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Gambling In Ancient India – Dice in Vedas

Gambling was common in ancient India and it is mentioned in the Rig Veda. It was considered unethical. Gambling with dice (aksha) was very common during the Vedic period. A gambler was known as kitava in the Vedas and he was shunned by the society. There are numerous stories of downfall and repentance of gamblers in Hindu scriptures.

About 150 nuts of a large tree called Vibhitaka (Terminalia Bellerica) was used in the ancient game of dice.

In Rig Veda Sukta (10.34), a gambler laments the misery he has brought upon himself and his family by his inability to resist the temptation of dice (X. 34, 1-14). The gambler describes how he drove away his devoted wife when he was drawn to a game of dice. He was detested, and then deserted by all.

Vedas give various small stories and experience of gamblers. A gambler refers to himself as a cheat. Though he declines to go with his friends for the game, the sound of the dice lures him and he goes there “like a courtesan to the destination.”

The gambler is not sure about his victory in dice play and apprehends the dice rolling, counter to his desire and ends up making his opponent win.

It pains the gambler to see women (other than his wife) running their orderly homes.
‘The dice’ says the sukta ‘are indeed armed with a hook and a goad; the insult, torment and incite others to torment the gambler.’

The gambler having learnt a bitter lesson advises others: do not play with dice, plough the field and rejoice in property.

The gambler takes to cultivation along with his family in order to clear his debts.
There are satirical references to the gambler as “the pillar of the dicing hall” – as he is drawn to the gambling hall by the sound of the rolling dice.

Manusmriti (IX 220-28) lays down that a king should banish the gambler (kitava). It further advises one not to indulge in dice-play even for merriment.

Source - Notes taken from Encyclopedia Of Hinduism Volume IV published by IHRF page 175