Alaguli Mane (Indian Mancala)

pallanguzhi alaguli mane vamana guntalu

The name alaguli mane (ಅಳಿ ಗುಳಿ ಮಣೆ) or chenne mane (ಚೆನ್ನೆಮಣೆ) or pallanguzhi (பல்லாங்குழி) or vamana guntalu (వామన గుంటలు) or kuzhipara (പല്ലാങ്കുഴി) brings a lot of sweet memories of a bygone era – childhood spent  playing with grandparents and cousins. The rush of those precious moments make those memories that much more special.

It wouldn’t be wrong to call this the “abacus” tool of ancient India. This is one game which makes everyone happy without needing to wrack their brain.

The game has also been academically proven to help children with neuro-developmental disabilities when used therapeutically.

The Mancala global game family

Pallankuzhi variants from across the world

The family of ‘pit and pebble games’, usually termed Mancala, all involving sowing and harvesting of identical pebbles, with many distinct rules of play, is quite widely spread geographically and temporally. The types of game boards also vary – rock-carved boards to pits dug in sand and ones made from material as varied as wood to ivory inlaid with gold.

Archaeological findings from sites such as the Karnak Temple in Egypt, Pyramids of Meroe, Palymra in Syria, Theseum in Athens indicate the presence of the game from the beginnings of human civilization. You may want to look at some references listed at the end of this article for details.

The game has many connotations. In many communities, the game has been associated with rituals and festivities around invoking rain, celebrating a harvest, birth and death, etc. In parts of Africa it is a “noisy social occasion with cheers and jeers, laughter and occasionally anger and brawling”. Though a two-player game it often takes on the face of a team game, with the boundaries between players and spectators blurring.

Among some African tribes the chieftain is chosen by playing a game of Mancala. In most African countries Mancala is a game only for men, unlike in India. Townshend (1979) hypothesizes that a woman defeating a man at a public game, or ridiculing the loser, would be a dent to male power. The game is considered a means to educate young men on the social values embodied by the elders and not learning to play would be considered anti-social.

Folk games encompass a variety of functions and can potentially be used for therapeutic purposes in children

alaguli mane is carved in wood, brass or stone usually. A simple though difficult to use variant – the circles simply  drawn on the floor using chalk. The holes in the wood are natively called guntalu, kuLi, gotu, guNi,  haLLa. 

Globally popular as the “Mancala game family”, alaguli mane is known by different names across India

  • Karnataka – Chenne MaNe, Channa maNe, alaguli maNe, guLi mane, goTi maNe, haraLu maNe,  haraLu mane, haluguli maNe, haLLaguLLi mane, patta maNe, kudgol maNe. 
  • Tulu Naadu (part of southwestern coastal India) – Chenne maNE gobbaDu.
  • Konkan – gurpale
  • Andhra – Vamana guntalu, vanagalla Peetha, Vamana gunTa peetha.
  • Tamil Nadu – Pallankuzhi, pallanguzhi 
  • Rayalaseema areas – Gotuguni aata 

In Karnataka and Tamil Nadu we commonly see two rows of 7 cavities making it 14 pits altogether. In  Andhra, either 5 or 7 pairs of pits are found making it 10 or 14 cavities. It is observed that the  cavities are more when this game is found on river banks, rocks or boulders, historic places and the  temple precincts. 

Pairs of the pits are always seen in odd numbers such as 9 or 11 or 15 or 21. 

The pawns/coins used in this game are usually commonly available seeds. Cowrie shells,  ಚನ್ನೇ ಕಾಯಿ, beech tree seeds, rosary pea (abrus precatorius), Red lucky seeds/coral seeds/Red  sandalwood seed/bead tree seeds, tamarind seeds, horse gram.

If nothing is handy, it is played using the humble peanuts/groundnuts. One who wins the game, gets to eat the nuts as well! 

As with the numerous names, the method of playing also varies across the country. The variants differ in the way of picking the coins/seeds from the pit, dropping it, sweeping the pits, numbers of players, stages of the game, etc.

There are about 20 versions of the game that we’re documenting.  

The games (in kannada) are saadaa aata, pattada aata, jodi pattada aata, karu haakuva aata, seete aata, arasana aata, arasa-okkalu aata, katte mane aata, moole mane aata, etc.

  • Like for a person playing solo – seetha game, never ending game. 
  • Two-people playing game – sada (plain/normal), hegge game, Timbata, Moole mane (Corner home) 
  • For three people – king-minister-commoner game.

Just as the varied names and versions of this game, the phrases used are also diverse. Keeping the ‘datta’ right, making of a ‘calf’, seed that turned into a ‘rodent’, sowing seeds, harvesting the field,  rotting of a ‘calf’, etc. (See below for the meanings of some of these terms used)

For example, the player should own the calf at the right time when an exact number of seeds is in his  respective row. If the opportunity is overlooked or missed, the calf is rotten and the player cant own  the cavity/pit for himself. The opponent remains quiet and straight faced when he sees this  happening.  

Hence, the game calls for keen observation, smartness, hand-eye co-ordination and an excellent  workout for the brain. 

alaguli mane is an exceptional game to teach children the four basic mathematical operations of  addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. Fractions can be explained and taught from  concrete to abstract. The understanding this way is etched in young minds and remains forever. 

Meanings of the terms used

maNe – The main play piece which has two rows of 5 or 7 cavities totaling to 10 or 14 pits. Usually  made out of wood, brass or stone. 

hegga – the overflowing big cavity at the edge of the MaNe usually overfilled than its capacity with  the seeds. The ones eligible which are stored as coins to be used in the play are also called pegga or  hegga. 

patta/paNata/panta – These are the coins/seeds one owns during the course of play. Also  sometimes called Onti Patta. 

jOdi patta – the cavity owned by a player eligible to store the seeds and its opposite cavity.  Synonyms used in Karnataka and other regions are – jOdi mane kayi, jOdi hegge, jOdi pegga, jOdi  hegga. 

guLi – The cavity on the maNe is called a guLi. Also called guntalu, kuLi, gotu, guNi, haLLa, mane,  kONe, honDa.

bittu – The process or action of dropping a seed into each guNi. Exact translation is sowing. 

bitturaLi – In the last stages of the game, when there are 5 or less than 5 seeds to fill the cavity/guLi,  dropping a single seed in the cavities.

‘Calf’ – Once the game begins, the cavity which has 4 seeds collected is called the ‘calf’. In Andhra, it  is known as ‘pashu’, and in the Tamil Nadu side it is called ‘pasu’. ‘Calf is born/made’ is the common  phrase used. 

Creation of the “Calf”
  • When the cavity has collected 4 seeds, if the game is begun with 4 seeds in  each cavity 
  • When the cavity has collected 5 seeds, if the game is begun with 5 seeds in  each cavity 
  • When the cavity has collected 7 seeds, if the game is begun with 7 seeds in  each cavity 
  • When the cavity has collected 6 seeds, if the game is begun with 12 seeds in  each cavity 

piggy – After a round of play, if any player has less than required seeds to fill in all the cavities, those  pits will have to remain empty on his side. This empty cavities are called piggy. These piggy cavities  are not counted till the next round of game. piggy is also called pottu, suTTa guli.  

The sets from Roll the Dice include bright colored stones to mark the piggy cavities.