Tabul Phale, a Goan board game

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Deepank Ranka
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This is an 18th c. indigenous board game of Goa called Tabul Phale, from the collection of Bagore Ki Haveli Museum in Udaipur. Its nomenclature derives from the wooden plank/board called ‘Tabul’ and the dicing sticks called ‘phale’.  It is a two player game, with 12 pegs or pieces each of two different colours aligned on opposite sides of the board. The 4 sticks are painted and rounded on one side, and plain on the other.

The 12 x 4 squared board or ‘phale’ is vibrantly awash in colours of yellow, orange, and olive green, decorated with floral motifs on the side, known as ‘chitari’ art, named after the Chitari community, in Demani Village in Cuncolim, Goa that produces it today. They make all sorts of artefacts and toys using this art form such as advoli (traditional cutting board), paat (wooden stool), wooden vegetables and ganjifa cards.

Variations of Tabul Phale

Over the years, the art form spread to Sawantwadi and Mangalore which possibly explains the production of Tabul Phale, or its variants in adjacent Maharashtra and Karnataka. In Sawantwadi, ‘Tabalphal’ is sold today in the Chitrali gully or Painter’s lane. Here the tradition is well preserved because of its patronage by the Royal family, the Bhonsles.

Tabul Phale bears a striking resemblance to the ‘Tablaan’, an indigenous board game of Karnataka. Instead of the wooden board, a cloth fabric with 12 x 4 squares is used, while the numbering of the sticks is also different, with only 2,8,12 score points which can be split equally while playing.

While Goa’s geographical proximity to Maharashtra and Karnataka is seemingly plausible for the similarities and production of the game, what is fascinating is Tabul Phale’s  resemblance to an Egyptian Game, called ‘Tab’ as noted by R.C Bells in his book, “Board and Table Games from Many Civilisations.” The similar nomenclature further makes one question whether one evolved from the other, giving clues into the links between Egypt and India in the ancient times! 

Attempts to revive indigenous Indian games today, have led to Tabul Phale being played once again.

How to play Tabul Phale

Watch this video tutorial for a demonstration of the game!

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