The Indian Chess Chaturanga

Chess, as well all know, is a recreational and competitive sport played between two players.

Nowadays, it is sometimes referred to as international chess or Western chess, which is actually used to distinguish it from its predecessors and other variants. More so, chess is one of the world’s most popular games, played by millions of people in clubs, online, tournaments and informally.

However, where did chess actually began? Who were the first people ever to invent this intellectual sport and what was its original purpose. The chess game was thought to have originated in India or Afghanistan before 600 A.D. However, there are several and

unverified claims stating that the game existed as early as 100 A.D.

The Chaturanga
The chess game has been attributed to the Indians by both the Arabs and the Persian people. However, the main origin of the sport has been lost in antiquity.

Chess in Old Persian and Arabic are “chatrang” and “shatranj” respectively. Both of these terms are derived from the Sanskrit word “Chaturanga”.

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Literally, the word Chaturanga means the army of four divisions, constituting the cavalry, infantry, elephant and chariots, which are now being respectively represented by the knight, pawn, bishop and rook.

Aside from chess, Chaturanga is also presumed to be the common origin of the Japanese shogi, the Thai makruk, the Chinese xiangqi and the Korean janggi. The game was played since the early 6th century or probably earlier, hence it is believed to be the most common and oldest version of chess.

As previously mentioned, Chaturanga consists of the cavalry, chariots, elephants and infantry, which reflects the four divisions of the army in ancient India. These are additional units besides the king and his general or counselor in the center. The Infantry is represented by the line of advancing pawns. Located near the center of the army are war elephants. The horse, with a flanking horse move, is represented by the mounted cavalry and the chariots or ships, which move hastily and in linear fashion.

Chaturanga was originally played in an eight-by-eight un-checkered board, also known as the Ashtapada.

Additionally, the board has markers that have meanings still unknown today. However, it is known that these special markers are not related to Chaturanga and were rather drawn only by tradition. Murray, a renowned chess historian, speculated that the board was also used for other dice-type games, in which the markers it contains had meanings.

The Rules of Chaturanga
The exact rules of Chaturanga are yet to be known.

However, several chess historians believe that the game has the similar rules to Shatranj, which is its direct descendant. By using the rules of Shatranj, the movements of the Chaturanga pieces can be mapped out.

The Raja or King moves like the King in modern chess.

The Senapati or General, also known as the Mantri or Counselor, moves diagonally, occupying only a single square. Like the Rook in modern chess, the Ratha or Chariot moves on straight lines either horizontally or vertically.

As for the Gaja or Elephant, there are three possible moves that the piece makes, such as: two squares diagonally, one square diagonally or forward, two squares orthogonally.

The Horse of Ashva moves like the Knight. Foot soldiers or the Pedati or Bhata are similar to the pawns of modern chess.