Tag Archives: play

Play in ritual: Indian Wedding.

I have recently been to Delhi, India for a wedding. I was aware that there would be a great deal of ceremony, of ritual and I know a little about some playful traditions but I had no idea just how many games and how much play would be involved-in similar and very different ways to western weddings.

It was a Hindu wedding, a Vedic Brahmin marriage ceremony.  Games and play featured throughout the two days in a general sense, and in very specific elements too. There were times when free play just happened (of free will, by choice, self generated) and when people were instructed to play as part of the ceremony.

note: we were given booklets explaining the ceremony-anything in italics with inverted commas comes from the booklet.

Day one-the engagement, which featured rituals “known collectively under the name vratham”.

The outdoor area of our house, (essentially a car port) was beautifully transformed into a   celebratory space, decorating it with bright coloured material and flowers. Chairs and tables were decorated and of course food was prepared. The day started with Henna. Everyone was invited to have henna applied and the henna artists instead on bringing their own playlist to really liven up the morning! Henna was a great way to bring strangers together because as one has to let the henna dry, groups of people must stand with arms extended in odd positions for most of the morning. The shared silliness of the physicality and the collective avoidance of brushing against anything created a lot of fun and laughter. The father of the grooms impulsive ‘hands in pockets’ was a classic example.

Drummers soon arrived and the dancing began. Children retreated due to the volume, but they formed their own dance circle at a distance, and proceeded to tear and throw masses of flower petals, creating a maelstrom of blossom and naughty-ness.

Bottled water is a big feature of Delhi, as tap water is undrinkable and I loved how the mass of tiny bottles became play apparatus. All manner of throwing and tossing games were played, versions of cricket, bowling, catch, juggling. Skill was found in the amount of water left in bottles, in spin, hight and distance.

Throughout the afternoon rites were performed and family members had their parts to play. The main players were instructed where to stand, what to do, what the rules were and we as onlookers took in the uniting of families, communities and  our two loved ones.

Day two-the wedding or the Muhurtham took place at a temple across town. Rituals are of course carried through from distant times and although we live our lives differently, we continue the actions in a ceremony. This means we are often acting out stories, playing at being the characters of our ancestors.  This gave the shape to much of the days games.

The groom was “equipped with an umbrella, a walking stick, a palm leaf and a pair of footwear….ready to start on a trip to a foreign location…the city of Benares..a reputed centre of learning and dwelling place of many learned men”. The groom has two options-pursue higher levels of learning or get married. The brides family then persuade him to get married and to their bride. At this point, the groom must make out as if his mind is not yet made up try to make a run for it, several times while the brides family contain him. Bride and groom are life onto shoulders by friends and attempt throw garlands over each other.

The couple are then placed on a swing-to signify the ups and owns of married life and rituals carried on around them. One featured rice balls being thrown over shoulders, often almost hitting onlookers.

During all of this, was my favourite game of the wedding. I had come across it when researching wedding celebrations for Just So festival last year, but had no idea the stakes were so high!

The brides sisters, or female friends will try to steal the grooms shoes. If successful, the groom must buy back his shies before he can leave. It doesn’t matter if the shoes cost 99p-he can’t be married until he pays for them, and the price can go into hundreds of pounds!

We knew about the game in advance, so were ready (or so we thought). As soon as Groom’s  shoes were off, I put them on my feet. Oh and did the ‘sisters’ notice! Across the crowd eyes could be seen flashing around, down to me feet and knowing glances exchanged. We upped stakes by separating shoes, handing one to another guest. Everywhere we went, eyes watched us and whispers followed. The game was going well, but I felt it was a little skewed to our side, so I entrusted my shoe to a friend and walked barefoot across the temple, just to confuse the ‘sisters’. Ah, but how my confidence did undo me. The shoe was passed to the grooms mother-who was not warned of the stakes and quick as a flash, the sisters had it.

‘Ah! but you only have one’-I laughed

‘No. We have both.’

‘Eh?!’ Catastrophe!

A friend of the bride, from York no less, had been recruited as a double agent by the sisters! She had been staying with the family for a week. How silly of us to trust her! She simply walked up to mother and brother of groom, asked for the shoes and they gave them. Foiled! We managed to negotiate down to £100 in the end, and the brother paid, fessing up to his folly. Gosh-it was a brilliant game! I’m sure you’ll see versions of it in future Mufti Games missions!

Later, we came back together for ‘Nalangu’-a playful evening of indoor games. Essentially this section was a way of gamifying the rituals. Historically the couple may have been linked at a very young age, the games got the children used to the idea of ritual. The games kept the couple entertained and as they may also be strangers, they would break down barriers and allow the couple to get to know each other through play. Games at Nalangu included pretending to cook and groom each other, rolling and grabbing a coconut, decorating the bride with flowers, bride and groom singing to each other and the brilliant ‘smashing of poppadoms’ over each others heads!

Although these were very prescribed games, and were played under instruction from an elder, they were fun and celebratory and could break down barriers to allow a life of playfulness together.

The evening I got talking to Indian guests about the ceremony, about ‘hinduism’ and about language. I know that Mufti was an Urdu word and meant amongst other things ‘legal scholar’ but I had heard that it also related to a Hindi word related to play. One definition of ‘play’ is ‘a physical or mental leisure activity that is undertaken purely for enjoyment or amusement and has no other objective’.

Happily that evening I was informed that in Hindi, ‘Muft’ simply means ‘free’.

What is Mufti?

I’m often asked “what does mufti mean?”

The word is of Arabic origin, from late 16th Century: active participle of ‘aftā ‘decide a point of law’. The mufti is a Muslim legal expert who is empowered to give rulings on religious matters. It’s also a term used to describe civilian dress, especially as worn by a person who normally wears a military uniform. The term is thought to have originated around 1816 ‘perhaps from a mufti’s costume in stage plays, of robes, a fez and slippers, which was felt to resemble plain clothes.’

The last day of school is often known as ‘Mufti Day’ as students can wear their own clothes. In mine and Simon’s schools it was also a day when you could bring your own games in, so Mufti felt like a great name for the company.  As time has gone on, I’ve realised that not every school calls it Mufti Day but the terms reach is both far and sporadic. Simon grew up in Exmouth, me in Manchester but while one school in a city may have Mufti Day another next door may be ‘wear your own clothes day’ or something equally less catchy. What does your school call it? I’d be interested to know where it pops up.

I’ve also been told Mufti relates to a hindi word meaning play, but I can’t verify that yet- perhaps you can help us out?

I found this definition on warhistoryonline.com  ‘Mufti – derived from the Arabic word meaning free, this trench slang was used to point to civilian clothes and was frequently used among officers’

I can’t find any other translation saying Mufti means ‘free’ but it links well to law, freedom to dress how you choose and of course play. Mufti Games work is always free to participate in, thats an important factor for us. We want the work to be as accessible as possible. It’s also why we’ve found our home in the outdoor arts sector, anyone can stumble across our games and join in. Mufti Games believe strongly in the right to play and for everyone to have the freedom to play, no matter their age or background. Finding opportunities to invite play into your life enriches and nourishes, it makes life better. I’ll write more about this subject in another post…

So, ‘mufti’ is:

  • Muslim legal expert
  • Civilian clothes
  • day to play
  • theatre and games company dedicated to accessible, universal play


Leverhulme Retreat at Hawkwood College

I recently spent a week at Hawkwood College on an ‘arts retreat’. The week formed part of a Leverhulme Scholarship I was awarded by Bristol Old Vic Ferment and was paid for by Reckitts Trust, a charity that supports artist to have ‘time to breath in’ as one of the trust so eloquently put it. 

Other than mealtimes our week was not structured- we were to spend it how we wished. As well as the other ‘Bristol Scholars’ we met musicians and spoken word artists linked to Roundhouse, a children’s author finishing his first book for adults and a gaggle of women studying ‘Japanese Embroidery’.

The setting was perfect, a little outside Stroud, ‘over looking the Severn Vale’ in its own woodland. We had the chance to walk, talk, stop and think. We climbed trees, gazed at the stars and worked our way through our own reading lists along with eclectic titles from the Hawkwood library. I particularly enjoyed the Edwardian publications: stories from ancient Rome and a history of the religions of Central and South America. It was the first chance for our group to spend real time together and the cross collaborations- from dinner table chats to practical queries and spontaneous devising sessions were really invigorating. Rachel Clerke and I are both working on projects linked to housing and continued to play the following week.

I spent the first part of the week reading- ‘Play Matters’ by Miguel Sicart is a brilliant, accessible book about play theory and I got stuck into The Negotiation of Hope by Jeremy Till an excellent essay by Jeremy Till about Transformative Consultation in housing development. Just having the space to read and respond in my own time generated a huge amount of material and allowed me to sit back and build a clear plan for a forthcoming project. Being able to sit back and allow space was the most important part of the week. I could let my thoughts float up, bubble-like and slowly move them into constellations, like the Dalai Lama might play Tetris.

By Thursday I was ready to write. I locked myself away in a small room overlooking a garden and let text flow. I hadn’t planned to write necessarily, but the urge took me and I spent hours composing a monologue about the right to play, through the eyes of Arnold Binns- an old friend who will one day form the basis of a show. I would not have written that piece had I not had the time and space afforded by Hawkwood. Emails would have got in the way, or funding applications. Sales and meetings would have distracted me away from creativity. I Often reflect on the lack of space I allow myself to play and to be creative. I ‘make’ play activities and create platforms to encourage others to play but still find myself caught up in the angst of ‘making work’. I left the retreat floating- Emma- our producer- told my wife that it was the first time that she had ever seen me relaxed, yet within a week I was full of stress. In a sense, that was the most helpful thing, because I was able to see how quickly ‘tasks’ had filled me up and subsequently could let them go again. A friend of mine once told me- ‘theres no point in getting stressed- it doesn’t make anything happen any quicker’ but it’s easy to forget that. A week at Hawkwood and a subsequent week back home really helped me remember again. I think I will engrave it on my bureau, along with the full quote from the Reckitts chap “People always want what an artist breaths out, but they forget that to breath out, an artist must also breath in”. Thanks Leverhulme, Hawkwood, Bristol Ferment and Reckkits for allowing me to do just that.


Heritage workshop

I have been working with Bristol Old Vic to devise outreach workshops engaging groups with the theatre’s history. The work is part of a Heritage Lottery Funded programme. We have started by prototyping workshops with family centres that are within walking distance and today we ran a session with St Paul’s Family Centre. The workshop was aimed at pre school (under 4) and their parents.

We wanted to engage people with the heritage of Bristol Old Vic so we wanted to play with the concept of Theatre- both as a building and a format- and history. History is particularly tricky with such young children as time is such an abstract concept. Essentially we played with ‘the olden days’ and ‘theatre’.

We used a variety of play tools and theatre practice in the workshop including role playing, imaginative play, loose parts within a context, craft, dressing up and investigating unusual objects.

We were fortunate to have been able to raid the BOV prop-store and started by inviting the children and parents to investigate and play with objects including an old fashioned phone, bones, candles, a toy trumpet and bellows. This allowed us to think about what the objects were or could be and how they relate to objects today. The phone was a big hit. The bellows proved fun as a movable contraption, also feeling the air. A father talked to us about the bellows he used as a child in Somalia- the size and shape of them and remarked that he hadn’t seen bellows for 27 years! He is going to Somalia soon and has offered to bring some back to the children’s centre so they can use them at the fire pit. It was a wonderful unexpected link into someone’s personal history. The toy trumpet and the telescope were utilised a lot and some children used all their senses to explore the objects. On our next visit we may explore the objects further and leading into stories inspired by them.

We played with the notions of a theatre set and costumes by creating environments with our bodies- the ocean today and then exploring a theatre model box. Using wooden blocks we created our own ‘theatre sets’ including a cafe, a mountain and a volcano!

We made tall hats to wear to the theatre and went on a walk to the Vic, being careful not to step in horse poo along the way! Once ‘inside the theatre’ we distributed tickets, bought sweets (and cockles and pigs trotters!); chose our seats and took turns on the stage. We had animal impressionists, singers, an orchestra, performing horses and dogs, string people and balancers. Great acts, and a brilliant reflection of the Bristol Old Vic programme in 1770! We all enjoyed giving rounds of applause, next time we might do some booing too!

It was reassuring to find that by using playwork and devised theatre tools in a specific context (in this case heritage) worked really well. The different context allowed excitement and wow factor and the embedded interactivity of the methods, plus the fluidity of exercises meant that we could respond quickly to individual needs while also holding the whole group. Next time we’re going to create more ‘stations’ to play in and enjoy revisiting the now familiar objects and format to deepen the exploration in ‘Ye Olde Vic’

Pictures to come soon…..

Pirate Playscapes

I ran the playscape workshop again recently, with our adopted families group. The sessions are always drop in and participants will come and go. The activities are designed for children and adults to do together whether that is parents and children, or prospective adopters who are volunteering at the sessions.

I stuck with the maritime theme again and focused more on pirates and pirate stories. We started small, making boats, eye patches and a desert island. We also played with maps and through about places you might find in a pirate story. Shipwreck was my favourite new addition!

Starting small allowed us to contain the exercise and allow our imaginations to roam in a contained space. Quite quickly we took the boats on an adventure and began to explore the outdoor space through the eyes of the boats. A bottle appeared and we wrote a message for it. Pirate R wanted palm trees so a request was put in the bottle, a stash place for the trees outlined and the bottle hung where passers by might find it.

As the number of participants grew, and the sun came out, we moved outdoors to build a pirate ship in the playground. As with earlier exercises we adapted the built play-space with scrap to make something new. Children identified an area with upright logs and we set-to creating a ship. Using tubes and sheeting we made the sails, we decorated the masts and people made a mask and a really brilliant hammock. One child made a telescope with stand, another noticed we had no wheel so arranged steering, we even had a treasure hold.

Once we focused on making the ship, all kinds of play evolved from the central space. Climbing, sailing, more messages in bottles, building, tying, swinging on hammock, lookout games, searching for new look outs, treasure burying and map making, different kinds of seascapes: a 2D one on the ground giving different perspective. The musicians came out too and we sang sea shanties on the ship. It was fascinating to see how easily so many different styles of play came out of the one space with just a few simple starting points. I also enjoyed the fact that things didn’t have to fit, size and perspective was irrelevant and the space shifted and changed to accommodate all the games and play.


Initial suggestions to built a world at the outset were really useful: pirate names, boats, places, modes of travel and communication, after that that the evolution felt quite free and natural. Having a starting point tool kit is useful and enough materials then to build a wide variety of landscapes and props. Built levels in the playground were useful, as opposed to a blank space.

I would like to try this as a durational piece next over a day or a weekend. I’d like to try to keep track of what was suggested by adults and children and what was suggested by me initially.