Gambling in India has been restricted since the days of British rule, starting with the Public Gambling Act of 1867. But India also has a history of prominent gamblers, chief among them the holy man Murkha Nayanar, whose career as a gambler is recounted in the 12th-century Puranam.
Like all the Nayanars, Murkha was a travelling holy man who devoted his life to the worship of Shiva over a thousand years ago. But unlike all other Nayanars, he made a fortune from gambling. He did not amass this fortune for his own sake though, rather, he shared his winnings out among his many followers and the needy. But with contemporary India looking unfavourably upon many forms of gambling, how would he have made his living today?
Born in modern-day Chennai, Murkha inherited vast wealth. But after devoting his life to Shiva, he sold his assets and spent the proceeds on food and for other devotees. With no money left, he used his knowledge of dice games to win big in the gambling houses of Southern India, sharing the proceeds generously.
Nowadays dice games are still popular, but there are more modern alternatives available.
But if Murkha wanted to try something more contemporary, he would still need to travel. Within India, he could visit the casinos of Goa and Sikkim, and play a range of games like poker, or blackjack. Those might suit Murkha particularly well, in fact, as his strategy often relied on getting inside his opponents’ heads, something that Dan Negreanu will tell you is handy in poker.
Murkha’s approach was to take advantage of the fact that he was often a stranger in the town where he played by pretending to be a poor gambler, thus lulling his opponents into a false sense of security. Once they became relaxed about him as an opponent, he would use his superior knowledge of the game to exploit their lack of focus and win big.
However, Murkha had an incongruous predilection for violence too – he is said to have stabbed those who refused to pay out with a sword. Nowadays then, it might be better to encourage Murkha to gamble online, to avoid ugly scenes. The current state of the law would require a modern-day Murkha to travel abroad to play online games, but once there, he’d have plenty to choose from. There is a huge range of bingo online games to play at Paddy Power for instance, with a range of different rules and themes to try. Murkha could also play poker against real opponents online, who could remain a safe distance away from his sword…
It’s safe to say that a modern-day Murkha would be unpredictable, but you cannot doubt that he would find a way to provide for his followers on one game or another.