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Chaturanga (Sanskrit: चतुरङ्ग; caturaṅga), or catur for short, is an ancient Indian strategy game that is commonly theorized to be the common ancestor of the board games chess, shogi, sittuyin, and makruk.
Chaturanga is first known from the Gupta Empire in India around the 6th century AD. In the 7th century, it was adopted as chatrang (shatranj) in Sassanid Persia, which in turn was the form of chess brought to late-medieval Europe.
The exact rules of chaturanga are unknown. Chess historians suppose that the game had similar rules to those of its successor, shatranj. In particular, there is uncertainty as to the moves of the Gaja (elephant).
The origin of chaturanga has been a puzzle for centuries. It has its origins in Gupta Empire with earliest clear reference dating from the sixth century of the common era, and from north India. The first substantial argument that chaturanga is much older than this is the fact that the chariot is the most powerful piece on the board, although chariots appear to have been obsolete in warfare for at least five or six centuries. The counter-argument is that they remained prominent in literature. Several more recent scholars have proposed a gradual evolution in the centuries B.C. in the northern or northwestern border areas of Indian culture, where it was in contact with Greek culture brought by the Macedonian-Greek army, and where some rulers issued coins with fused Greek-Indian imagery. Myron Samsin argues that chaturanga originated in the kingdom of Bactria, ca. 255–55 B.C., in a fusion of the many short-moving men of the Greek game petteia, or poleis, with men derived from the various moves of an Indian race game, perhaps Seega or Chaupur, on the ashtapada, the board of another race game. Gerhard Josten proposes that the fusion took place in the Kushan Empire ca. 50 B.C.–200 A.D. and draws not only on Indian games but on the Chinese game of Liubo and Chinese and Babylonian divination techniques.
Sanskrit caturaṅga is a bahuvrihi compound, meaning "having four limbs or parts" and in epic poetry often meaning "army". The name comes from a battle formation mentioned in the Indian epic Mahabharata, referring to four divisions of an army, namely elephantry, chariotry, cavalry and infantry. An ancient battle formation, akshauhini, is like the setup of chaturanga.
Chaturanga was played on an 8×8 uncheckered board, called ashtāpada, which is also the name of a game. The board sometimes had special markings, the meaning of which are unknown today. These marks were not related to chaturanga, but were drawn on the board only by tradition. Chess historian H. J. R. Murray conjectured that the ashtāpada was also used for some old race-type dice game, perhaps similar to chowka bhara, in which the marks had meaning.
An early reference to an ancient Indian board game is sometimes attributed to Subandhu in his Vasavadatta, dated between the 5th and 7th centuries AD:
The time of the rains played its game with frogs for pieces [nayadyutair] yellow and green in colour, as if mottled by lac, leapt up on the black field squares.
The colours are not those of the two camps, but mean that the frogs have two colours, yellow and green.
Under this monarch, only the bees quarrelled to collect the dew; the only feet cut off were those of measurements, and only from Ashtâpada one could learn how to draw up a chaturanga, there was no cutting-off of the four limbs of condemned criminals...
While there is little doubt that ashtâpada is the gameboard of 8×8 squares, the double meaning of chaturanga, as the four-folded army, may be controversial. There is a probability that the ancestor of chess was mentioned there.[clarification needed]
The game was first introduced to the West in Thomas Hyde's De ludis orientalibus libri duo, published in 1694. Subsequently, translations of Sanskrit accounts of the game were published by Sir William Jones.
In Arabic, most of the terminology of chess is derived directly from chaturanga: Modern chess itself is called shatranj in Arabic, and the bishop is called the elephant. The Tamerlane chess was also introduced in Iran later.
Pieces and their moves
|Mantri or Senapati (counselor or general; ancestor of ferz; early form of queen)|
|Ratha (chariot; rook)|
|Gaja (elephant; later called fil; early form of bishop)|
|Ashva (horse; knight)|
|Padàti or Bhata (foot-soldier or infantry; pawn)|
- Raja (king) (also spelled Rajah): moves one step in any direction (vertical, horizontal or diagonal), the same as the king in chess. There is no castling in chaturanga.
- Mantri (minister or counsellor); also known as Senapati (general): moves one step diagonally in any direction, like the fers in shatranj.
- Ratha (chariot) (also known as Śakata): moves the same as a rook in chess- whereby the rook moves horizontally or vertically, through any number of unoccupied squares.
- Gaja (elephant) (also known as Hastin): three different moves are described in ancient literature:
- Two squares in any diagonal direction, jumping over the first square, as the alfil in Iranian shatranj, Ethiopian senterej, Mongolian Tamerlane chess and medieval courier chess. This is a fairy chess piece that is a (2,2)-leaper.
- One step forward or one step in any diagonal direction.
- Two squares in any orthogonal (vertical or horizontal) direction, jumping over the first square.
- A piece with such a move is called a dabbābah in some chess variants. The move was described by the Arabic chess master al-Adli c. 840 in his (partly lost) chess work. (The Arabic word dabbāba in former times meant a covered siege engine for attacking walled fortifications; today it means "army tank").
- This is reminiscent of the aforementioned chaturaji, where the elephant moves as a rook.
- The German historian Johannes Kohtz (1843–1918) suggests, rather, that this was the earliest move of the Ratha.
- Ashva (horse) (also spelled Ashwa or Asva): moves the same as a knight in chess.
- Padàti or Bhata (foot-soldier or infantry) (also spelled Pedati); also known as Sainik (warrior): moves and captures the same as a pawn in chess, but without a double-step option on the first move.
Al-Adli mentions two further differences:
- Stalemate was a win for a stalemated player. This rule appeared again in some medieval chess variants in England c. 1600. According to some sources, there was no stalemate, though this is improbable.
- The player that is first to bare the opponent's king (i.e. capture all enemy pieces except the king) wins. In shatranj this is also a win, but only if the opponent cannot bare the player's king on his next turn.
- Chess in early literature
- Liubo – An ancient Chinese board game played by two players
- Origins of chess
- "The History Of Chess". ChessZone. Retrieved 29 March 2011.
- Murray, H. J. R. (1913). A History of Chess. Benjamin Press (originally published by Oxford University Press). ISBN 0-936317-01-9. OCLC 13472872.
- Gerhard Josten. "On The Origin Of Chess".
- Meri 2005: 148
- "Ashtapada". Jean-Louis Cazaux. 2005-07-25. Retrieved 2013-07-16.
- Henry Edward Bird. Chess History and Reminiscences. Forgotten Books. p. 47. ISBN 978-1-60620-897-7. Retrieved 21 June 2012.
- W. Borsodi, etc. (1898). American Chess Magazine. Original from Harvard University. p. 262.
- The Chess Variant Pages. "Dabbābah".
- Bill Wall's Chess Page. "Al-Adli".
- Jean-Louis Cazaux, Rick Knowlton. A World of Chess: Its Development and Variations through Centuries and Civilizations. p. 50.
- Henry J. Greenberg. The Anti-War Wargame: a Comprehensive Analysis of the Origins of the Game of Chess 1989-1990. p. 133.
- Thomas R. Trautmann. Elephants and Kings: An Environmental History. p. 118.
The chariot and elephant were particularly subject to change.
- Pritchard, D. B. (2007). "Chaturanga". In Beasley, John (ed.). The Classified Encyclopedia of Chess Variants. John Beasley. p. 263. ISBN 978-0-9555168-0-1.
Pawns advanced one square at a time; no castling.
- Cazaux, Jean-Louis; Knowlton, Rick (2017). A World of Chess. McFarland. ISBN 978-0-7864-9427-9.
- Davidson, Henry (1981) . A Short History of Chess. McKay. ISBN 0-679-14550-8.
- Falkener, Edward (1961) . Games Ancient and Oriental and How to Play Them. Dover Publications Inc. ISBN 0-486-20739-0.
- Hooper, David; Whyld, Kenneth (1992). The Oxford Companion to Chess (2nd ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-280049-3.
- Murray, H. J. R. (1913). A History of Chess. ISBN 0-936317-01-9.
- Parlett, David (1999). The Oxford History of Board Games. ISBN 0-19-212998-8.
- Pritchard, D. B. (1994). The Encyclopedia of Chess Variants. Games & Puzzles Publications. ISBN 0-9524142-0-1.
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