as a ludo board, ludo pieces and a die. These materials are very inexpensive, so they are accessible and affordable for everyone. The game is played to get rid of boredom. In fact, the digital version of this game happened to be the most popular game to be downloaded during the coronavirus pandemic. The game is played daily, sometimes more than once a day.

To play, first, the board is laid flat and the pieces are arranged. The board is square-shaped and it has four colourful squares in each corner. A symmetrical cross runs along the middle of the board. In the space between the squares and the cross, there are square spaces designed for the pieces to move around.

The squares are red, yellow, green and blue in colour. Within each square, there are 4 spaces to place 4 pieces of the corresponding colour. The pieces are usually circular pieces of plastic and there are 16 of them in total.

ludo board game with the pieces
Ludo board game. Image Credit: Flipkart

Playing Rules

Playing ludo can seem complex at first because of its many rules and restrictions, but, it is simple enough. Here are the basic rules:

Each player takes a square. The person who chooses the red square must roll the die first. To begin, the player must take their piece out of their home (square) by rolling a 6, the highest number on the die. The players roll the die and keep passing it to each other until one of them gets a 6. Once they manage to roll a 6, their piece comes out of the house and is ready to be moved. The pieces move clockwise.

In the game, rolling a 6 will allow the player to roll again. The number that they get after 6 determines the number of spaces the piece needs to move. The next time that they get a 6, the player can take a piece out of the home or move the piece that is already out of the home. If the piece is already out of home, they can directly move their piece as per the number on the die rolled.

The game aims to move all 4 of the game pieces around the whole board, into the home row and the centre square before anyone else. If a piece lands on the space where there is another player’s piece, they can send their piece back home, to their home square. That way, the other player will take a longer time to finish their game, decreasing their chances of winning.

The Original Ludo

Though the English coined the term Ludo, the game itself is a modified version of a board game that has been played in India for thousands of years.

Ludo was originally known as pachisi or chaupar and it is one of the oldest indoor games played in India.

It is difficult to trace back the time period that the game was invented, but many believe it was between the 4th and 6th centuries. One of the earliest pieces of evidence of chauper was found on rock art in the Ellora caves in Maharashtra, which were built between the 6th and 12th centuries.

evidence of chaupar in ellora caves
Rock art in Ellora caves depicts Goddess Parvati playing chaupar with Lord Shiva. Image Credit: Twitter

There are, however, inconsistencies to this time period, as the game was also mentioned in the Indian epic, Mahabharata, which was seemingly compiled in the 3rd century BC. In the Mahabharata, the Pandavas, lost their kingdom, themselves and their wife to their cousins, the Kauravas, over a dice game called chaupar.

The board game was also popular during and after the reign of the Mughal emperor, Akbar (16th – 18th century).

The board for chaupar or pachisi was made out of cloth shaped like a symmetrical cross; 4 sets of 4 wooden pieces painted in black, green, red and yellow were used as pawns and, 6 pieces of shells and seeds were used as dice. Over time, a single wooden rectangular dice replaced shells and seeds.

To play, 6 pieces of shell or seed are thrown together. Their directions would determine the number of spaces to move their game piece. They’d move their pieces to the centre square before the other players to win the game. Just like ludo.

ancient indian version of ludo
Chaupar. Image Credit: Wikipedia

How Ludo became an ‘English’ Game

In 1891, Alfred Collier, a British man, took inspiration from the Indian game, made some modifications like replacing the rectangular wooden dice with a cubic dice made of plastic, changing the colours, adding a dice cup, etc. and got a patent approved for the game he called Royal Ludo, from England.

Importance of Indigenous Games in India

Looking at the games discussed in this post, it is evident that the games are ideal for equally training the body and mind. The games are inexpensive and do not demand a lot of equipment to play. Plus, taking into account their flexible nature, they can easily be played anywhere, anytime, by anyone. Even if some of the already minimal equipment is missing, it can easily be replaced with everyday items, at least for informal play. For example, if the poles for kho kho are missing, two humble pieces of wooden sticks can be used to improvise.

Connection of games to yoga

Other than being accessible to everyone, they are also a great way to physically and mentally stay fit. Like any other sport in the world, outdoor sports, in particular, involve a lot of running around, display of strength, flexibility, concentration and hand-eye coordination. What is most interesting about Indian games is that they work on at least 3 of the 8 yoga sutras. The yoga sutras are an eightfold path of practising yoga that will guide an individual to liberation. Click here to read more about yoga and the yoga sutras.

Indigenous Indian games work on strengthening the body, refining the senses and breath control. Like in the examples we saw today, the games include at least one of these sutras. For instance, the raider in kabaddi must hold their breath and say ‘kabbadi’ as they cross the midline and touch the players of the opposing team.

girls playing kabaddi in uniform
Image Credit: Encyclopaedia Britannica

Games as an educational tool

Indigenous games are also educative as they teach important social skills, the value of teamwork, leadership, sportsmanship and conflict resolution. They also understand the importance of following rules and being disciplined.

Moreover, games are a fun and engaging way to pass on traditions and bring together people of all communities, regardless of the differences in gender, age, religion and social status.

Please do not hesitate to share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Badiger, D. S., 2020. Indigenous Games and Its Importance. International Journal of Creative Research Thoughts, 8(8), pp. 1807-1820.

Singh, S. & Battan, D. K. K., 2018. A study on performance of Panjab university Kho Kho players (men) at national university games. International Journal of Physiology, Nutrition and Physical Education, 3(1), pp. 2182-2183.

Yallappa, M., 2020. A study on psychological importance of yoga with kabaddi players. International Journal of Physical Education, Sports and Health, 7(3), pp. 279-281.

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