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Before 'Chutes and Ladders' There Was 'Leela'-The Game of Self-Knowledge

Updated on November 3, 2013

Learning about 'Leela'

I was living in Fairbanks, Alaska in 2001 when I was first introduced to Gangaji, one of the spiritual teachers I have met and studied with for a period of time, and who follows the lineage of the Hindu Saint: Ramana Maharshi. I would travel out of the ‘Last Frontier’ state to the ‘Lower 48’ to attend satsang. Satsang is the Sanskrit word for, ‘a meeting with Truth’. She would hold satsang in the San Francisco Bay area in California, which was always a welcome change from the cold, dark winters of Alaska’s Interior.

Having listened to talks about ‘Leela’, or the ‘Divine Play’, given by both Gangaji and her husband, Eli, I decided one evening to Google the word and was amazed to find that, not only was there a game with that title, but also a book, by Harish Johari, an Indian author and philosopher. Johari wrote a companion to the game, Leela , to help the player better understand the game of Leela, a predecessor of Chutes and Ladders.

The Creators of Leela-Old and New

Created some 2,000 years ago as a compilation of the work of various Hindu Saints, Leela is said to be the game of ‘Self-Knowledge’; the Yoga of Snakes and Arrows. The similarity of the ‘snakes’ on the board to the modern, American game with ‘chutes’ which drops the player down to another level, along with the ‘arrows’ on the Hindu game board, which compares to the ‘ladders’ on the popular Chutes and Ladders game, carrying the player upward, is about the only similarity there is, for the game of Leela is a much more complex, and meaningful game.

In the back of Johari’s book is a folded, paper game board. It can be carried conveniently along with the book, which explains the various squares-72 in all, and planes, or chakras. Therefore, a person only needs to add one die and a personal item that belongs to each player-something small enough to maneuver around the board, but personal enough to have significance, such as a ring or other talisman, to start a game with family and friends anywhere one goes.

Learning the Game

The object of the game is to discover what truths are revealed for you as an individual, while traveling across the board. Each square is representative of a virtue or a vice; an aspect of human consciousness. Each level is a plane, which represent the seven chakras one must traverse to reach the eighth plane of enlightenment. Chakra is Sanskrit for ‘spinning wheels of energy’ which are centered through the median of the body from pelvis to crown.

The die represents Karma, the law of cause and effect. Karmic action brings on enlightenment or rebirth, depending on what our intentions are as we make choices throughout our life. In the game, throwing the die creates an opportunity of choice, just as it does in real life.

Leela Board Game
Leela Board Game | Source

Meet Yourself in the Game of Self-Knowledge

As the players move up and down they are carried through the layers of planes. The patterns that begin to emerge through repetitive visits on the same square or down the same snake, etc., reveal to the players their relationship to their own self and the Absolute. It is a game of exploration, discovery and liberation.

f you have never heard of this game, and many Americans have not, be sure to check it out. While you may not be able to walk into the average toy store to buy it, it can be purchased online, primarily through Amazon. It is one of the more interesting games I’ve played…but, not necessarily one filled with simple entertainment.

Please Take This Poll-Thank you.

Are you intrigued enough to play a game of Leela?

See results


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    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      6 years ago from North Carolina

      Wow! How cool is that...thank you, Vadim for this update. Bringing modern technology into an 'ancient' game. :)

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Now you can play the game on your mobile device. Look at Play Market

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      9 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi Susan, thanks for reading. I find it very intersting and I think most adults would as well.

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 

      9 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      This looks like a very interesting game and perhaps more fun than Chutes and Ladders.

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      9 years ago from North Carolina

      I can certainly appreciate your phobia, Dzy. I was that way about spiders. Then I desensitized myself. Read my hub: F-E-A-R spells Phobia and it tells about this 'adventure'. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    • DzyMsLizzy profile image

      Liz Elias 

      9 years ago from Oakley, CA

      Interesting....if only it was something besides snakes.. Ugh! I have such a horrible phobia about the creatures that it bothers me to even type their name or see a photo. :-( Makes me wonder if I died of a bite in a past life....

      However, it was an interesting explanation, and I'm sure many will love it, so I've voted it up for you! ;-)

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      9 years ago from North Carolina

      Hi Ruby. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      9 years ago from Southern Illinois

      I too, have never heard of this game, but it sounds interesting. Thank you.

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      9 years ago from North Carolina

      Yes, my understanding is that it was. Thank you for reading and commenting. :) It's a great game.

    • marshacanada profile image


      9 years ago from Vancouver BC

      Thanks for this hub-Voted up and useful. I wonder if snakes and ladders was based on Leela/Snakes or Arrows?

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      9 years ago from North Carolina

      Aww, glad to read that S.W.-that makes me smile. :)

      Good morning Stephanie-it appears that most people (Americans) have not heard of this game. I think Amazon is the only link that will sell it, or maybe ebay? But, it is an interesting and fun game. Thanks for your comments.

    • Stephanie Henkel profile image

      Stephanie Henkel 

      9 years ago from USA

      I've never heard of the game, Leela, but it sounds very appealing. I'd love to try it someday, and I think it would appeal to my teen granddaughter, too. Very interesting hub, voted up and useful.

    • Spirit Whisperer profile image

      Xavier Nathan 

      9 years ago from Isle of Man

      Thank you for this wonderful information. This is definitely going on the Christmas present list.

    • Denise Handlon profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise Handlon 

      9 years ago from North Carolina

      Cara-I'll have to get another copy and we'll play it when we get together next time. (If there is time, LOL)

      lilibees-thanks for reading and commenting. It is definitely not one of your average All American games. :)

      Hi Gail-I had to smile at your comment. Yes, one day I will write that memoir I keep in the back of my mind, LOL I'm glad you enjoyed the hub and are curious about the game.

      My stories-Chutes and Ladders came AFTER the game of Leela/or Snakes and Arrows as it is also referred to. But, the idea of the game has been around for a very long time. Thanks for your comments.

      Hi Mohan-I'm sure that you had lots of fun playing the game of Paramapadham. I really enjoyed the modern game of Leela and found it very interesting. Thanks for sharing your experience with this game.

    • Docmo profile image

      Mohan Kumar 

      9 years ago from UK

      My Grandma had an old version of this called Paramapadham ( Sanskrit) - it was a Hindu game for attainment of 'Moksha' or the ascent of the soul. We loved it as kids as it was snakes and ladders and with every throw of dice the ascent or descent can affect your journey... great hub Denise.

    • My Stories profile image

      My Stories 

      9 years ago

      I have never heard of this game. Thanks for Sharing. When you mentioned Chutes and Ladders, that was my favorite game.

    • Happyboomernurse profile image

      Gail Sobotkin 

      9 years ago from South Carolina

      Loved this fascinating hub and the comparison of our popular and simplistic Chutes and Ladders game to this sophisticated and meaningful Leela board game.

      I consider the accumulation of self-knowledge one of the important keys to finding inner peace and happiness and think it's cool that there's a game that fosters self-knowledge. Am rating this hub up, useful and awesome.

      BTW, you seem to have led quite an amazing life journey both spiritually and physically so far. Thanks for sharing those experiences in hubs like this.

    • lilibees profile image


      9 years ago

      I too have never heard of this game! Thanks for sharing. I love Fairbanks I myself have lived there!

    • cardelean profile image


      9 years ago from Michigan

      Wow, I have never heard of this. It sounds really interesting. Maybe one day I will find the time to check it out! Great hub.


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