Ludo Under Lockdown

South Asians are rediscovering a classic board game that has been the center of intrigue for centuries.

Somdyuti Datta Ray

July 3, 2020

Ludo Under Lockdown
Maharaja Sovan Singh playing pachisi (c. 1868)

The day my neighbor caught me playing ludo, I was pretending to be “very busy…working.” We stood at my doorstep, our eyes pinned to the phone in my hand ⁠— and watched my opponent swallow my goti (pawn). My neighbor laughed and turned to me. “Tumiyo?” he asked in Bengali. I nodded: yes, me too.

In these times of extended solitude, we’re unspooling the stories of our childhood — like the unhinged euphoria (and wrath) of winning and losing in ludo. Ludo is typically played with two to four players. Each player starts with four tokens of their assigned color — red, green, blue, or yellow — and, with every roll of the dice, races one’s token around the board to reach their designated house at the center. 

Our enforced idleness during the pandemic has been an opportune time for the board game to reclaim its glory — both in analog and digital form.

Vinita Sidhartha, the founder of Kreeda, which has been reviving and selling traditional Indian games in Chennai, had noticed a resurgence of the interest in board games even before the lockdown. “There’s an element of choice and chance” in games like ludo, said Sidhartha. “It’s almost like life...an interplay of choice and chance.” 

Vikas Tripathi, a 23-year-old student in New Delhi, reconnected with ludo in May. “You see, 12 o’clock is the most chaotic time in the Tripathi household. Someone is laughing, someone is cursing. My whole family gets together and we play [ludo] till 1 a.m.” His joint family in Varanasi has been following this nightly ritual, where one group plays on a physical ludo board and another uses a ludo app.

1024px-Maharaja Sovan Singh playing pachisi MET DP-18170-001
Maharaja Sovan Singh playing pachisi (c. 1868)