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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Games of the Marathas

Major RM Betham, 101st Grenadiers Recruiting Staff Officer for Marathas and Dekhani Musalmans, compiled Handbook for the Indian Army on Marathas and Dekhani Musalmans under the orders of the Government of India. The handbook was first published in 1908.

The Handbook is divided into six chapters. The first chapter is on the history and origins of the Marathas, and it encapsulates within 40 pages all the main historical occurrences of the Marathas – right from the arrival of the Aryans from Oxus in Central Asia up to the advent of the British in India.

A slim volume lists not just the history, but also the different castes, the customs, the festivals, and the day-to-day routine of the Marathas. The handbook is to guide recruiting officers to understand the new recruits into the British Indian army.

A trademark of British administrators in India is their detached assessment of India’s history and its people. About Shivaji, Betham says with utter nonchalance: “Shivaji was a born leader of men. All can recognise his wonderful genius and admire his undaunted perseverance. But the world cannot endorse the verdict of his nation, who speak of him as an incarnation of the deity, setting an example of wisdom, fortitude and piety. His ruling passion was love of money. War to him meant plunder, and on his death he left several million sterling.”

In the chapter on Characteristics of the Marathas, Betham describes them thus: “Dekhani Marathas are hardworking, temperate, hospitable, fond of their children and kind to strangers. Although there are schools in most of the larger villages, as a class, they are illiterate, not many being able to read or write. Though not particularly sharp, they are minutely informed of everything relating to their calling; they are fond of talk and many have a fair knowledge of their country. They are better informed and more orderly than many other agricultural classes. They are mild-tempered, forgiving, seldom violent or cruel except in revenge. They are indulgent to their women and most attached to their children. They are frugal, inclining to parsimony except at marriages, when they are lavish and profuse. As far as poverty allows, they are hospitable. Among them, no mannerly stranger will want a meal…in dealing with each other, they are honest, just and straightforward but they are unscrupulous in overreaching outsiders and government…their timidity makes them prefer stratagem to force.”  

One section is devoted to the different games that Maratha boys play. It makes for fascinating reading. Take a look:

The games indulged in by children are enumerated as below:

1. Ghoda Ghoda, playing horses.

2. Andhali Koshimbir, very similar to Blind Man’s Buff.

3. Vitti Dandu or Gilli Dandu: a game played with two sticks. The ‘vitti’ or ‘gili’ is a bit of wood about four inches long, which is struck with the ‘dandu’, a piece of stick of about an arm’s length. It’s played by sides and is governed by certain complicated rules.

4. Chendu Lagorya: The ‘chendu’ is hempen ball and the ‘lagori’ a pile of pieces of tiles or broken chattiers. Sides are taken. The idea is for one side, players, to throw down the pile with the ball. When this occurs the other side, fielders, endeavour to collect the ball and hit one of the players. The players are allowed to kick the ball to prevent this. While this is going on some of the players try to build up the pile (lagori). I they succeed, before one of them is struck by the ball, they win; otherwise they lose.

5. Bada-Badi: In this game the object is to hit one another with a soft ball. There are no rules. The object is to obtain possession of the ball and then throw it at the nearest boy.

6. Gotya: Marbles played in a similar way as English boys play.

7. Asu-Masu or Koya Pani: Very similar to the game of ‘Hop Scotch’.

8. Kho-Kho seems to be an elaborate form of the English game known as ‘Bundles.’

9. Atya-Patya is a very favourite game with boys. It is played by two teams, usually eleven aside. A court, 100 feet in length by 22 feet wide, divided into ten courts, each 10 feet by 22 feet, down the centre of which a cross line is drawn, sub-dividing these into 20 courts, is marked on the ground. One side holds these courts, a player being allotted to each court, but only allowed to move along the base line of such. There is a Captain, known as ‘sur’ or ‘murdung’, who directs each side and has more liberty than the rest. The object of the ‘out’ side is to try and force their way through this network by avoiding the custodian of each line. If touched a player is imprisoned. If six of the ‘out’ side are imprisoned, they lose, but if they can get through without losing that number, they win.

10. Flying kites is practised much the same as by English boys.

11. Wrestling is a very favourite pastime with Marathas of Dekhan. In a very large number of villages, there are house regularly built and set apart for wrestling where boys and men perform. At Annual Fairs and on holidays and great occasions wrestling is indulged in, matches are arranged and prizes offered. The whole country side flock to these entertainments and evince great interest in them. A man is not defeated till his opponent forces him over on to his back and his shoulders touch the ground.

12. Another form of amusement is the ‘Malkhamb’. A pole is set in the ground, on which they climb and perform various evolutions.

13. Dekhanis are very fond of lifting heavy weights and rolling big stone balls about. All this physical exercise stands them in good stead when they join their corps. They take readily to gymnastics, hockey, etc.

14. In the Konkan, Marathas are not so addicted to physical exercise, which places them at a disadvantage when enlisted, but they are very fond of organizing fights between bull buffaloes. Bulls of equal strength are matched against each other, when lengthy combats ensue. The victor usually chases the loser off the field. Very often the combatants are badly damaged. These fights draw large crowd.

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