Does God play dice!

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This is from my blog on traditional board games of India for a trust, Ramsons Kala Prathisthana, in Mysore. The blog, kreeda kaushalya, features many such games with rules about to play the games.

Submitted: June 08, 2013

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Submitted: June 08, 2013



Ever since early man, could have been the hunter of the sabre-tooth tiger or any one of the crowd in the movie, ‘10,000BC,’ who discovered that by chucking a pair of pebbles  at the buxom blonde ( She was blonde in the movie) and trying to figure out which way they fell, could  figure out the mystery of the universe, in other words the contrary nature of women. Nobody has figured out women just like nobody has figured out the Universe!

Our ancient ancestors, and superstitious people to this very day, shared the belief that every event that occurs is ultimately caused by a god or gods.

 It was to figure out the omens that our ancestors threw dice. And when bored of trying to figure out about answers to questions such s when to go out for a  hunt or a mate, decided that dice could also be a part of a game. ‘Two canines of the sabre tooth against your wooly mamoth’s tusk ‘ kind of thing that was decided by the throw of the dice.

In many parts of India  and perhaps South Asia, the throwing of dice to decide whether to take a bus journey or solve one of life’s problems is common.

So does God then play with dice.

In a letter to Max Bohm, Albert Einstein had written, “ You believe in a God who plays dice, and I in complete law and order.”

Terry Pratchett in ‘ Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch writes: “God does not play dice with the universe; He plays an ineffable game of His own devising, which might be compared, from the perspective of any of the other players [i.e. everybody], to being involved in an obscure and complex variant of poker in a pitch-dark room, with blank cards, for infinite stakes, with a Dealer who won't tell you the rules, and who smiles all the time.”

John Ford of the Georgia Institute of Technology further clarifies this statement: “ God plays dice with the Universe. But they are loaded dice. And the main objective of physics is to find out by what rules  they dice were loaded  and how we can use them for our own ends.”

But does God play with loaded dice? We will never know!

Seers of yore composed a verse that is found in the oldest Vedic text, the Rg Veda. Called ‘ The Gamester’s Lament’  , its goes something like this :

The dangling nuts, born where the wind blows the lofty tree,

delight me with their rolling on the board.

The cheering vibhidaka has brought me joy,

like a draught of soma from Mount Mujavant.”

But after this euphoric draught of the intoxicating’ Soma’, the gamblers bemoans  the loss of his wife and wealth through his addiction.

The Skanda Purana  also refers to the use of dice in an early form of backgammon played by the God Shiva and His Consort, Parvathi. In this particular game, the God shiva is left with nothing except his loin cloth. But of course he casts a spell on the dice  and plays to win!

The great Indian epic, Mahabharata  which concludes with mass mayhem was the result of losing a gamble on the throw of dice. The villain, Duryodana abetted by  his uncle, a shrewd exponent of the art of throwing a pair of dice, wins and the saintly loser gathers together his brothers and wife and heads for the woods.

This feckless king, Yudisthara finally wins back the kingdom in the  great war but that is another story.

Going back to the tale of the God Shiva playing backgammon with His consort, Parvathi, we find this dalliance being depicted as sculptures in almost most of the ancient temples across India like the Kailasa temple at Ellora and at the Ramesvara cave also at Ellora, the lintel at  Madhukeshava temple, Mukhalingam in Andhra Pradesh.

A few lines from Chapter Four of the Skanda Purana is worth reproducing here:

 ‘ O God of Gods, your game is the whole Universe.’


‘The two dice are the paths of the Sun(ayane),

The two outcomes, victory and defeat

are  called Creation and Dissolution,

when Devi  wins there is Emanation

When Dhurjati ( Shiva) wins there is Reabsorbtion.’


While you two are engaged in playing,

Continued existence( of the Universe) is upheld.

A post script is in order here. The neighbour in Malgudi-Mysore who never stepped out without throwing a handful of cowrie shells just to get a feel of the lay of the land, did so one day and after an extremely auspicious result, stepped out and walked smack bang into a temple bull ( or Nandi that is usually donated to  the local temple and has a habit of butting people and  vehicles out of its way) and was tossed into the nearby garbage heap with a couple of broken ribs. There is a message here somewhere!



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