Was Chess Invented In India: Understand The Real Story Behind The Myth

Ancient Bharat did invent Chess or rather it invented a game called “Chaturanga” which has descended into modern Chess.

The Legend Version

The “Legend” is that the semi-demonic king of Lanka (who was a product of the mating of sage Vishrava a Brahmin from India and the Rakshasi Kaikesi an inhabitant of India and daughter of a king) Ravana invented the game for the pleasure of his queen Mandodari to pass her time in the “Ashoka Vatika”. His wife Mandodari was a brilliant strategist and easily bored and Ravana invented it so as to keep her amused and occupied. Mandodari is revered as part of the Panchkanya even today.

The former World Champion (5 times WC) Vishwanathan Anand who said this in one of his interviews-

“It would take me 17 years to find that route, and along the way I’ve had hundreds of conversations about the origins of chess – with players, fans, officials, taxi drivers, barbers and who knows how many people who sat next to me on a plane. I’ve heard the ownership of chess being claimed by Russians, Chinese, Ukrainians, Arabs, Iranians, Turks, Spaniards, and Greeks. My own view is that the sport belongs to everybody who plays it, but the question of its origins is easy enough to answer: chess comes from India.”

Anand goes on to supplement his argument by delving into history. He says: “Our claim is based not on dominance – although the Indian school is now producing lots of high-quality players, including (ahem) the world No. 1. Some of the oldest references to the sport are found in ancient Indian texts. In the great epic Ramayana, the demon king Ravana invents chess to amuse his wife Mandodari. A brilliant mind, she promptly beats him at it. My grandmother told me that story when I first began to play the game at age 6. “

This means Chess is at-least 3500 years old and was invented in India.

The Historical Version

The precursors of chess originated in India during the Gupta Empire, where its early form in the 6th century was known as chaturaṅga, which translates as “four divisions (of the military)”: Infantry, Cavalry, Elephantry (the elephant as a war weapon other than a few western Generals like Hannibal was used Primarily in Indian History for at-least 2000 years, nearly into the modern age), and Chariotry (the Ratha or Chariot is mentioned in Hindu religious texts dating before the Ramayana and remained an important aspect of War planning well up to the 7th Century or so), represented by the pieces that would evolve into the modern Pawn (from Infantry), Knight (from Cavalry), Bishop (from Chariots), and Rook (from Elephants), respectively. The term “Akshauhini” which is used repeatedly in Mahabharata to detail armies is broken up as follows- 21,870 Chariots + 21,870 Elephants + 65,610 Horsemen + 109,360 Infantry in a ratio of 1:1:3:5 made one Akshauhini of army. (Akshauhini)

However, historical evidence of Chess boards or something similar has been even found in the Harappa and Mohenjo-Daro civilizations which predate 1500 BC which means, Chess is over 3500 years old. But conclusively cannot be proved so old as the “documentation” is not clear as of now.

This painting shows Krishna (of Mahabharata and a part of the Das-Avatar) playing Chess with his consort. Though this painting is early-modern or modern.

The game of Chaturanga was nearly same as Chess, except the opposite Kings didn’t face each other, instead, each King faced the opposite member’s Queen and pawns could only move one step ahead instead of the “2 steps” allowed for the first move.

The Chaturanga in Sanskrit became Chatrang in Persia and later became Shatranj (which is how the Persian Islamic world calls chess even today), and killing the king was called Shah Mat in Persian which became Shakhmat in Russian and Check-Mate in English.

This means Chess is at-least 1500 years old and has been invented in Gupta era Bharat.

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