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