Monday, September 22, 2008

Gambling and Mythology

Gambling is one of the oldest forms of entertainment and leisure known to man. Many civilizations have glorified gambling and it has been an intrinsic part in festivals and rituals. In fact gambling has played a major role in the formation of nations and in battles throughout the world. Gambling as we know it today has many signs which show its cultural rootedness and a particular game being played in a region might have rules peculiar to that region only. There are numerous instances from mythology and popular folklore of cultures around the world that show how gambling played a very important role in the lives of people. Today gambling is a multi billion dollar industry. One can access games from anywhere in the world through online casino sites and does not even need to be physically present at the casino to play the games. Here is a brief overview of how gambling has been a part of mythology in different culture around the world

The Indian Culture

Gambling as an activity might be considered a vice in India but it is an integral part of the Indian culture. In Indian mythology too gambling has played a very important role. In the Mahabharata which is one of the greatest epics of the Hindu religion the Kauravas and the Pandavas take part in a game of dice which is seen as the turning point in the story. The Pandavas lose everything, their kingdom, their right to rule and are sent to exile. On top of that the wife of the Pandavas, Draupadi is humiliated in open court by the Kauravas when Lord Krishna comes to her rescue. Thus the game of dice becomes the cause of the very dishonour of the Pandavas and it ultimately leads to the battle of Kurukshetra. Shakuni the uncle of the Kauravas is supposed to be an expert at the game of the dice and it is he who devises the devious plan to get the Kauravas involved with the Pandavas through the game. This is his act of revenge as he knows that the Kauravas won’t stand a chance in battle against the Pandavas. Thus we see that gambling is the key to the plot of the Mahabharata and shows that it was an accepted social activity during the Aryan period. If we observe the major festivals of India like Holi and Diwali then we find that gambling is supposed to be an auspicious activity on these days. These festivals herald the coming of newness in terms of colour, season and financial well being. It is said that if Lakhsmi the Goddess of wealth is generous to you on Diwali then the coming year will be a prosperous one. Thus on this day people gamble in millions and in almost every alternate household there is a big gambling party. Diwali truly is the material festival.

Gambling and the Greeks

Gambling found special importance in ancient Greece and the Greeks considered it more than just a fun filled activity. Just as it is today Greeks gambled in sports and races. It is said that there was huge betting in the ancient Olympics as well. In Greek mythology it is said that the sea, heaven and hell were created when Poseidon, Hades and Zeus sat at a game of dice. Zeus took Olympus, Hades the Underworld and Poseidon took the Sea. Another famous Greek myth is that Fortune was the daughter of Zeus and Tycho. Once Zeus accidentally met the goddess of Chance Tycho and the two together had a daughter called Fortune. Fortune being a goddess herself was very fond of games of chance and blessed those who played her games with passion and enthusiasm. Gambling was an important form of entertainment in ancient Greece and soldiers who were at war indulged in it regularly. There were even a number of gambling houses which paid regular taxes to the government. Many of the casino games some which are even played on online casino sites have their origin in the gambling houses of ancient Greece. They closely resemble the native games which are played with fervour in Greece even today.

The Romans Loved to Gamble

It is a fact that the Romans were hardcore gamblers and gambling was sort of a national pastime. Many historians state that gambling was in fact recognised as a major social problem in the Roman Empire. The Romans borrowed somewhat from Greek mythology when it comes to having their goddess of good luck. The Roman goddess of good luck was called Fortuna. She wore a blindfold and was supposed to be just with everyone. Her symbol was the wheel of fortune, something that is used even today in many games. The wheel of fortune is supposed to have given way to the Roulette and there are zillions of similarities between the two. There were big temples to the goddess in ancient Rome some of which survive even today and amazingly a lot of the people still look to her for good luck and prosperity.

Gambling in the Americas

The Mayans and Aztecs of America also practiced gambling on quite a large scale. Macuilxochitl was the Aztec God of gambling, feasts, music and dance. The Aztecs worshipped Macuilxochitl who was also known as Xochipilli. His name means five flowers and he was supposed to be very powerful bringing upon doom on anybody who insulted the game or cheated in it. The Mayans had a public domain for gambling. Gambling was a way to maximise profits for the high priests of Society. The ancient Mayans created a ball game which was very popular. People betted on the two teams and this was very similar to the soccer games we see today as there was a goal as well. Politics was also part of the game and it was well supported by religious leaders, the government officials and the commoners. It is somewhat scary to know that after the game either the winning team or the losing team was sacrificed to appease the Gods. So it was kind of a game of death. Thus we see that religion was deeply involved in the ballgame and people betted on who would walk out alive of the arena.

Thus it is seen that gambling has played a major role in many cultures around the world and the mythology of these cultures are full of legends which support the same.


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