The following points highlight the top three types of amusements and recreations during medieval times. The types are: 1. Military and Physical Sports 2. Indoor Amusements 3. Popular Amusements.
Type # 1. Military and Physical Sports:
The military and physical sports were popular with active soldiers or those who enjoyed physical exertion. These included polo, fencing, wrestling, horse- racing, dog racing, arrow shooting and others. The most popular means of amusement was wrestling, popularly known as kushti or dangal. It was a sort of physical feat to decide the claims of superiority between two contenders. Members of all sections of society took interest in wrestling.
Archery was another military sports. Contests in shooting of arrows were arranged from time to time and the champions of shooting was given due honour. Similar contests were held in sword-play, discs (Chakra) throw and swimming.
The game of polo, which was introduced in India by the Muslims became popular among all the classes. It gained popularity with the coming of the Afghans. The people also took keen interest in horse-racing. In fact numerous scientific studies were made during the medieval times regarding the habits, food and nourishment of the horses.
The Sultans of Delhi imported special horses from Yemen and Oman for the purpose of racing. The Rajputs also paid great attention to the skill of horse-riding and encouraged horse-racing. Shikar was the most popular mode of amusement of the rulers and nobles.
The Muslims brought the traditions of Shikar or chase with them to India and almost every ruler of India from Qutb-ud Din Aibak to Akbar was fond of shikar. The Rajputs likewise were fond of shikar and the spring hunt in which the slaying of boar was considered a great religious act.
Some of the Sultans even set up regular establishments or departments for the royal chase. The common animals hunted were deer, nilgai and common fowl. The monarchs also took to lion hunting whenever the animal -was found. Though fishing was also popular, but it was considered less exciting than the shikar.
Type # 2. Indoor Amusements:
Jashans or social parties were the most popular type of indoor amusement. A jashan was a combination of so many items of amusement. Usually it started with music and dances and was followed by wine. The participants were given the choicest dishes, dried fruits etc. It may be noted that these jashans were purely private parties and the monarch abandoned the usual cannons of decorum.
The matters of high policy of the state as well as insignificant things were discussed in perfect geniality. Jashans on a much larger scale were observed by the rulers on special occasion like royal coronations. The-number of dignitaries invited to such parties was much larger. Sometimes even the common people shared the happiness of the monarch.
Chess, Chaupar, Nard (Persian backgammon) and cards were the most popular indoor games played by people of all classes. These games were played both with or without stakes. Chess was also very popular with the royal family.
The monarch not only played this game but also watched certain ace players playing this game. The wide popularity of this game with all the sections of society is acknowledged by Amir Khusrau and Malik Muhammad Jaisi in their works.
Chaupar, an ancient Indian game, continued to be popular throughout the middle ages, and is even today played under three different names viz Pachisi, Chausar, and Chaupar. The game of Chaupar was played with sixteen pieces in four sets each of a different colour.
Usually this game was played by four players, who were divided into teams of two. Each player has four pieces which he moves on the diagram of Chaupar according to the throw of dice.
Abul Fazal has given us some details about the game in his Akbarnama which explains how the diagram was drawn and also proves that no readymade tables for the game were available.
The diagram was drawn by drawing two parallel lines of equal length with two others bisecting them at right angles, forming a little square at the centre and four rectangles, each divided into four equal spaces of three rows on its (four) adjoining sides.
Chaupar was popular among all sections of society. In the seventeenth century it became the chief means of amusement for the royal court. Akbar started the game of Chandal Mandal on the basis of Chaupar in which human figures were substituted tor the pieces of chaupar.
The game of Nard (backgammon) was introduced in India by the Muslims and was played by 30 pieces in two sets of 15, each set having a distinct colour of its own on a square wood board divided into twenty-four squares of equal sizes. According to Ferishta this game was invented by Buzruj Mihr, Minister of Persijn King Nushirwan. The other prominent games of medieval times were Pachisi, Gutis is etc.
The Game of Cards was introduced in India for the first time By Babar, the founder of Mughal Empire in India. Akbar introduced certain modifications in the game. The game of cards became quite popular during the Mughal period both with the rich and the poor alike.
The game of cards continued to be a favorite of the emperors, with the exception of Aurangzeb. Various types of games were played with the card both with and without stakes both by the members of the high classes and the masses.
The other means of amusement were pigeon flying and cock- fighting. They were popular with both the communities. Sultan Ala-ud-Din Khilji maintained a regular pigeon-house. Akbar also showed great interest in pigeon flying during his young days. He used to feed his own birds personally and termed this game as ‘Ishq-bazi’ or love making.
Type # 3. Popular Amusements:
Folk dances, songs, juggler’s tricks, religious festivals and pilgrimages to holy shrines were other methods of popular amusement. Dancing and singing was quite popular with the common man and was a great source of amusement and recreation to the village folk.
Usually the village people used to gather at the chow pal and sing their popular ballads and dance. During the month of Shrawan the popular Hindola and Savant were sung by members of all communities on the swings.
Ram-lilas and Krishna-lilas which were staged in all parts of the country and depicted the popular events of the life of Lord Krishna and Lord Rama, provided entertainment to the people. The acrobats and jugglers also provided entertainment to the common people as well as the classes.
Usually every ruler engaged certain acrobats to amuse himself and his guests. The acrobats performed various amazing tricks. These included the one in which they killed a man in front of audience and cut him into many pieces.
These pieces were concealed under a shroud. At the bidding of the acrobats the dead man came out alive. Likewise they performed various other tricks like growing of mango in the presence of the audience and providing the fruits for their taste. They swallowed swords and other things which looked quite amazing to the audience.
The tight-rope walk and puppet shows were other means of popular amusement. Usually these were formed in the fairs and other crowds. The contemporary writers have given us accounts of the performance of Tope-Trick.
The whole show was presented in the form of an episode. Describing the show Prof. Ashraf says that the trick was carried out in open in the following way—an acrobat appeared before the audience with a woman whom he addressed as his wife. He jokingly suggested for himself a journey into the heavens to look into the records of good and bad deeds of his audience.
Nobody disagreeing with his proposal, the acrobat took out a knotted rope from his pocket and holding one end in his hand threw the other into the air, which ascended and to a appearance, disappeared above. He climbed up this suspended rope as one does a ladder and soon vanished out of sight. After a while the various limbs of his body began to drop down one after another.
The wife collected them together and cremated them in the Hindu fashion, burning herself with them like a Sati. Sometime after this the acrobat suddenly appeared and asked for his wife. The whole story was repeated to him, which he pretended’ not to believe.
He accused his host or the distinguished man under whose patronage the trick was performed, of confining his wife wrongfully in his house and proceeded to call her from his female apartments whence she came beaming with smiles.
Performance by the monkey at the instance of the master and dance by the snakes were other means of amusement of the common people. Usually there performances were carried out in the streets, where children and ladies gathered to see the show.
Dancing was another important means of amusement which was available only to the rich people. The dances were arranged for the entertainment of the guests assembled on special occasions. Female dances and public women were hired to perform these dances.
The patar and rope dancing were the most popular items. During the times of Aurangzeb this luxury was done away with. He ordered the public women and dancing girls to either to get married or to leave realm.
Theatre was not that well advanced. But occasionally certain theatrical performances were arranged in which smooth-faced boys performed the women characters. Sciences from Mahabharata and Ramayana were the most popular subjects of these performances.
The Mughal kings were specially fond of theatre, dance and music. They even invited artists from other parts of the country to give performance before them. Shah Jahan invited certain actors from Gujarat, who gave a performance depicting the mal-administration in their kingdom.