MINGORA: Engraved on a rectangular phylladic stone, the second century board game discovered from the Buddhist Complex of Amluk-Dara and put in Swat museum, has become the focus of attention of visitors.
‘Nine Men’s Morris’ or ‘Merels’ which is locally known as Qat and Manzarey or Azmarey in other Pakhtun areas is still a popular game for the people of all ages in Swat. It is played in villages.
However, people did not know that the game was played thousand years ago on the same land.
Discovery of relic shows the game has been played for centuries in the area
Dr Luca Maria Olivieri, the head of Italian Archaeological Mission in Pakistan, told Dawn that two large sub-rectangular phylladic stones present in Swat museum were found during excavation at Amluk-Dara Stupa.
“They belong to the original floor of the main Stupa, belonging to second/third century CE. The drawings consist of three concentric squares, connected by lines in the centre of each side,” he quoted Ulrich Schädler of the Swiss Museum of Games, La Tour-de-Peilz, Vaud, Switzerland.
Dr Schädler wrote a comprehensive essay on these pieces for the excavation report of Amluk-Dara. The essay was published by the mission and provincial department of archaeology and museums.
Dr Schädler wrote that the pattern was used as a surface to play the board game. The game is played by two players, each with nine counters — variants with 12 counters do also exist. The players try to put three counters in a straight line and by doing so remove an opponent’s counter. Each player tries to leave the opponent with less than three counters on the board. The counters should be of two different colours.
“More than two dozen round counters, black (made of stone) and red (cut out of potsherds), have been documented at Amulk-Dara. ‘Nine Men’s Morris’ boards are frequently found in India, inside temple precincts and elsewhere,” he said.
Shaw Wazir Khan, a researcher working on traditional games of Pakhtuns, said that the game was known in Swat by three names — Qat, Qatargunr and Dosey. It was played by men only, he added.
“During the former Swat state era men would gather and sit under big trees or along the streams. They would draw the game on a stone and played it. People would chat and share daily routine information while playing it,” Mr Khan told Dawn.
The people visiting the museum take interest in the board game and claim that the same game is played in Swat. “I am really astonished to see the board game in the museum carved on a flat stone with round counters of two different colours, exactly the same we play nowadays. It means that the game has been played since time unknown,” said Akbar Khan, a resident of Kabal.
Swat valley, known as Uddiyana in the ancient times, remained the centre of Buddhism. It is full of Buddhist and pre and post Buddhist ruins, rock carvings, monasteries, stupas, viharas, castles and watchtowers.
Published in Dawn, April 27th, 2017