Devabhaasha: Making Learning ‘Language Of The Gods’ A Child’s Play, One Card At A Time
Swarajya spoke to Neelcantan Balasubramanian (Neel), who along with his partner Charu Smitha Rao created 'Devabhaasha', the world’s first Sanskrit card game.
It is not easy to pass on that which is a few thousand years old, however valuable, when its domain of usage becomes restricted, more so in the case of a language.
And acquiring it becomes even tougher a task if you have to do it attending classes that put grammar first.
These two can be said to be the greatest impediments ailing the pursuit of the language of our Gods or ‘Devbhaasha’ Sanskrit for a large section of urban Indians, especially who may not have the time or access to acquire it naturally.
And it is this gap that an effort by a group of innovators have tried to fill by creating Devbhaasha, the world’s first Sanskrit card game. And the story of its creation is as interesting as the rules and the design of this unique card game.
Swarajya spoke to the Neelcantan Balasubramanian (Neel), whose brainchild it be on its journey so far in this unique space of ‘Indic gaming’.
As a board game enthusiast, Neel and his partner Charusmitha Rao who founded Coolture Designs and one of the first things they had created was a game on Bengaluru and Kannada, but ‘that game didn't make it because we somehow got lost but is in the prototype stage now’.
When people come to Bengaluru, they do not pick up Kannada for various reasons, and hence the duo decided to create a game that involves the language element.
The project that they called ‘Explooru’ got stuck and shelved back. But the interest to bridge language learning and board games remained in the back of their minds.
Neel, a leadership trainer who works in the learning and development sector, had his first tryst with creating something of this kind when he had to make an ideation tool and found that there were no ’Indian’ ones.
That got him thinking, and with collaborators from Mumbai, led to the creation of a toolkit 108 per cent Indian Creativity Deck - which is a thinking tool based on Indian cultural elements.
Meanwhile, the idea of a Sanskrit game had rested at the back of his mind, which led him to start learning Sanskrit in 2017 from a scholar Swaroop Ranganath who is now a collaborator of the game.
The thought was discussed, but it stayed there as just that. When the Government of India announced the Toycathon in 2021, Neel submitted a proposal seeking to create a game in Sanskrit.
‘I had submitted a very high-level sketch with three slides which they reviewed and sent to the final. They liked the idea, which is when we actually started working on it,” says Neel looking back at its journey.
Why not use colour patterns and visuals to make people learn the language without having to know the grammar since the traditional route is to go the ‘rama ramaha rameti’ way, thought the team.
“Since we learn all other languages this way. Imagine, to learn english, you first had to study Wren and Martin…So I felt that there was scope to make it into a game, though little did I know that the degree of difficulty was a little too high,” says Neel narrating the motivation behind this effort.
Scholars backed them with inputs while they designed a very simple structure. ‘Star, diamond, circle will give you a sentence’.
All the game mechanics are driven by Sanskrit grammar, and you don’t need to know it.
You just need to know that ‘star, diamond, circle create your sentence’ and additional cards can be used to make your sentence longer and steal points from other players and how you can scuttle chances of another player doing the same. That brought in the competition element too.
Grammar riddles will appear, but they all get solved visually. You only have to follow the rules of the game.
"Also we have tried to make basic Sanskrit grammar into a metro map. Which means, technically, if you follow star-diamond-circle on the red line you will get ‘dwithiya vibhakti’, on the yellow you will get ‘thrithiya vibhakti',’’ he explains.
‘All rules of grammar thus have encoded by using ticking and crossing some diamonds. This was difficult, writing the rule book especially, which also underwent multiple rounds of revision and more than 100 hours of testing to begin with,’ he adds.
Working to create it has been an interesting tale, says Neel, for the entire team behind its creation has worked virtually and only met at the launch of the game last month.
Winning the Toycathon was a huge boost to their confidence which encouraged them to have a big launch for the game shares Neel.
An event was held for the same this month that saw well known advocate J Saideepak Iyer, Sridhar Vembu in attendance.
Backed by the Toycathon victory, which also gave them a small reward of Rs 25,000, they, upon completion, went back to the AICTE, and showed them the finished product.
‘They loved it and sent it to all the schools saying a product of this kind exists. But the most important part is that we have had a platform to showcase an idea like this,' says Neel.
"Toycathon made it possible, and it has resulted in some really amazing products, like the Kollam game designed by someone from Chennai. Without Toycathon, we wouldn't have done it,” shares Neel, adding that the idea would ‘else be lying in my head’.
The game is a beginning and doesn't claim to be exhaustive.
“It covers only 60-70 per cent of the level 1 work book. Also you have to play it a few times to get to start learning. So the idea is to play by learning and learn while playing," adds Neel.
And the response to the effort has been encouraging shares Neel, as a lot of people took to social media to laud our efforts and the product.
“What has really been exciting for people, I think, is that somebody has come up with a simple way of playing Samskritam - a very non-conventional way,” says Neel.
“What we have done is basically used Samskrita grammar as a base for game mechanics. And I think it is sheer chance that I happened to be interested in both and could club the two and create this,” he adds, as nearly 400 boxes have been sold already.
The only rider being that you need to know the Devanagari script, and so children introduced to the script in school, say above eight years of age, can play this game.
The team is also working on level 0 - a prototype of which was also launched with the game. This will delve into the ‘magic of root words of Samskrita’.
‘Since every word has a deeper meaning and we want to bring that out. So we wanted to create a simple game which brings that out and that is what we are working on right now,’ shares Neel.
Neel, alongwith Thotpot Designs (where you can get your pack from), The Mcmutton project, team Sattva headed by Dr Swaroop Ranganath have made this unique effort to make learning the language of the gods a child’s play quite literally.
As you are no doubt aware, Swarajya is a media product that is directly dependent on support from its readers in the form of subscriptions. We do not have the muscle and backing of a large media conglomerate nor are we playing for the large advertisement sweep-stake.
Our business model is you and your subscription. And in challenging times like these, we need your support now more than ever.
We deliver over 10 - 15 high quality articles with expert insights and views. From 7AM in the morning to 10PM late night we operate to ensure you, the reader, get to see what is just right.
Becoming a Patron or a subscriber for as little as Rs 1200/year is the best way you can support our efforts.