Saturday, May 15, 2010

Chess aka Chaturanga and Vishy Anand triumphs in Sofia, Bulgaria

Hello friends,

Vishwanathan Anand is World Chess Champion again ! The way Vishy beat Veselin Topalov with Black pieces speaks volumes of his brilliance. Playing on his opponent's home ground in a seemingly hostile environment, Anand held his nerves, the mind-champion that he is.

After Vishy was acknowledged as a prodigy, the interest in Chess in India, and particularly in the south, has been growing at a tremendous rate. We now even have national tournaments for age categories as low as Under-5 !

To celebrate, I found it apt to make a post on Chess, which has it's origins in India. It is believed that the game was called Chaturanga, and was developed somewhere in the 6th to 8th century during the rein of the Gupta Dynasty.

Chaturanga also translates into a 4-limbed creature, possibly referring to an army that had 4 divisions. It is to be noted that in the Mahabharatha, it is clearly mentioned that the army was subdivided into 4 - Infantry, Cavalry, Chariots and Elephantry.

Chaturanga was played on an 8x8 board called Ashtapada (or) Astapada.

The pieces that we are now familiar had similar roles and moves, but the names were in the Indian context. Given below in the list - first the modern names and then the Ancient:

King - Raja

Queen - Senapati (Prime Minister)

Bishop - Gaja (Elephant)

Knight - Asva or Ghoda (Horse)

Rook - Ratha or Chariot

I have also heard that the Bishop was referred to as Oonth (Camel), which was used in battles earlier.

The Prime Minister's role in Battles is definitely more predominant in strategic planning and execution. This is proven by the multitude of powers vested in the particular piece's hands, and the way the Prime Minister can control the entire board by moving left,right,forward,back and diagonal. Thus, the presence of the Prime Minister in the ancient form is justified.

In ancient times, it was unconventional for the demure Queen to go all out in a War. How the Prime Minister piece came to be called Queen in modern-day chess is a mystery. I guess it must be in line with the western idea of creating a pair and a romantic setting, and that a King without a Queen would not seem fitting.

Chaturanga became to be called Shatranj in Persia, and then was adopted by the West.

I found an image of a miniature painting that shows Krishna and Radha engrossed in what seems to be a game of Chess.

I also remember reading an interesting story in Tinkle some time back. A pandit brought a board to the king and explained him the concept of his game, called Chaturanga. The king was non-plussed about it and didn't think it was worth bringing the pandit and his game into spotlight. So the pandit challenged the king that he should place 1 grain of rice on the starting square of the board, and then continue multiplying by the serial number of the next square and placing equivalent number of rice grains.

As it turned out, the last square needed 64! (64 factorial = 64x63x62x61x60x......x1) grains, while the kingdom could not even provide the number of grains needed till half the board was accounted for. The king then understood the significance and power of the game and introduced it in his kingdom.

So this is a proud moment for all Indians that our very own Vishy Anand is at the top of the world with this Championship win in Sofia, Bulgaria. He has brought laurels to the game that is a testimony to Indian intelligence ! There couldn't be a more fitting brand ambassador for Indian Chess !

Nikhil Mundra

15th May 2010



Pangala Nagendra Rao said...

Really he is a true hero. Only his achievements speaks how great person he is.

Nikhil Mundra said...

Hello Mr.Rao,

Very true. Vishy is extremely soft-spoken and tries to steer clear of all controversies. He lets his mind to the talking on the board.

Nikhil Mundra