Posted on: 14 December 2013

A game of Pachisi, India, 1855
Painting by a British artist William Carpenter

William Carpenter was the eldest son of the distinguished portrait painter Margaret Sarah Carpenter and of William Hookham Carpenter, who became Keeper of the Prints and Drawings Department at the British Museum. In early 1850 he set off in the footsteps of his younger brother Percy, also an artist, and landed in Bombay. He spent much of his time painting portraits of local rulers and the surrounding countryside, often wearing Indian dress himself. He travelled widely, from Sri Lanka in the south to Kashmir in the north, and he also spent some time in the Punjab and Afghanistan before moving south to Rajasthan. He appears to have returned to England in 1856. Ten years later he was living in Boston, USA, but he later returned to London, where he died in 1899. Carpenter's Indian pictures display a particular interest in costume, agriculture, and the day-to-day lives of the local inhabitants.

This painting shows four men playing pachisi at Mandhata. Pachisi (the Hindi for ‘twenty-five’) is a game of great antiquity played on a cruciform board with binary lots in the form of cowrie shells; the British game of Ludo is a derivative.

Copyright: © V&A Images

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I love Carpenter's watercolours. The most sensitive and evocative of 19th c India.

There's an American variant, spelled "Parcheesi." I played it a lot as a kid.

It's also called pagade in Kannada; my granny, aunts and I still play this game.