The title of the game, Chaturanga, itself gives us an idea of what the game is.
Catuḥ in Sanskrit meant Four and Aṅgāḥ meant Arms. So, it is was actually called Caturaṅgāḥ (Pronounced as Chathurangaaha), which means four arms of the army, chariots, cavalry, elephantry, and infantry. In the course of time, it came to be referred to as Chaturanga in colloquial usage.
It is said that historically references to the game were found in ‘Bhavishya Purana’ by Vyasa. Harshacharita Banabhatta (600 – 647 A. D.) also had referred to the game of Chaturanga in his biography of Raja Harsha. It was believed to be a game of strategy played only by rulers at the beginning. Chaturanga soon became popular among the masses. Initially, the game consisted of four players working under the orders of the king and was played by rolling the dice.
During the colonial period, Sir William Jones collected information about the game and wrote in his essay titled, ‘On the Indian Game of Chess’. Soon, the game was taken to England where it gained popularity with newly framed rules. Chaturanga soon spread in Persia where it was known as Chaturang.
V. Balambal mentions in her book* that the Indian inventor of chess was a person named Sassa in the 5th century A. D. He had decided to call it Chaturanga. During the 7th century, Muslims dominated Persia. They gained the legal sanction and started playing it. From then on, it was called Shatranj. On their travel to Spain, they took Shatranj with them and popularized it there.
There are possible evidences for its origin. Similarities are noted between the ancient Chaturanga and the modern Chess. One of the similarities is that both the games were played on an 8×8 (Ashtaapadi) board. This makes us believe in its Indian origin.
The game in its entirety had undergone many changes to become what is available now to us as chess. As everyone would know, the modern game is played by two people with the two available choice of colors, white and black. The coins include, Pawns, Rooks, Horses, Bishops, Queen and King.
The modern-day chess was called by various names in different places. It was called ‘Check’ in English, ‘Echecs’ in French, ‘Chong-ki’ in Chinese, ‘Ajedrez’ in Spanish, ‘Shakhmat’ in Russian. Duration of the game depended on the intelligence, strategies, thinking-abilities, and decision-making capacities of the players. Consistent playing also significantly improves the memory power, all other mentioned qualities and skills .
T. R. Surya, Special Correspondent, The Verandah Club
1. Balambal V. ‘Folk Games of Tamil Nadu'. Published by The C. P. Ramaswami Aiyar Foundation (2005). Chennai.
2. Bhatia, Pooja. ‘Origin of Chess Aka Chaturanga’. "Origin of chess aka Chaturanga" https://www.esamskriti.com/e/Culture/Indian-Culture/Origin-of-chess-aka-Chaturanga-1.aspx
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