Nepali Street Games

Features Issue 93 Jul, 2010
Text by Aarti Basnyat / Photo: ECS Media

Sit in front of your friend and watch as she frantically waves her forefinger in front of your face saying “Machha machha maachha” (Fishy fishy fishy). Try to catch that finger only to be disappointed as you grab a thumb and your friend smugly says “Byagutho” (Frog). This is the most basic of games that you played growing up in Nepal. The game follows the rules of fishing and the disappointment faced when all you end up with is an inedible frog.

Thankfully, Nepali street games are not limited to just the annoying wagging of fingers. Many games come with accessories such as stones, sticks, a ball or even a bunch of rubber bands. They all have variable rules and can be played almost everywhere. A standard requirement is open space, an empty street or field. In the age of Nintendo Wii and Sony Play Statio, these games bring back fond memories of a simpler life.

Dandi Biyno
Dandi Biyo is not the Nepali national game, despite what you may have been told or believe. Trust me! We asked the sports authorities! It is, however, a game that truly originated from the play of cowherds and village boys. It is also known as Guli Danda in the Terai region.

The game consists of two sticks—the dandi and the biyo. The dandi is a long stick and the biyo is a stump one-fourth the size of the dandi with pointy ends. You hit the biyo with the dandi, flipping it up by striking the end. To decide who gets to go first the players must bounce the biyo on his dandi. The most number of bounces gets to play first. The objective of the game is to flick the biyo as far as you can from the base, which is a small groove on the ground. The player then goes to the biyo and hits it again while striking it as it leaps in the air.

The points are measured by how far the biyo lands from the base point in dandi measurements. If the biyo is hit once in midair, the distance is measured according to the length of the dandi, if the biyo is hit twice, it is measured according to the length of the biyo, if the biyo is hit thrice measuring is done according to the distance between the forefinger and the tiny finger. (Or if you want you can always use the metric system but what’s the fun in that?) Then it is the next player’s turn to outdo the distance covered. The players are also allowed to try and block the biyo using material available in the playing field such as bushes or branches. If they manage to catch the biyo or hit his dandi with it, the player is no longer in the game.

This game involves a lot of rubber and a lot of legwork. It is easier than dancing and probably cheaper, especially if the dancing you indulge in actually requires grace. Chungi is played using a rubber ball made up of rubber bands. It is similar to Hacky Sack.

The first objective of Chungi is to make a rubber ball (a chungi) that bounces just right. This involves buying a lot of rubber bands and tying them in the middle to create a ball that is slightly flat on the top and bottom. This helps with the balancing of the ball as you kick it with your feet. The rules of this game vary as you go along. The more traditional way of playing Chungi is to count the number of times you manage to bounce the chungi with your feet as you keep it up in the air. You are not allowed to use your hands during the process and should you accidently use your hands you are immediately disqualified from the game. Use of both feet is allowed as is using any other body part but remember: no hands!!

Another twist to the game is when you finish a certain number of bounces you twist your body and back kick the chungi to see how far it lands. This is also used among experienced players to measure their expertise with the chungi.  One method of playing it is in a circle as each player tries their hardest to keep the chungi in the air. The chungi is passed from player to player.  The aim of the game is to perform tricks with the chungi without letting it drop to the ground. The fun part about Chungi, as with most Nepali games, is that you make up the rules as you go along—so go ahead, convince that first timer that he needs to pat his head and rub his belly while he bounces the chungi.

This is supposed to be a girly girl game, but there are many memories involving boys who have tried their fair hand at it. Some even did much better than the girls. It remains doubtful, however, if any Nepali man will admit to playing Ghutta. The game involves five stones, normally picked off the ground. The game is similar to Jacks or Jackstones.

The motive is to get five stones that will fit in the palm of your hand and provide enough grip to hold them. The game involves eight stages that each player has to pass through. The first is to take a single stone between your forefinger and thumb while keeping the rest in your palm. You throw the stones in your palm on the floor while retaining the stone in your fingers. Then you attempt to pick up each stone while tossing the stone in your hand up in the air. The second stage is similar but you pick up two stones at once. The third stage evolves into three stones making the game tougher as you go along. The fourth stage is setting down and picking up all the stones while tossing the one in your hand. The fifth stage is slightly different, as you throw all stones into the air, catch them on the back of your hand, then toss them again to catch them in the cup of your hand. In the sixth stage you use an overhand catch. For the seventh stage you create an arch between your fore-finger and thumb of your left hand as you attempt to slide all the stones into the goal created. This again involves tossing the stone in your hand up. The eighth stage is to create a cave, put all the stones in and then pick them all up at once.

At each stage you have three tries to complete your goal without letting the stone you toss up touch the ground. Should you fail, the stones are handed to the next player.

This seems to be the ultimate Nepali game, the material is completely Nepali and the imagination that goes into creating the strongest chyamputee is at par with the skill that goes into strengthening strings for a kite fight during Dasain. The name, Chyamputee, is the Nepali word for the seed of a fruit found only in the highlands of Nepal called lapsi. (You might know it from the sweet lapsi fruit candies and chutneys that are available in the market.)

The first stage in playing this game is to create the chyamputee.  This involves separating the lapsi seed from the fleshy fruit part. The best method is to boil the fruit till the fleshy parts fall away. Then the seed is scrapped clean and left to dry. The dried seed is oval, and wider at the top. The bottom part is then rubbed on a stone, or concrete, or some other hard surface to give it a point. Expert players of the game also stick a needle at the bottom to give it a sharper tip.

The wider upper part of the seeds has small groves or eyes. Normally, a lapsi seed has five grooves but if you can find one with six then it is more coveted. Players also sometimes stick lead in the grooves to make the seed heavier so that it becomes more stable while playing.

The objective of the game is to spin the seeds towards each other and the first person to knock down the second players’ seed wins. The playing arena for the seeds is either thick piece of paper or the outer covering, the husk, of a large bamboo plant.

Baagh Chal
Bagh Chal  (or Moving Tigers) is probably the only game where you cannot really make up the rules as you go along. Though some rules might be flexible, this is a serious game that has its own set of guidelines. So be warned!

Baagh Chal is a strategic game played by two competitors . It has a specific board or playing area (sometimes marked out on a flat stone) made on a five by five point grid. It consists of four tigers (Baagh) and 20 goats. Each animal is controlled by one of the players. The motive of the game is for one player’s tigers to hunt the goats as the other play attempts to block the tiger’s moves.

The game is started by placing the four tigers, one each, at the four corners of the board. Then the goats move by being placed at the intersection of the lines. The first part of the game involves the tigers moving as the goats are placed on the board. The tigers hunt the goats by jumping over them in a manner similar to checkers. The tigers’ objective is to capture five goats to win or, conversely, the goats can win by blocking all of the tigers’ legal moves.

The competitors play alternately. The tigers can only capture one goat at a time after the match has started and they are not allowed to jump over another tiger. The goats cannot jump over tigers or other goats and can only move after all 20 have been placed on the board. Though the game now has a proper board and set pieces that are carved, the charm of the game is that it can be played on a grid drawn by chalk or in the dirt with large stones to represent the tigers and smaller ones to represent the goats. Sometimes in the villages you’ll see Baagh Chal grids marked out permanently in stone at a resting place beside a trail, where children gather to play.

Seven Stones
The most popular name for this game is, indeed, ‘Seven Stones’, in English. This is the name you’ll hear screamed out in schoolyards across the country. Though in Hindi it might be called Pithoo, in Nepal it was always popularly called Seven Stones, never Saat Dunga or any other variation. The actual seven stones denotes seven stones and a ball.

The game is played by two teams, and the more players the merrier. The seven stones are arranged one on top of another to form a stack. Then, from a distance, the participants queue and in turns a player from each team throws the ball at the stack. Once the player manages to topple at least one stone from the stack the teams are divided, and the team that has toppled the stones becomes the ‘runners’, and the opposite team is the ‘chasers’.

The runners split and run for cover once the stones fall. Their objective is to rearrange the stones to rebuild the stack. The chasers motive is to hit the runners with the ball. If a runner gets hit then he is out of the game. The chasers are only allowed to hit the runners below the knee and the runners can deflect the ball with fists. But should the runner touch the ball with an open palm then he is out of the game. Some versions let the chasers hit you anywhere on the body, but that hurts like hell! If the runners manage to re-stack the seven stones then they win, or if the chasers manage to hit all the runners then they win. While toppling the stones, if the player is able to knock only one down then it gives the runners an advantage, though in other versions of the game the chasers knock down all the stones once one is toppled.

Intu Mintu
Intu mintu is a popular take on the English game ‘Oranges and Lemons’. The rhyme that accompanies it does not make as much sense as Oranges and Lemons and neither does it have very much to do with clock towers. But it is definitely a game that is more interesting than the said Oranges and Lemons.

The game requires at least six or more players. First, two captains are chosen. These two go off in a corner to decide alternate names—anything from countries to animals. They then come back and create a bridge holding each other’s palms as the other players pass underneath. A chant is sung during this process: “Intu Mintu London ma, Hamro baba paltaan ma, Esckoola ko paale dai, Pahilo ghanti bajaideu, tinnnnniiinnnniiinniiinnnii, jhyaapa” (Intu and Mintu are in London, Our father is in the army, please gatekeeper of the school, ring the first bell”). The tinnnininini part is the ringing of the bells and the captains can prolong it as long as they want. With the jhyaapa they lower their arms to capture one of the players passing underneath.  The captured player is taken to a corner and asked to choose from the two alternate names the captains have given themselves to preserve anonymity. Depending on the choice the captured player is assigned a team. This continues till every player is captured and assigned a team.

Then a line is drawn and the captains reach across to hold hands as their teams form a chain behind them as a game of tug-o-war begins. Bet Oranges and Lemons did not end in a tug-o-war! Whichever team wins the tug-o-war is the winner of the entire game.  In another version the game is played without the tug-o-war at the end nor with the alternate names for the captains. The last player captured going under the bridge automatically wins the game.

The list of Nepali street games does not end with these seven. There are variations of games played the world over such as Ghoi (Hopscotch) or Ghuccha (Marbles). Different versions of the games described here can also be found in different corners of the world. The essentials do not change. Children need entertainment and use whatever materials are around to create them, either through their imaginations or from stories they have heard.

The question remains, though: When was the last time that you took time out to play one of these games? Put away the laptop, the remote control or Nintendo and step outside. The weather is getting warmer and is perfect for a street game or two.