Pachisi (also spelt Parcheesi, Pachisi, Parchisi, Parchesi; also known as Twenty-Five) is the National Game of India. The name comes from the Indian word "pacis" which means twenty five, the highest score that could be thrown with the cowry shells. Pachisi is, in fact, the younger sister of Chaupar (or Chausar or Chaupad), a more venerable, complex and skilful game that is still played in India.

The Indian Emperor Akbar I of the 16th century Mogul Empire, apparently played Chaupar on great courts constructed of inlaid marble. He would sit on a Dias four feet high in the centre of the court and throw the cowry shells. On the red and white squares around him, 16 beautiful women from the harem, appropriately coloured, would move around according to his directions. Remains of these boards can be seen today in Agra and Allahabad.

The image of the board to the right is courtesy of Mihrab Antiques and shows colourful cloth board with the distinctive beehive-shaped Chaupar pieces.

The origins of Pachisi and Chaupar are lost in time but uncertain evidence indicates that forms of the game were in existence in the Indian region from at least the 4th century AD. Both have hardly changed since Emperor Akbar played although the game is not as widely played in India as it once was. Pachisi boards are typically constructed of cloth, 6 cowry shells are thrown to determine the moves and the counters are made of wood in a beehive shape.

The board shown is a modern one made by Kathy M. Aldrich by kind permission of Beth Friedhoff of "The Americana Smorgasboard".

Pachisi is a 'Cross and Circle' game, variations of which appear all over the world e.g. Nyout from Korea which probably dates back at least as far as 300AD, Pancha Keliya from Ceylon and the elaborate 'Edris A Jin' from Syria. The Americas are supposed to have been colonised from North East Asia and this evidence is supported by the fact that Cross and Circle games have been found across North and South America. Mayan games have been found from around 800 AD cut into ruins in Mexico and when Europeans conquered the Aztecs in 1521 they discovered a game similar to Pachisi being played by Montezuma's subjects. American Indians still play Cross and Circle race games today.

Modern Western variants

In 1896, a westernised version of Pachisi was published in England under the name Ludo (Latin for "I play"), a game which has been popular in that country ever since. The game however, is a highly simplistic version of Pachisi for children. The author has evidence that shows that a game called "Puchese" was published at the much earlier date of 11 April 1862 in England. Was this an earlier version of Pachisi? Watch this space.

To the right is pictured a miniature wooden game of Ludo owned by the author.

In America, there is evidence for home-made boards and boards without a clear origin from the 1850s. A dubious story credits the invention of Parcheesi to Sam Loyd who supposedly sold the rights to the game for $10 at one point but since Sam Loyd was a notorious self-publicist and deceiver, it is probably best to ignore this account. The earliest definite record is that John Hamilton of the Hudson River Valley claimed copyright to the game in 1867. Rights were apparently sold to an Albert Swift who then sold them on to Selchow and Righter in 1870 and this famous company trademarked the game in 1874. Parcheesi went on to become the bestselling game for Selchow & Richter Co. for decades.

In Germany, the game is known as "Mensch-rgere-dich-nicht" ("Don't-be-angry,-man") which was published in 1910. In Spain, there is "Parchis" and in France, "Le Jeu de Dada" or "Petits Chevaux". All of these versions are simplified childrens versions like Ludo. Stylised versions on a travel theme are played in Switzerland ("Eile mit Weile" - a game originally published in the late 1800s in Germany) and Italy ("Chi va Piano va Sano!").


These days dice are often used in Western cultures instead of cowry shells. Chaupar has always been played with "long dice". But for Pachisi, the scoring for cowry shells is as follows:

2 cowries with mouths up - 2
3 cowries with mouths up - 3
4 cowries with mouths up - 4
5 cowries with mouths up - 5
6 cowries with mouths up - 6 and another throw
1 cowries with mouth up - 10 and another throw
0 cowries with mouth up - 25 and another throw

Each piece starts in the middle space (called the Charkoni in Hindustani), moves down the appropriately coloured lane to the edge of the board, around the board in an anti-clockwise direction and then back up the same spoke to the middle again. They can only reach home, the Charkoni by an exact throw. Once a piece is back at the Charkoni, it is turned on its side to distinguish it from pieces that have not yet completed the circle. The players sitting opposite one another are partners - yellow and black play red and green. A "castle" (or marked square) occupied by a piece is open to that player's partner but other players cannot move onto it. The objective is for all the pieces of a player and his partner to complete the circle and return to the Charkoni.

Each throw of the cowries allows one piece only to move the indicated number of places. If a player earns another throw, a different piece can be moved for the next throw.
The first piece for each player can enter the game with any throw of the cowry shells. All subsequent pieces can enter only upon the throw of a 6, 10 or 25.
A capture occurs when a piece moves onto a square occupied by another piece unless the square is a marked "castle" square. A captured piece is returned to the Charkoni where a 6, 10 or 25 must be thrown to re-enter it into the game.
A player may pass his turn if he wishes and may also throw the cowries and then decide not to use the throw if desired.
Pieces may double up on any square but multiple men can be captured if they are hit by an equal or larger number of men belonging to the enemy (unless they are resting on a castle square).


A Java-based on-line Pachisi game by Jason Bloomberg

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