It’s lunch hour inside the newly revamped colonial-era building that houses the historic Government Elementary School in Amritsar’s Ram Bagh, and 7-year-old Rohit has just rolled the dice to travel the squares on the giant game board built on the floor at the school courtyard. As the Class 2 student makes his move, his opponents stand in a huddle around contrasting yellow and green stones, waiting for their turn in the game of ‘Mokshapat’ — the original version of ‘snakes and ladders’ popular in ancient India not just as entertainment, but as a way to impart moral teachings.
Heritage conservation experts have created the game inside the school under Centre’s flagship scheme for 12 cities, including Amritsar — the Heritage City Development and Augmentation Yojana (HRIDAY).
The school building where ‘Mokshapat’ — also called ‘Mokshapadam’ or ‘Mokshapath’ — has been created is also a colonial-era building which has been completely revamped to create more classrooms, but without compromising the authentic heritage look of the building.
The historic school is a part of the Ram Bagh Gate premises, which too has been revamped under the project. The site is significant as it is the only surviving ‘gate’ built during reign of Maharaja Ranjit Singh in Amritsar. The other eleven gates were destroyed by the British. Punjab Cultural Affairs Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu will be inaugurate the revamped heritage site on Friday.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Gurmeet Sangha Rai, Director, Cultural Resource Conservation Initiative (CRCI) and government-appointed city anchor for Amritsar under the HRIDAY project, said, “The government school building is from the colonial era and was made using nankshahi bricks. We have created Mokshapat for kids to teach them while playing the difference between right and wrong. While good habits have been written in squares having ladders that will take them up, bad habits have been written in squares having snake heads. The contrasting Jaisalmeri (yellow) and Kota (green) stones have been used to complete the look. The words have been written in Punjabi to make kids understand.”
The good habits written on ladders on Mokshapat include — sewa (service), waddeyan da aadar karna (respecting elders), mehnat (hard work), pyaar (affection) and sach bolna (speaking the truth). The bad ones with snake heads include: nasha (drugs), jhooth bolna (lying), ladaai karna (picking fights), chori (stealing) and gaal kadna (abusing others).
Apart from the snakes and ladders floor created for students, three new classrooms and a kitchen have been created but without harming original heritage look. Also, two games of ‘stapu’ (hopscotch) in Hindi and Punjabi have been created.
“It is believed that Mokshapat (meaning path to salvation) was invented by 13th century a saint, Gyandev. It was aimed at teaching children difference between good and bad. Later, British turned it into modern snakes and ladders which was their own version. We wanted to keep that Indian element intact so that heritage of India can be preserved in true sense. We have also retained authentic outer wall and arches at school building,” said Rai.
Charanjit Kaur, head teacher at the school said that children are really happy with their revamped school building and snakes and ladders on the floor to play. “Since it is a very old building, the roof used to leak and there were only two classrooms for five classes. Now we have five classrooms and a kitchen apart from snakes and ladders floor,” she said.
Shankarji Jha, Dean University Instruction (DUI) and Sanskrit professor, Panjab University, Chandigarh, said, “Mokshapat or Mokshapath signifies way to peace and salvation. Some also write it as Mokshapadam which signifies place where peace will be found. The game is believed to have been invented by saint Gyandev and was aimed at teaching differences between good and evil and later it was adapted by British to create modern snakes and ladders.”
Amritsar is expected to get an additional grant of Rs 17 crore apart from Rs 69 crore already sanctioned for heritage conservation under HRIDAY, said Rai.