CHATURANGA AND SHATRANJ

By

G.H. FRATERS D.D.C.F. and N.O.M.

 

The present European game of chess has been gradually developed from the more primitive form in which it reached Western civilization. It came to us from the Arabs or Saracenic races who over-ran Spain in the eighth century. These Arab races had a knowledge of the game for many centuries, and they are believed to have received it from the Persians and from ancient Egypt. The game in its essentials is found to exist in descriptions by the oldest poets of India. In its oldest form traceable in literature its name is found in Sanskrit works as Chaturanga, from Chatur which is Four, and Ranga is members. Among the Saracens and Arabs, the name became Shatrangi. Introduced in Europe we find:

In France - Echecs

In Italy - Seacci

In England - Chess (perhaps from Chequered board on which it is played.)

In Germany - Seach.

In all forms the Board used is quite similar, being Square and divided into 8 x 8 or 64 squares. The chess men too have not varied in number. 16 major pieces and 16 minor pieces or pawns.

In the Chaturanga these 32 men were divided equally between 4 players; two partners against two, generally green and black, against red and yellow. Each player had four pieces and four pawns. Dice were cast to determine which piece or pawn should be played. The earliest important change in the Game was the alteration made by combining the forces of the partners.

From that time, the Chaturanga out of India lost its chatur character, and was played by two persons, each with 16 pieces and pawns. This change brought in other changes, for whereas each partner used to have a King, when the two forces were combined one King had to be converted into a Minister or Vizier, who, in later times, became the Queen. In India, the names and titles of the pieces suggest a military ideal.

In Egypt the tendency was rather to look upon the pieces as Gods of various forces or natural powers.

Ancient Chaturanga. Four players, in pairs. Pieces and pawns arranged thus: King on the right, then Elephant, then a Horse, then Ship, and the Pawns were infantry. The Moves of the Element, with castle and Houdah on its back, and of the Knight, were unaltered for ages. Castling was unknown. Pawns moved one square forward only, but took diagonally.

Dice were thrown to decide moves. Dice had four sides, marked on opposite sides with 4 and 3, or 5 and 2, making in each case 7. The Brahmins abolished the use of dice.

Chaturanga is referred to in Valurika ës Ramayana, Book 4, Chapter 51. It is also mentioned in one of the Sanskrit Puranas, where it is said that it was invented in the second age by the wife of Rawan, King of Lanka, that is Ceylon.

The Chaturanga Elephant has become our Castle,

The Chaturanga Ship has become our Bishop,

The Chaturanga Horse has become our Knight,

The Chaturanga King remains King.

But the second King has become our Queen. The Elephant and Ship, Castle and Bishop have exchanged places. Perhaps the Elephant became Castle from the Houdah on its back. The ship was also formerly a chariot in some places.

In the oldest Chaturanga, Dice throwing:

If 2 were thrown, the player had to move the Ship.

If 3 were thrown, the player had to move the Horse.

If 4 were thrown, the player had to move the Elephant.

If 5 were thrown, the player had to move the King or Pawn.

Shatranji of Persia and Araby appears to have become well known in Persia about 1500 A.D. We then find that the game has become a contest between two players and 2 of the 4 Kings have become Ministers or Queens. The early title was Mantri or Farzin or Firz, hence it is supposed comes Vierge for Queen. The Castle and Bishop changed places.

This game is described by the Persian poet Firdansi; a copy of his book extant is dated 1486. The Persians introduced the change of rank in a Pawn by reaching its eighth square. In the third or European epoch, the modern game of chess was developed. The players being 2 only became quite defined.

It was laid down that the Queen should stand on her own color, and that each player should have a white square at his right hand. Castling has been introduced, and each Pawn has been permitted to more either one or two squares at the first move.

The queening of a Pawn at the 8th square has been finally settled. The moves of the Queen and Bishop were much altered. Formerly the Queen could only move diagonally on her own color, and the Bishop moving diagonally could only attack the next square but one. The Castles or Rooks were definitely placed at the extreme right and left.

The present moves are:

Pawns: 1 or 2 squares forward first move, one square only after, take diagonally forward, and never move back.

King moves one square only in any direction.

Bishop diagonally on his own co lour only any number of squares if empty, forwards or backwards.

Castle or Rook moves always in straight lines, not diagonally, and so moves over squares of both colors forwards and backwards and any distance if the squares are unoccupied.

Queen moves in straight and diagonal lines, any distance over vacant squares, forward, or backwards, or laterally.

Knight moves in any direction but always to the square which may be described as two forward and one to side; or one diagonally and one forward or sideways so long as the designed place be vacant. It is immaterial whether the adjoining squares are occupied or not.