Olinda Keliya

The Favourite Board Game of Avurudu Merriment
Olinda Keliya
By Time Out editors |

Many ancient games are played during the Sinhala and Tamil New Year. Olinda Keliya, fundamentally a board game, is a popular game in the village especially amongst women.

A wooden board known as Olinda Kolombuwa or Olinda Poruwa with several holes is used for the game. Although rules differ according to region, the game is usually played between two players seated on either side of the board, while others cheer and await their turn. Typically there are nine holes on either side of the board, within which four beads each are placed. The beads are Olinda seeds that are found in abundance
in villages.

The players must shift the beads from one hole to the other and collect the seeds found in the hole immediately. One gets the hang of it while playing with onlookers shouting out directions. Ultimately the player who has the most amount of olinda beads is the winner. The Olinda Kolumbuwa is a board made of ebony with beautiful carvings that displays the creativity of Sri Lankan wood carvers of yore, as most boards passed down through families were designed during the Kandyan period. A large collection is also displayed at the Colombo Museum.

The most attractive element of this game is the shiny little red and black bead – the olinda seed. In English it is commonly known as Crab’s eye, while it’s also called Jequirity, Rosary Pea or Indian Liquorice.

Olinda is a slender creeper, with long, pinnate-leafleted leaves. The fruit is a flat and relatively broad pod with a sharp point that is sparsely covered in hairs and has a rough texture. Over time the brown pods split open and curl back to reveal several oval-shaped olinda seeds. They are bright red in colour with a large black spot. Smooth in texture and glossy in appearance, they generally remain on the plant for several months.

In ancient times, olinda seeds were used to measure gold. It is an indigenous plant, although not endemic. Beautiful little things the seeds are poisonous as it contains a deadly toxin called abrin.


“Olinda thibenne

koi koi dese,

Olinda thibenne

Bangali dese..

Genath handanne

koi koi dese,

Genath hadanne

sinhala dese..”


If you happen to hear damsels singing this song, then it is a prelude to an exciting game of Olinda Keliya. Don’t just watch; join the merriment.

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