A cross-and-circle board game from India, Chowka Bara is played by two or four people using four cowrie shells and a varying number of tokens. Its name, which literally translates to “four eight,” derives from the two highest numbers a player can roll on the cowrie shells. The game is believed to have originated in present-day Andhra Pradesh, Telangana or Karnataka. Chowka Bara is a commonly used Kannada name for the game, but it is also known by other names in other regions, most notably Ashta Chamma in Andhra Pradesh and Katte Mane in rural Karnataka.
The origins of Chowka Bara remain unclear. Along with Pachisi, Ashte Kashte and Chaupar, it is one of the cross and circle games speculated to be the dice game that was played in the Mahabharata. However, there is little evidence to support this theory.
A Chowka Bara board always has the same number of tiles horizontally and vertically, although the tiles themselves may not be square. The number of tiles is not standardised, allowing for the possibility of larger boards and longer, more challenging games. The number of tiles is always an odd number, which allows for a central tile on the board. Each player has one less token than the number of tiles on each side of the board. The objective of the game is to be the first to get all of one’s tokens to the central tile.
The central tile and the middle tile of each outermost side are marked with an “X”. Apart from the central tile, the other marked tiles are where each player’s tokens start their journey. A token moves in a spiral fashion around the board towards the centre, alternating between clockwise and counterclockwise directions depending on the row it’s in. The interpretation of the cowrie shells is standard, with the number of upward-facing shells indicating how many paces the player is expected to move. Doubling, or gatte, is only possible if the player lands both tokens on the same tile in the same turn.
Chowka Bara continues to be played in some parts of Karnataka, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, usually by drawing the board in chalk on the ground and using coloured tamarind seeds as tokens.
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