The Origin and History of the Game:
I cannot think of a better way to pen the origin and history of this wonderful game of chess than to quote a dialogue from the epic ‘Mahabharata between Prince Yudhisthira and Ved Muni, Vyasa:
"Explain to me, O thou super-eminent in virtue, the nature of the game that is played on the eight times eightsquare board. Tell me, O my master, how the Chaturaji (Checkmate) may be accomplished."
Ved Muni, Vyasa:
"O, my Prince, having delineated a square board, with eight houses on each of the four sides, then draw up the red warriors on the east, on the south array the army clad in green, on the west let the yellow troops be stationed, and let the black combatants occupy the north. "Let each player place his Elephant on the left of his King, next to that the Horse, and last of all the Ship, and in each of the four Armies, let the Infantry be drawn up in front. The Ship shall occupy the left hand cornernext to it the Horse, then the Elephant, and lastly the King, the Foot Soldiers, as are stated being drawn up front." "The King moves one square in all directions; the Pawn moves one square straightforward, but smites anenemy through either angle, in advance; the Elephant, O Prince of many lands, moves, (so far as his path isclear), In the direction of the four cardinal points, according to his own pleasure. The Horse moves over the three squares in an oblique direction; and the Ship, O Yudhisthira, moves two squares diagonally." "Let each player preserve his own forces with excessive care, and remember that the King is the most important of all." "O Prince, from inattention to the humbler forces the king himself may fall into disaster."
(Based on an account from ‘Bhavisya Purana’ by the eminent, Professor Duncan Forbes, L.L.D., Professor of the Oriental Languages, King’s College, London from his much acclaimed ‘The History of Chess’ (1860)
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- If the period of Mahabharata can be ascribed to a period of about 3000 years before the start of Christian era, we can presume with certainty that this ancient game of chess is 5000 years old and, its honour of invention undoubtedly goes to India! However, the knowledge of this game goes beyond Mahabharata and it is known here since times immemorial by its Sanskrit nomenclature ‘Chaturanga’! The exact meaning of Chaturanga can be ascertained by breaking the word into two:
- Chatur (four) and
- Anga (Parts of the bodies).
Thus, Chaturanga signifies the war game with four species or forces of armies namely; Elephants, Horses, Chariots and Foot-Soldiers. The translation of this forces into Sanskrit language means Hasty (Elephant), Aswa (Horse), Ratha (Chariots) and Padatum (Foot-Soldiers). Of course, it is indeed impossible to find out with certainty the exact origin of Chaturanga or as to how old it is. However, the claims of Indians as the inventors cannot be overlooked as it is based on valuable scientific researches of eminent scholars.
The notable researchers were Sir William Jones and Professor Duncan Forbes. Professor Duncan Forbes (1798 – 1868) from Scotland is considered as one of the most elaborate of all the European writers on the history of chess. He came to India (Calcutta) in the year 1823 but returned back to England in 1826 in view of his declining health. His forte in Oriental Languages made him an automatic choice at the prestigious King’s College, London
His magnum opus ‘The History of Chess – from the time of the early invention of the game in India till the period of its establishment in Western & Central Europe (1860) gave him the recognition as one of the greatest authority on Chaturanga! In a work spanning 400+ pages, he has proved beyond reasonable doubt that the game of chess was invented in India and nowhere else, in very remote times or, as he finally puts it at page 43: “But to conclude I think from all the evidence I have laid before the reader, I may safely say, that the game of chess has existed in India from the time of Pandu and his five sons down to the reign of our gracious Sovereign Queen Victoria (who now rules over these same Eastern realms), that is for a period of five thousand years and that this very ancient game, in the sacred language of the Brahmans, has, during that long space o time retained its original and expressive name of Chaturanga.”
To substantiate this claim, we see the findings of Sir William Jones (1746 – 1794) who is also considered as the other great authority on Chaturanga. Hailing from Oxford, he was nominated as the Judge of the Supreme Court (1783) in India at the court of the then Calcutta had acquired mastery not only in English, French, Italian, Spanish, Greek & Latin but also in Arabic & Persian! He realized that India had much to offer to the world in the sciences and the arts, and this can be done by studying one of the oldest language, Sanskrit. He also realized that the discovery of her rich past and culture could not be achieved by himself and, as such, took the help of eminent Sanskrit scholars. One amongst these native scholars, Radha Kant informed him that it is stated in an old Hindu law book, that Chess was invented by Mandodari, the wife of Ravan – the Monarch of Lanka (present day Sri Lanka) to amuse him with an image of war, when his kingdom was besieged by Lord Ram in the second age (Treta Yuga) of the world! This, of course, is the only tradition which takes precedence in date of the Hindu Chaturanga. Coming back to the Christian era, the famous Chess historian and eminent author, H.J.R Murray, in his book – ‘A History of Chess’ (1913) has stated categorically that Chess originated in India around 570 AD during the reign of Gupta dynasty. Tracing back the development of Chess after 5 AD, we see Persian (present day Iran) traders bring the game to their country during the reign of Great Khusrau, the Sassanid emperor, and we see the game becoming popular over there. From Persia, the game spread to the Arab world in the 7th century and we see their immense contribution to propel the game to new heights. Further, the game reached Russia and Western Europe around 9th century AD to the entire Europe in another 100 years. The modern game was developed extensively in Europe and their pioneering efforts surpassed everyone in creating a mass appeal.