If you were born after the 70s and lived in one of the cities all your life, it is very likely that you do not know what Pallankuzhi is. But those older, especially from the smaller towns of South India may have spent many summer afternoons in endless rounds of this game. Remember this?

The kit for the game was no more than this wooden plank with 14 holes and 144 to 170 cowrie shells ( sozhi).
The game did involve some calculations while each player tried his best to capture all the sozhis and defeat the other players.It was a little like life itself - At the start of the game eveyone gets the same number of sozhis and what you made of it later was purely left to yourself and chance.Sometimes you were nearly bankrupt and then ended with a windfall ( in the form of getting access to the central hole called the Kasi) However careful you were in your calculations,chance did play a part and you ended up losing. For example the first player had some advantages in some settings and when a player did not have enough for all the holes on his side, the holes he chose to leave empty had a role to play. There were variations of the game depending on the age groups differing in degrees of difficulty.

The above is a 60 year old pallankuzhi plank with me and when my fingers need some exercise I do play solitaire version of it. My grandmother used to play against herself and every hand she played she played to win.And I am sure it was a good exercise for her hands and mind and perhaps a defense against Alzheimer's and the like.She lived to be 90, alert and active.

So you can imagine my delight when I saw THIS
"warmed the cockles of my heart!" as Bertram Wooster would have said. And indeed it did exactly that. I am reproducing it here for your convenience:

"A Game of Warri"

"Harbhajan Singh wracks his brains over a game of Warri, a pastime that the locals introduce him to. Warri is played in India as well – it's known as Pallanguzhi in Tamil – but, going by the mystified looks, none of the Indians seemed to have heard of it."

"If you have mastered Warri, you earn the title of "professor". One such professor decided to give Harbhajan a lesson, teaching him the intricacies of the game. A Warri board comprises twelve large pockets, into which 48 beads are filled equally. The player who begins empties one of the pits that belongs to him and distributes the seeds - one for each pit in a clockwise direction. He continues the process by emptying the pit next to where he ends the first set of seeds. He carries on the process until the end, when if he finds more than one empty pit, he gives up the turn to the other player. If he finds one empty pit next to the pit where he ended, then he captures all the seeds gathered on the right side of the empty pit. The player who captures the most seeds ends up the winner."

"Quick counting of the beads and judgement of the number of pockets to be filled requires one to be very attentive. It also requires some rapid mental calculations. Harbhajan does well, plays a few smart moves and thrills "professor" with his learning curve. Inevitably he loses, but the margin (25 to 23) tells you how close it got. "Professor" challenges him for one more round. Harbhajan, though, has a valid excuse: "I need to go out to bat, wickets are falling quickly."
Posted by Siddhartha Vaidyanathan

Pallankuzhi-warri championship trophy - any sponsors???
31 Responses
  1. Anonymous Says:

    Dayakattam, where 'dokkal le vettaradu'was perhaps the ultimate joy of every tamilian child growing up in the 60s and earlier.
    Every region had its own version of dayakattam and pallankuzi. An uncle who has been living in the States for the last 40 years or so wanted to buy pallankuzhi on a recent visit and it was sadly not available in the markets of chennai. But recently I saw a the game and many more traditional games available (with instructions in english)in an upmarket book store, revived by an intelligent business house, ofcourse, at an exorbidant price.
    Wish children of now could at least give a look at these games before writing them off as something from the past ages before turning themselves towards the super duper virtual games available thesedays. Not that I have anything against some of these intelligent games.
    Us oldtimers will always relish the games we played with friends and cousins on hot Summer afternoons drawing the 'chowka bara'on the floor and using stones and tamarind seeds as coins. Nostalgic....thy name is...

  2. Preethi Says:

    Thats cool...
    Even i know this game Pallankuzhi, but it has a different name in Kannada, I guess - Chennamani? I remember Mom and her friends & cousins playing this, when we kids used to find the red beads amusing..
    I presume those red beads are some seeds of a plant... isnt it?

  3. Mohan Says:

    I remember seeing this board whenever I used to go to my maternal house in Chennai as a kid. I also vaguely recall watching the elders play the game with passion and have fun.

    And there's a Tamil film song, isnt it? Picturised on Sneha and Abbas, titled "Pallankuzhi Aattam.." or something like that?..:)

    And to see our "boys in blue" with such looks of no clue...heh heh..nice!

  4. Visithra Says:

    U know what we have the same game but its a malay game - and its called congkak

    the game is played the same only difference is the position of the home base which is at both ends of the board and we used to use tiny bags of sand or red seeds

    i never played it as a kid was busy being a tomboy but then NOKIA introduced it as a game on its mobiles and we all got addicted to it - its called bantumi in NOKIA

  5. Anonymous Says:

    Thanks for taking me back to my childhood days when we used to play this game hours together. That was a kind of good exercise for mental maths.

    Shalini, it is still available in Chennai. Recently i got a few pieces to be sent to a friend in Malaysia.

    Thanks to Usha for forwarding this.

  6. Anonymous Says:

    I have played this game too with my sisters and other gals in the street when I was young

  7. GuNs Says:

    Hey, this seems fun though having to use your brains can seem a littl intimidating for dumb people like me [:-D].

    Where can you find these boards these days?


  8. Mahadevan Says:

    Pallankuzhi used to be a lovely game. Cowrie shells being slightly larger in size, we played with 'manjadi' - a pearl clone. Often I had to play stealthily with my sister, as generally boys were discouraged from playing the game. I am unable to understand the rationale behind this. The deft movement of fingers and a little bit of concentration, though not to the extent chess demands, are necessary. It is interesting to read that playing the game provides exercise to the fingers as a defence mechanism against Alzheimers. Sounds sensible.

    Harbachan turns the ball with his fingers and hence he must be playing the game fluently.

    An interesting post indeed.

  9. Great post, Ush (and Siddhu!). Never heard of the game before. I do remember my grandparents and relatives playing Daayalu (which I first discovered as Ludo on a board) and I still have the pair of long dice which my grandmom gave me! :)

  10. starry Says:

    Hi..I just stopped by .Nice blog and post. I remember playing the game of Pallankuzhi.Over here in the U.S we have a similar game called called "Mancala" and it is played with different colored stones. IN India I remember playing with orange colored seeds.

  11. I used to play this game with my aunts, uncles, and cousins. Along with the various other kattam, chess, and card games, it used to be one of our favorite indoor games. Unlike most card games that depend on the luck of the draw, and the kattams that depend on the throw of the dice, it is not a game of chance. The game is interesting because, as the game progresses, it becomes difficult to know the correct number of shells in the pits. This was especially so, in the twelve-shells-per-pit variant that we used to play. In other variants (three and five shells) it's easier to count, but the player were allowed to hide the shells with their hands. In the language of Game Theory, it'd be a game of imperfect recall. Games similar to Pallankuzhi, have been solved with computers.

    It's amazing how many variations of this game are played around the world. A search for Warri on Wikipedia, took me to the games of Oware and Mancala. Neither article referred to Pallankuzhi, so I have created a stub for it. Please edit/expand it, if you can.

    A couple of years ago I saw a facinating documentary, The Journey of Man, which traced the migration and spread of humans from Africa across the world. The trace was done based on DNA evidence. Another film that I saw, Latcho Drom, followed the Romany people from Rajastan to Spain, and traces their history based on their music and dance. Perhaps, we should start documenting the journey of games!

    Sorry about the long comment, Usha. You have a knack for starting me everytime on a seemingly endless information chase!

  12. passerby55 Says:


    Never heard about this game. Chess, ludo, snake and ladders..i remember a few.

    It was a pleasure to learn it and also to read all your blogreaders with their bits of information.

    You engaged all of us in some traditional game. Thankyou.

    These days its only computer games. The only games my kids play these days...alas!


  13. Me Says:

    i used to go to my native place during holidays & used to play pallankuzhi & dayakattam.....i love both these games along with paramapadham....

    i dont know why it did not get popular in madras.... & my gf were very surprised to see that pallankuzhi @ a shop in US....grabbed it immediately...we play this & dhayam once in a while when some friends come over...

  14. Usha Says:

    shalini: Yes and I do not remember ever ..EVER saying I was bored. Actually it was more like there wasn't enough to play more. And none of these palying things "belonged" to anyone. It was in the house for all children to play. I don't remember "owning" a single toy or book except my school books for the particular year. Nostalgia..indeed!

    Preeti: Do not know the Kannada name for the game. Chennamani, I think is the name of the red beads that were used instead of the sozhi and sometimes we used tamarind seeds.

    Mohan: :) yes there isa recent song "pallankuzhiyin vattam parthen otrai nanayam" referring to the circles on the board reminding her of the one rupee coin- but they are much larger.

    Visi: ahaaaa! oru international tournament potuduvoma?on your next trip to India!

    Kamala:thanks for the comment.Next time i am in chennai i must pick up a couple of pallankuzhis for gifting.

    Dubukku: appo vayasu 30 aachunnu othukireenga...thapache? sariya gyabagapaduthi sollungo!

    GuNs: Hey, it doesn't involve rocket science. Even I have played it and enjoyed it. Most of the time, no one uses calculations. they just play for the fun of it.

    Mahadevan: it is interesting to see there was agender bias involved. I think you were a victim of a conspiracy. In our house the male cousins and brothers were the ones who were using calculations and game theory to make the winning moves.
    I have no base for claiming that such games can be a safeguard against atrophy of the brain cells - but my doctor encouraged me to learn languages and solve puzzles to avoid losing memory. So this was my own conclusion. but exercise for the fingers - that I can vouch for.

    Vaish: You will be initiated into the game in december in the tiled room along with tamil songs and endless cups of tea in sexy srilankan cups!

    Starry Nights:Thanks. That is interesting - mancala. Will check the net for picture and info (thanks to Rational Fool)

    The Rationa Fool: Very interesting links. Thank you. Please do not hesitate to leave all the comments you want. The idea of the posts is to provide a starting point for a discussion and ultimately it is the comments that provide the perspective from various view points. This is not a space for me to go on airing just my opinions - Please write in so i can learn and grow.

    Passerby55: I am sure there may be a variation of the game in your region - if you are from India that is.

    Me: Popularising the game among friends - good stuff!

  15. Ush, that sounds SO good! I am totally looking forward to it!!!! :)

  16. Preethi Says:

    Usha, Can I be invited on the same December nite, please?
    The idea of playing Pallanguzhi with u and Vaish and drinking tea out of sexy SriLanka cups looks soo tempting...:)

  17. Wild Reeds Says:

    Wow! Cool. In Maharashtra there is a game called Sagar Gotyà... dunno if it's like pallankuzhi.

  18. Anonymous Says:

    The Kanadda name I am told is "Hali Guli Mane"

    - Rajeev

  19. rads Says:

    It's called 'manacala' out here in the West. But yes, Ive played that summer every visit we made it to our grandparents in the town.

  20. Casement Says:

    It was fun playing Pallanguzhi. The lingo associated with the game trained the tongue as much as the sozhi trained the fingers.

    My grandmom made accurate calculations which baffled our so-called-mental-math-trained minds.

    There is another game which is played with four cowrie shells, slightly bigger in size than those used for Pallanguzhi. I dont know what the game is called. That was a brutal game of snatching and clawing - eternal fun!:)

  21. tris Says:

    nothing fancy - some in the US play it in a egg carton...

  22. i havent heard of the game bt the name sent me into some chuckles, ush: if you take pallankuzhi as a compound word in malayalam and prise it open, it yields the meaning: tooth hole!
    Ma-cavity ma-cavity, eh!
    what a splendid post!

  23. Anonymous Says:

  24. Anonymous Says:

    Pallankuzhi is stimulating my childhood thoughts.I am now 62yrs.We are 7sibs,one maternal G.Ma.we use to play in turns with our G.Ma.we were 15yr,13,11,9,7 all girls and last two boys.My was from chelakkara in kerala and my father migrated to Andhra.In coursc of time Pallanguzhi,pucchikkamani,Kundumani,Thottil all joined us in in our summer holidays pallakuzhi come out of the attic and we played groups.Always G.Ma's group we used to fight to be in her group.
    In the evenings we used to swing in the Thottil(Not the OONzal Palagai) useful to a child as big as a five yr old can sleep.
    The thottil has 4 edges.In the middle where the child can sleep would sit with our brothes on one side edge two sisters and on the opposite side the othr two sisters. we swing swing and used to sing in corous all the songs known to us.Now when we siblings meet on any occassion even my brothers join us if we start singing,though the thottil is not there now.

  25. Anonymous Says:

    kamala said
    for long i was searching for the rules and method of playing this simple game.
    happy to find it on web.

  26. Mahadevan Says:

    A very interesting game indeed. Our mother used to discourage us playing this game, reasoning that it was meant for girls only. Yet, we used to play it stealthily. Like Chess, one can play the game intelligently.

    If I remember right, when Siddarth was in West Indies during the earlier tour, this game was discussed in your blog. Even after the lapse of 8/9 months, the interest is still sustained.

  27. L Says:
    This comment has been removed by the author.

  28. L Says:

    A similar variant is described in

    Atleast the game is not dead.

    When we were children my grandparents wanted to give a wooden version for all of us (6 grandchildren). But they were no available easily, or were not impressive.

    Finally I made one out of paper mache.

  29. Sunshinemom Says:

    Yesterday a friend brought me some manjadi kuru and that started a 'pallankuzhi' thread in my mind. Just wanted to revive the game and came across your blog while doing so through google. Great blog:)

  30. Kavade Says:

    A Traditional games tournament (Chowkabara, pagade, pallanguli & huli-kuri aata) is being arranged in seshadripuram on July 25th 2009.
    For more details check this link:

    You could mail me on for more details.

  31. Aravind Says:

    Though I was born in 1985, I still played Pallankuzhi and to my utter surprise, the same board which you had put up in the picture.I have to thank my Grandma for making it as my favorite game.I think even She had bought it somewhere in early 30s. Nowadays, you never get the model which you have put up in the picture. I still remember there used to be a square shaped internal storage on the left hand side of the board. I have unfortunately lost during one of my Dad's transfer. I think my Grandma bought it in Srirangam.