Dec 8, 2011, 5:30 AM |


An early clear ancestor of Chess is Shaturanga or Chaturanga which some say was invented by a 6th century Indian philosopher. It was a battle between four armies each under the control of a Rajah (king), two players being loosely allied against the other two and and each containing 4 corps - Infantry, Cavalry, Elephants and Boatmen. The board of 64 squares used for Shaturanga, was borrowed from an earlier game called Ashtapada, which was a race game played in Ancient India. The pieces of Shaturanga were represented viz.:

  • Infantry - 4 Pawns which moved as pawns do in Chess
  • Boatmen - A ship which could only move 2 squares diagonally but could jump over intervening pieces
  • Cavalry - A horse which could move like a Knight in Chess
  • Elephant - An elephant which could move like a Rook in Chess
  • Rajah - A human figure which could move like a King in Chess

The game started with the four armies in each of the four corners, in a double row, like Chess, the four main pieces behind the four pawns. Other than the fact that it was a game for four players, the other main difference was the use of dice to decide which piece moved each turn.

Those who believe that this is the earliest clear ancestor of Chess say that under Hindu law, gambling became forbidden early on in the Hindu civilisation and, to avoid the gambling laws, Shaturanga players dispensed with the dice. Other changes happened at the same time - the merging of the allied armies into a single army making the game a two player form and duplicating the pieces, both developments which have survived until today. The other main changes between Chaturanga and the 2 player form of Chess, Shatranj, are the two Rajahs were demoted to Prime Ministers in the change to the two player form and their movement reduced making them much weaker while the moves of the Elephant and the Ship were swapped around.