Cowry game replaces gambling in Odisha during Laxmi Puja

Kendrapara: Shiny and sparkly cowries shells have come to the centre-stage to add colour to the festive Laxmi puja and to replace gambling.

Cowry shell and the game of gambling had become synonymous. But in a departure from practice, the unique cowries shell game has replaced unlawful gambling ritual during Laxmi puja in Odisha s Kendrapara district.

Elsewhere people indulge in gambling during Laxmi puja. But we are averse to gambling. We observe the annual festival by taking part in cowries play. For us Goddess and cowries are harbinger of peace, prosperity and wealth , said Ramakant Mohanty, a village elder of Angulei hamlet.

Practice of cowries shell game in the form of gambling was in vogue during Laxmi puja for quite a long while. We stopped taking part in gambling game and took to playing cowries in groups. Because it was developing gambling habit in villagers even after the puja ends , he said.

It s ritualistic tradition that has been going on here since long. Belief holding firm amongst the villagers is that it brings luck and prosperity. Cowries game ritual is still in vogue at the Puri Lord Jagannath temple during Laxmi puja.

Cowry game is the major attraction of puja in several villages of Kendrapara. All families regardless of age, caste and creed take part in it. It s a typical game played between four groups with each group comprising three members.

Cowries are tossed up on a dice-like sheet. There are points for upward and downward fall of cowry. For each upward fall, there are added points while downward fall negates the scored points. The game lasts for about two to three hours.

“We are organizing competitions for cowries games.

The winners in children, boys, girls, women and men s sections were awarded handsomely. This imbibes competitive spirit in the game,” said another villager.

For the villagers, shells of cowries are auspicious symbols. After the Laxmi puja, the shells are preserved with care. During pre-independence days, cowries were being used as some sort of currencies in these villages. These shinny and egg-shaped shells were also used as means of barter exchange in many villages of Jagatsinghpur and Kendrapara district , observed Basudev Das, researcher.