|Game of Snakes and Ladders, India, 19th century, Gouache on cloth|
The game of snake and ladders was discovered in India by Gyandev in the 13th century. Snakes and Ladders originated in India as part of a family of dice board games, including pachisi (present-day Ludo). It was known as moksha pAtam or vaikunthapaali or paramapada sopaanam (the ladder to salvation). The game made its way to England and was sold as Snakes and Ladders, then the basic concept was introduced in the United States as Chutes and Ladders (an "improved new version of England's famous indoor sport") by game pioneer Milton Bradley in 1943.
Known as Moksha Patam, the game was popular in ancient India and emphasized the role of fate or karma. A Jain version, Gyanbazi, dates to the 16th century. The game was called Leela and reflected the Hinduism consciousness surrounding everyday life. The underlying ideals of the game inspired a newer version to be introduced in Victorian England in 1892.
Moksha Patam was associated with traditional Hindu philosophy contrasting karma and kama, or destiny and desire. It emphasized destiny, as opposed to games such as pachisi, which focused on life as a mixture of skill (free will) and luck. The game has also been interpreted and used as a tool for teaching the effects of good deeds versus bad. The ladders represented virtues such as generosity, faith, and humility, while the snakes represented vices such as lust, anger, murder, and theft. The morality lesson of the game was that a person can attain salvation (Moksha) through doing good, whereas by doing evil one will inherit rebirth to lower forms of life. The number of ladders was less than the number of snakes as a reminder that a path of good is much more difficult to tread than a path of sins. Presumably the number "100" represented Moksha (salvation). In Andhra Pradesh, snakes and ladders is played in the name of Vaikuntapali.