KREEDA — Uncovering the Games of Ancient India

Sampadananda Mishra
8 min readApr 23, 2024


Sports and games have always played a significant role in human culture, serving as a source of recreation, community bonding, and even spiritual expression. In ancient India, sports held an essential place in society, integrated into education and daily life. Contrary to popular belief, games like polo, tennis, football, and cricket are not modern inventions; ancient India had a rich tradition of sports that not only entertained but also helped to maintain physical fitness and social cohesion.

Ancient Indian texts such as the Harivansha, Varnaratnākara, Manasollasa, and many other texts contain detailed descriptions of hundreds of sports, showcasing the depth and diversity of games played in bygone eras. These texts suggest that sports were not only a source of amusement but also a crucial aspect of religious and cultural festivities. The Shrimad Bhagavatam, an epic narrative describing the life of Bhagavan Krishna, includes several instances of sports and games in its stories, illustrating how they were in practice in ancient Indian society.

To better understand the types of sports in ancient India, we can categorize them into four groups:

  1. Games Played for Fun: These games were primarily for entertainment and included board games, dice games, and other activities enjoyed by families and friends. They were meant to engage players in a light-hearted manner, often fostering camaraderie and social interaction.
  2. Sports for Spectator Enjoyment: This category encompasses games and activities designed to entertain audiences. Events such as chariot races, wrestling, and archery contests were popular, drawing large crowds and showcasing athletic skills.
  3. Sports with Religious Significance: Many sports and games were associated with religious festivals and rituals. These sports were integral to religious ceremonies, where participants played in honor of deities or during auspicious occasions.
  4. Mixed Sports with Unclear Classifications: This category includes sports that don’t neatly fit into the other three groups. These games might have elements of fun, competition, or ritual significance, often blending different aspects of traditional Indian culture.

Through this lens, ancient Indian sports emerge as a complex and multifaceted tradition, reflecting the values, beliefs, and social dynamics of the time. From the playful games of childhood to the grand spectacles of festivals, these sports showcased the creativity and diversity of ancient Indian society. Understanding these games provides us with a unique perspective on the history and culture of India, reminding us that the spirit of competition and the joy of play are timeless.

Here is a list of fifty ancient Indian games that were commonly played in various regions across India:

  1. कृत्रिम वृषभ-क्रीडा — Artificial Bull Sport

In this sport, children wore bull-like fabric or lion-like skin to simulate fighting and made sounds. This was called ‘Artificial Bull Sport.’ It included imitating animal and bird sounds.

2. निलयन-क्रीडा — Hiding Sport

This has two types:

A. In one, a child hides, and another child finds him. Some play as thieves, while others play as guards.

B. In the other, children are divided into three groups: animal herders, animal thieves, and those acting as goats or sheep. The goat is taken by the thieves, and the herders have to find them. This sport is mentioned in Shrimad Bhagavatam, as played by Krishna during ‘Vatsa-harana.’

3. मर्कटोत्प्लवन-क्रीडा — Monkey Jumping Sport

In this sport, children climb trees and hop between branches like monkeys. This is also mentioned in Shrimad Bhagavatam.

4. शिक्यादि-मोषण-क्रीडा — Object Theft Sport

In this, an object like a ball is passed around, with someone attempting to reclaim it. When the owner demands it back, they must be given the object.

5. अहमहमिका-स्पर्श-क्रीडा — Touch-Me-First Sport

In this sport, children race to see who can touch another child first.

6. भ्रामण-क्रीडा — Swinging Sport

Children hold hands, sway back and forth, and sit and stand together.

7. गर्तादिलङ्घन-क्रीडा — Long Jumping Sport

This game tests how far one can jump over a given distance.

8. बिल्वादिप्रक्षेपण-क्रीडा — Object Throwing Sport

In this sport, objects like bilva (wood-apple) fruits or balls are thrown in such a way that they collide in mid-air.

9. अस्पृश्यत्व-क्रीडा — Untouchable Sport

In this game, one child tries to touch another while the latter avoids getting touched.

10. नेत्रबन्ध-क्रीडा — Blindfold Sport

This sport has three types:

A. Here, a child has to guess who is behind while blindfolded.

B. In this the blindfolded children have to find the others hiding.

C. Here, the blindfolded children must catch others trying to touch them.

11. स्पन्दान्दोलिका-क्रीडा — Swinging Sport

In this sport, players climb onto two or three swings and keep moving from one to another while swinging.

12. नृप-क्रीडा — King Sport

In this game, one person is made a king, and others take roles like ministers or advisors.

13. हरिण-क्रीडा — Deer Sport

This involves jumping around like a deer, with participants trying to outdo each other by leaping higher or further.

14. देव-दैत्य-क्रीडा — God-Demon Sport

In this game, some people act as gods while others play as demons. They use dust or other elements to play, as described in tales of Shiva.

15. वाह्य-वाहक-क्रीडा — Carrier Sport

In this game, the winner rides on the shoulders of the loser.

16. जल-क्रीडा — Water Sport

This has two types:

A. In one type, participants jump into water from trees and splash water on each other.

B. The other type, often involving men and women, is described in the works of poets like Bhāravi, Māgha, and Kālidāsa.

17. कन्दुक-क्रीडा — Ball Sport

This game has two types:

A. In one type, a ball is thrown up, and the other person tries to catch it. If they fail, the thrower gets to climb onto their shoulders.

B. In the other type, players bounce a ball against a wall and catch it before it hits the ground.

18. वनभोजन-क्रीडा — Forest Feast Sport

This involves going into the forest to play and cooking meals like ‘bāti’ there. This is similar to what is now known as a picnic.

19. नृत्य-क्रीडा — Dance Sport

In this game, some people dance while others clap. It can be played with boys and girls together or separately.

20. रास-क्रीडा — Raas Sport

This is a re-enactment of Krishna’s plays in a sandy field, similar to a modern-day Ramleela. The Garba dance from Gujarat has a resemblance to this.

21. नियुद्ध-क्रीडा — Fist-Fighting Sport

This involves fistfights or wrestling. This was the sport where Jarāsandha and Bhīma fought in the Mahābhārata.

22. छालिक्य-क्रीडा — Trickery Game

In this, the participants joyfully sing and play as if it were the days of Holi. This is described in the Harivamsa and other Puranas.

23. अक्ष-क्रीडा — Dice Sport

This game of dice is famous for causing the Mahābhārata war. It is also mentioned in the Rigveda with prohibitions.

24. मृगया-क्रीडा — Hunting Sport

This sport, also known as ‘Ākhet,’ was popular among kings, involving hunting and game-capturing.

25. पक्षिघात-क्रीडा — Bird-Hunting Sport

This sport involves capturing birds like a falconer.

26. मत्स्य-क्रीडा — Fishing Sport

In this game, princes learn how to fish while on a boat.

27. चतुरङ्ग-क्रीडा — Chaturanga Sport

This is what is now known as chess, checkers, or similar board games. The British scholar Wilson extensively researched this game and found its references in ancient Indian texts like Bhavishya Purana, confirming its Indian origin. There are many texts dedicated to the game of Chaturanga.

28. शालभञ्जिका-क्रीडा — Puppet Sport

This is known as the “puppet game” or “doll game.”

29. लतोद्वाह-क्रीडा — Vine Marriage Sport

This involves taking care of trees and vines and then arranging their marriage, similar to what Shakuntala did. Tulsi marriage is performed as a religious ritual.

30. वीटा-क्रीडा — Stick and Ball Sport

This is a game mentioned in the Mahabharata, which involves hitting a stick with another stick.

31. कनकशृङ्गकोण-क्रीडा — Golden Horn Cone Game

This is a game of water-gun spraying.

32. आमलकमुष्ट्यादि-क्रीडा — Amla-Fist Sport

In this game, a person holds something in a closed fist, and others guess what it is. If they guess wrong or don’t answer, the winner can hit them with a fist.

33. दर्दुरप्लाव-क्रीडा — Frog-Jumping Sport

This involves moving by jumping like a frog.

34. नाट्य-क्रीडा — Drama Sport

This game involves performing plays or skits.

35. अलातचक्र-क्रीडा — Fire Wheel Sport

This game involves lighting a firework and spinning it to create patterns. This is sometimes used to draw designs with light.

36. जल-क्रीडा — Water Feast Sport

This involves sitting in water and having meals, similar to what Duryodhana did, knowing the art of water sports.

37. नौ-क्रीडा — Naval Sport

This involves riding boats, as is common in Varanasi during Dussehra.

38. वनविहार-क्रीडा — Forest Recreation Sport

This involves gathering flowers, making garlands, and enjoying various other activities in the forest. This involves cooking food without any ingredients, and other related activities. It’s also known as ‘Pushpavachaya’ sport.

39. गदा-क्रीडा — Mace Sport

This involves mock battles using maces. Similarly, there are bow sports and others.

40. अशोकपादप्रहार-क्रीडा — Tree-Punching Sport

In this game, players decorate a tree and then kick it or do other things to it. Kalidasa also described this sport.

41. चित्र-क्रीडा — Art Sport

This involves painting, drawing, and creating scenes related to stories, such as depicting a scene with Yakshas.

42. काव्यविनोद-क्रीडा — Poetry Sport

This involves creating various poetry games, like riddles, metric puzzles, and others. Modern puzzles are akin to this.

43. वाजिवाह्य-क्रीडा — Horse Sport

This involves riding horses while playing a ball game, similar to polo. Tulsidas mentioned this in his Gitavali.

44. करिवाह्य-क्रीडा — Elephant Sport

This is a sport where participants ride elephants and play ball games.

45. मृगवाह्य-क्रीडा — Animal Racing Sport

This involves racing on carts pulled by deer or reindeer, with participants trying to touch each other.

46. गोप-क्रीडा — Cowherd Sport

This is a part of the Raasaleelaa sport.

47. घट-क्रीडा — Jug Sport

In this game, participants balance multiple jugs on their heads while walking, sometimes even walking over embers or bamboo.

48. विवाह-क्रीडा — Wedding Game

When the groom goes for the wedding, women play as if they are the groom or bride, and this is called ‘Khoriya.’

49. हल्लीश-क्रीडा — Circular or Ring Game

In this game, the participants sit in a circle, alternating between a girl and a boy, creating a mandala shape. This game is also described in detail in the Harivansha.

50. ​गानकूर्दन-क्रीडा — Singing and Jumping Game

Here some participants sing while others jump or leap.

These sports and games were not just recreational; they often carried cultural, spiritual, or social significance. Games like Gulli-Danda, Kanakshringa-kona-krida, and Ganakurdana-krida brought communities together, fostering camaraderie and tradition. These ancient sports showcase the rich and diverse heritage of Indian culture, reflecting the creativity and vibrancy of the past. These traditional games highlight the historical roots and interconnectedness that have significantly shaped Indian society over many generations.

PS: This list of traditional games is based on a special edition (1988) of Kalyan, published by Gita Press, Gorakhpur.

-Sampadananda Mishra



Sampadananda Mishra

Author, speaker and researcher on subjects related to Sanskrit, Indian Culture, Spirituality, Yoga and Education. SahityaAkademi and President of India Awardee.