Recently Indian PM Shri Narendra Modi urged youth to create indigenous digital games based on Indian themes. He was trying to motivate young entrepenures to tap the huge gaming market in India which is mostly infested  by Chinese apps. The idea is actually brilliant but I feel most people in India hardly see themselves at that level where they can create such effective gaming platforms which would be as popular as chinese ones.

The purpose of writing this article is to inform youth about the legacy of their ancestors in the field of gaming. It won't be the first time that Indians would be making war based games . In fact the very first war based game i.e Chaturanga or Chess was invented by Indians. But how many of us knows about it? I guess very few. Let's take a look at the history of development of this popular game in India.

Chess pieces used in medieval India with orignal Indian design. 

Origin of Chess

Various sorts of board games were played by all the ancient people. In fact the Boards constructed of squares indicating some sort of game have been found in tombs or in ruins of all the three great ancient civilizations. But they are not the boards for games which either anticipate or form the origin of chess. If they were, then quite clearly references would have appeared to them as such in the literatures of ancient Egypt, Rome or Greece.

However there are enough number of Indian as well as foreign sources which confirms that the game of chess was invented by Indians.

The first written evidence of the game appears in Sanskrit in a charming  romance entitled Vasavadatta written by subandhu in the late 6th or early 7th century:-

The time of the rains played its game with frogs for chessmen which, yellow and green in colour, as if mottled with lac, leapt up on the garden-bed squares. 

Apart from Indian sources the first people who gave credit of invention of chess to Indians were their nearest neighbours , The Persians.

Three major early Medieval Irana texts i.e Kar-namag-i- ardashir-i-pabagan, Kosrow and ridag, and Wizarisn-i-chatrang mentions the game of Chaturang (Indian chess) as Chatrang.

Wizarisn-i-catrang also known as chatrangnama mentions about a story of confrontation between two kings the Sassanian king  Kosrow I and a king from western India , Dewisarm, who, through the ability in playing games of their two best champions , Buzurgmihr and Tataritos, try to overcome each other. Dewisarm, in fact , sends Tataritos to the court of Kusrow with a complete set of an unknown game(chess), made of sixteen pieces of emerald and sixteen pieces of red ruby, to test the intelligence of Persians.

This story also mentions the basic rules and fundamental of the game that Tataritos(Indian player) explains to Buzurgmihr (Iranian player). However there is no certain indication of date of invention of game of chess is given in this text. But as date of Wizarisn-i-chatrang is 6th century AD we can safely assume that the game was invented before 6th century AD by Indians.

This similar story is mentioned by 11th century Iranian historian Firdowsi in his legendary work Shahnameh, he describes-:

One day an ambassador from the king of Hind arrived at the Persian court of Khusrow and after an oriental exchange of courtesies, the ambassador produced rich presents from his sovereign and amongst them was an elaborate board with curiously carved pieces of ebony and ivory. He then issued a challenge :
Oh great king, fetch your wisemen and let them solve the mysteries of this game. If they succed in understanding the mysteries of this game the king of Hind will pay tribute as an overlord, but if they fail it will be proof that the Persians are of lower intellect and we shall demand tribute from Iran. 
The courtiers were shown the board, and after a day and a night in deep thought one of them, Bozorgmihr, solved the mystery and was richly rewarded by his delighted sovereign.

Ancient Indian inventions games
A miniature from Ferdowsi's legendry poem shahnameh, depicting introduction of chess in persia by Indian envoy(in white) . 

The Indian name of Chaturang became Chatrang in old persian and when Arabs conquered Persia they found it tough to pronounce it's name as they neither had initial nor the final letter of that word in their alphabet, so they consequently altered it further into Shatranj .

Even today In many Indian dialects this game is pronounced as Shatranj but a very  few knows about its true derivation.

The name Chaturanga comes from the four angas or members of an army. Ancient Indian text Amarkosha mentions these four sections of army as "hastyaswarat hapadatam" i.e elephants,horses,chariots and foot soldiers.  However the early form of game was a lot more complicated than that of today's chess.

Why Chess was invented

An Arab traveller of early medieval India Al masudi mentions in his account The meadows of gold and mines of gems  about following things

Al masudi india

This explains the need of inventing a war based game. The time when Chaturanga was invented by Indians they were facing continuous threats of invasions by hunas(5th-6th CE) at their Northwest borders and to rehearse the actual war scene they created this board game  called Chaturanga. We will further explain the early form of game which was different from today's game and how it actually helped in rehearsing and developing strategies for war.

Early form of chess in India

The appearance of the chess pieces had altered greatly since the times of Chaturanga, with ornate pieces and chess pieces depicting animals giving way to abstract shapes. Most probably early Indians used real depiction of kings , horses and chariots but now they are depicted in more simpler forms.
Sir William Jones a well known British indologist wrote a research paper on origin of chess and according to him

This game is called Chaturanga,but more frequently chaturaji ,or the four kings, since it is played by four persons, representing as many princes, two allied armies combating on each side.

So basically four players would play sitting on the four sides of the board i.e east west north south. Each player would play with 8 chess pieces ,unlike today's 16. Each player would place his 8 chess pieces towards his side of board in 8 squares of initial two rows, in such a way that 4 squares becomes vacant on both left and right side of both these rows. So overall on playing board 8*4=32 squares would remain occupied and rest 32 remained vacant. This is how the game was positioned before the players began their moves.

In addition to it the luck factor also played a huge role in real wars so that element was also incorporated in this game by use of dice. The players could move their chess pieces based on the number they obtained by throwing the dice. For eg in Bhavishya Purana , during a conversation about fictious war game Vyasa tells Yudhisthir that "if cinque be thrown ,the king or a pawn must be moved,if quatre,the elephant,if trois ,the horse,and if deux the boat".

Sir William jones also mentions about the rules of game and fundamentals from the same conversation of Bhavishya purana between King Yudhishthir and sage .

The sage Vyasa explains at king's request the form of the fictious warfare on a board game and principal rules of it. It says

"Having marked eight squares on all sides" says the sage, "place the red army to the east, the green to the south,the yellow to the west,and the black to the north. Let the elephant stand "on the left of king,next to him,the horse,then the boat(rook was represented with boat in ancient India), and before them all,four foot soldiers". "But the boat must be placed in the angle of the board". 

This passage clearly shows that an army ,with its four angas ,must be placed on each side of the board leaving half the squares vacant. The boat here represented a chariot or rath. 

The Persian pronounced it as rokh and in present times it is known as rook .
In Bhavishya Purana Vyas further elaborates on moves of each of these chess elements. It also mentions about some ancient terms which are as follows:-

  1. Sinhasana- When any one king has placed himself on the square of another king, this move is called as sinhasana ,or the throne,he wins a stake,which is doubled if he kills the adverse monarch when he seizes his place. If he can seat himself on the throne of his ally,he takes the command of the whole army. 
  2. Chaturaji- if a player can occupy successively thrones of all the three princes, he obtsine the victory which is named chaturaji and the stake is doubled if he kills the last of the three just before he takes possession of his throne, but if he kills him on his throne the stake is quadrupled.
  3. Nirpacrishta- Nripacrishta means recovered by the king one player has his own king on the board, but the king of his partner has been taken, he may replace his captive ally,if he can seize both the adverse kings.if he cannot effect their capture ,he may exchange his King for one of them, against the general rule, and thus redeem the allied prince, who will supply his place.
  4. Shatpada- if a pawn can march to any square on the opposite extremity of the board, except that of the king or that of the ship,he assumes whatever power belonged to that square , and this promotion is called shatpada or the six strides.
  5. Chachashtha-there could neither be victory nor defeat if a king were left on the plain without force, a situation which was named chachashtha.
  6. Vrihannauca- if three ships happen to meet,and the fourth can be brought up to them in the remaining angle, this has the name of vrihannauca, and the player of the fourth seizes all the others.
Thus as in a real warfare , a king may be considered as victorious when he seizes the metropolis of his adversary, but if he can destroy his foe he displays greater heroism, and relives his people from any further solicitude. In the similar manner several scenarios of war were considered and executed by players on the playing board.

Why Indians are not aware of their legacy

There are various reasons for this. The first and foremost is they hardly take any interest in indian history . The reason is few historians who dominated National scene have always shown indian past as regressive, a past which was full of negative practices. The achivements like invention of Chess by our ancestors, which are attributed to Indians even by the foreigners were deliberately kept hidden from the eyes of young Indians.

The second thing is a majority of Indians lack the quality of being a good observant. They still don't observe the things that are slowly changing in their city or in their villages. 
They just live their normal lives and don't question the change.

For eg. Few years back India was known for its aromatoc basmati rice. It was so easily available in our city or towns that people could buy them anywhere.But suddenly this aromaroc rice got disappeared from Indian market. What we eat today in the name of Basmati rice is not what Basmati used to be. If basmati rice was prepared in a household anybody in the locality could smell the aroma of that cooked basmati rice.

But today even the costliest of the basmati lacks such aroma. Very few news reports wrote about it, largely it was ignored. Now the present generation believes that basmati means a long and light rice grain and the future generations of Indian would accept this fake rice as basmati coz their ancestors failed to record such major drastic change in one of the most precious indegenous produce of India. 

Similarly the chaturang played in India was represented in ancient times by chess pieces that were designed like Indian kings and their armies. But today most of our chess pieces that are available in India bear foreign influence. 

Indian ancient game
Drastic changes in traditional Indian chess pieces 

Now this change in the designs must have happened somewhere in the past but the generations of Indian of that time didn't observed and objected or recorded this change that's why the future generations remained unaware of this fact that chess has its origin in India.

Imagine in this scenario how can someone even think about game's origin. Well we are not raising a religious issue here all we are talking about is if such chess pieces with cross on kings head are sold in Europe then it's understood but such chess pieces which bear foreign influence are commonly sold in India. How ignorant are the makers of these chess boards who don't even know about the origin of the game. In the world of patent and copyrights when people are claiming every damn thing it's only Indians who are giving up on their ancestral legacy . 

PM Modi's call for development of digital games based on Indian themes can only be successful if Indians first start claiming what's already their's.
In the era of protectionism and nationalism such nationalist fervor is the need of the time. Not only to reap economic benefits but also to make new generations aware about our ancestral legacy through such games.

Indian history is so rich that it is full of such interesting themes that involves all kind of human experiences like love, war, adventure,sports, etc. that can be incorporated in games by developers and if their ancestors can invent a highly complicated game like chess than surely they can do a better job and make the country proud. 

Apart from disseminating historical information, through this write up, we are also hoping to instill such confidence among Indian youth which is required to develop the games based on Indian themes. Hopefully those who showed doubts at PMs call would re-evaluate their opinion about Indian achievements in past and instead of procrastinating about ban on Chinese gaming apps would create something of their own and add to the glorious legacy of this great country.

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