Chaturanga - Shatranj
See ‘History’. Chaturanga: literally, the four corners, referring to the four divisions of a traditional Indian army - the infantry (PAs from peons, pedons ‘foot-troops’), the cavalry, the arches (now called BSs because of a misinterpretation of their medieval helmets) and the elephants which used to carry wooden structures on their backs called ‘castles’, from which the warriors could take aim at the enemy. In Europe the elephants were omitted, but the remaining ‘castles’ were still moved across the board as the elephants had been, even though the true ‘castle’ in chess is formed by the ‘rochade ’ move (castling, %Q, %K). Pavle Bidev in his thesis ‘Sah simbol Kosmosa’ concluded that Chaturanga was invented between 606-620 AD. Chaturanga is essentially the same game as Shatranj. It used an unchequered board (called the ‘ashtapada ’ meaning ‘eight square’) and is regarded as the precursor of traditional chess. It is believed to have been adopted from a race game related to ‘parcheesi’, the forerunner of the game of Ludo.
1 KI = King
2 AD = Adviser
2 RO = Rook
2 KT = Knight
2 MR = Minister
8 BQ = Baidaq
Each side has 16 MPs/mps
The AD (AD1 and AD2) moves 1 cell diagonally in any direction. The MR (MR1 and MR2) moves 2 cells diagonally in any direction jumping over the intervening cell. BQs (BQ1 to BQ8) move forward one cell at a time. Castling is not permitted. Stalemate is a win for the side giving it.
For many people, the oldest ancestor of Chess is a game for 4 players, called Chaturanga. It is depicted as a diced game where four teams of 8 pieces fight for a final victory.
Simplistically, this game is supposed to illustrate a remote period when India was divided into several rival kingdoms, always at war. Later on, a wise man would have come and proposed to gather the pieces in two opposing teams. One extra King per side would have been given the role of a General, the chance would have been eliminated for pure combination: Chess was born!
This is a very seducing story. Simple, understandable, bearing some logic. This story is so nice that it is now widely repeated and copied on hundreds of pages on the Internet. Now, I’m sorry to be so disappointing:
CAUTION : SO FAR,
THIS THEORY IS WRONG !
If you are involved in teaching, writing, publishing, please stop copying this tale, get informed!
HOW IT BEGAN
Sir Williams Jones (who first remarked the links between Indo-European
idioms), asserted in 1790 that Chess had been invented by the wife of Ravan, king of Lanca (Ceylon), in order to amuse him
while he was besieged in his city by Rama.
This was happening in the “second age of the world”, in the 4th
millennium before Christ! His informant
was the Brahman Radhakant who was referring to the Four-Handed Chess (which was
Several forms of Chess were played in
This Chaturanga was undoubtedly the oldest ancestor for Captain Hiram Cox in 1801 who claimed that it was the rudimental game of Chess and that the 2-Handed game was a modification of it.
Duncan Forbes wrote ‘The History of Chess’ in 1855 where he developed the complete theory: a primitive 4-Handed dice-Chess was practiced first, and, from the difficulty of always securing four players, the game gradually became 2-Handed. Later on, the dice were abandoned, maybe under religious pressure. Forbes rejected the legend of Lanka, however he kept relying on the Bhavishya Purana which were then estimated 3000 or 5000 years old.
However, the Dutch historian, Anton van der Linde, pointed out in 1874 that these texts were not older than the 10th century AD. This was too hard to believe for authors like Edward Falkener (1892) who was convinced of a very great antiquity. Also, the famous American ethnologist Stewart Culin made his personal hypothesis that the respective apparition order of board-games in mankinds history should have been: race game for 2, race game for 4, chess for 4 and, finally, chess for 2. He had no fact to sustain this theory which appears somewhat artificial today.
The final word went to the great historian Harold James Murray who cleared the question in his never surpassed monument: ‘History of Chess’, more than 900 pages of erudition published in 1913. He wrote that definitive sentence:
“I find this hypothesis incredible”.
THE STATUS OF OUR KNOWLEDGE
First, the Purana are no more considered 5000 years old, but 2500 for their oldest parts. Then, three texts refer to the passage cited by Jones and Forbes. It has been demonstrated (Murray, 1913, p48-49) that the three of them go back to the same source, the Tithitattva of Raghunandana, a writer of the late 15th or early 16th century. Moreover, it has been since proved that neither the Bhavishya Purana (which was not accessible to European scholars until the end of the 19th century) nor the Bhavishyottara Purana contain no Chess passage.
There are Indian texts mentioning the 4-Handed Chaturanga which are
older than the Tithitattva. The first ones are Somesvara’s Manasollasa circa 1,110 and Kalhana’s Rajatarangini,
a metrical chronique of the Kings of
His rules are not always clear. Most of the details we know come from Raghunandana.
Starting position (left) and movements of pieces (right)
Then, the oldest reference for this 4-Handed game is 1,030 only. The 2-Handed game precedes the 4-Handed game for about four centuries.
The 4-Handed appears to have been known and practiced in
It is true that Indians did not pay much attention in writing the rules
of their games as the Persians or the Arabs did. There are several texts which mention
Again, we find more information in a foreign source: al-Adli, an Arabic
master who wrote about 840. He gave the
difference between the rules and play of Chess in
The fact that the 4-Handed Chaturanga makes use of dice has been often emphasized to assert its great antiquity. However, this is not a sound argument at all. In those old times (let’s say before 1,500), Chess was not that model of pure combination that it is today. The game was slow, maybe was it a little boring. Old times masters were more attracted by theoretical problems (openings, endings) than real plays. Playing with chance was not a shame, it engaged a dialog with Gods. The success of games like Nard (kind of Backgammon), Pachisi, Chapur and many other Indian games are here to testify that. Nard was at its summum of popularity in India between the 7th and 10th centuries, and the Indian cruciform race games (Pachisi, Chaupur) could been invented at the same period. Then, it is not surprising that a game for 4 was more appreciated with the help of dice to add some drama into the play. In addition, it should be insisted that Chess and dice were by no mean incompatible. Muslims played ‘Oblong Chess’ (over a 4 x 16 board) with dice, dice were often used in medieval Europe as an alternative of the regular play (for instance in Huon de Bordeaux, a French romance from the 13th century). That completely kills the point.
Another strange aspect of 4-Handed Chaturanga has been put forward to
assert his antiquity: the use of Ships instead of Chariots and their
switched positions with the Elephants, here placed at the corners of the board. However, this is merely a reflection of Chess habits in
There is a true attraction in
the rules of Four Handed Chaturanga,
Retrouvez les règles du Chaturanga à 4 joueurs dans le Guide des Echecs exotiques et insolites
An Indian Elephant
Date: 4/7/01 9:54:30 am Pacific Standard Time
From: PR@wanadoo.es (
Please let me know if you know a place in
Thank you very much. Regards.
Although we believe there are Chess websites in
Next, we provide you with some links containing information about the game of Chaturanga. These sites in turn may yield more information pointing to other links about the game and a possible Chaturanga board game salesman.
you for visiting our website.
The game is played on an uncheckered board of eight by eight squares.
King e1; Counsellor d1; Rook a1, h1; Knight b1, g1; Elephant c1, f1; Pawns a2, b2, c2, d2, e2, f2, g2, h2.
King d8; Counsellor e8; Rook a8, h8; Knight b8, g8; Elephant c8, f8; Pawns a7, b7, c7, d7, e7, f7, g7, h7.
The king moves as usual king, but additionally has the right to make one knight-move during the game, provided that he hasn’t been checked before he makes his knight-move. Castling doesn’t exist.
The counsellor moves one square diagonally.
The elephant moves two squares diagonally, but may jump the intervening square.
The knight moves as a usual knight.
The rook or chariot moves as usual rook.
The pawn or soldier moves and takes as a usual pawn, but may not make a double step on its first move.
Pawns can promote when they arrive at the last rank of the board, but only to the type of piece that was on the promotion-square in the opening setup, e.g., a white pawn that moves to b8 can only promote to a knight. Additionally, promotion is only possible when the player already lost a piece of the type, so the pawn moving to b8 will only promote to a knight, when the white player already lost a knight during the game. A consequence is that pawns never promote on e1 or d8.
Object of the game is to mate the opponents king. The player that stalemates its opponent loses the game.
From ‘Chess Variants’ web page.
The origin of chess is still a riddle. Many think the first form was Chaturanga, an Indian name, or Chatrang, a Persian name, known from the 7th century after Christ, as the oldest known form of chess. Others, think that the Chinese Xiang-Qi presents several older features and should come from an earlier ancestor. The question is still open. If it draws your interest, have a look on the pages of the INITIATIVE GROUP KOENIGSTEIN.
For some reasons (detailled elsewhere) it has been interesting to study what could have been a seminal so-called “Indo-Persian” game with only KI and PAs. Such a simple game could be classified as a race game. We must be clear - this is pure speculation and such a game has never been attested in any sources (so far?). However, it is already fun to play and shows what could have been the origin of the awkward moves of the PA and its promotion.
A Zillions-of-Games file is available, so you can play this game (below).
KI-E01; PAs - A02, B02, C02, D02, E02, F02, G02, H02.
KI-D08; PAs - A07, B07, C07, D07, E07, F07, G07, H07.
The KI moves 1 step/square/cell in any of the 8 directions as usual KI. Of course, castling doesn’t exist.
PAs can promote to a Firzan when they arrive at the last rank of the board.
The Firzan moves 1 step diagonally. (4 directions).
You can play Proto-Chaturanga if you own Z-o-G. Download this zip-file below?