Chaturanga or Xiangqi

by Raja Shukla
(Pune, India)

The origin of the game of Chess is for sure ridden with controversy; it’s not like many other games that originated in some part of the world, gained in popularity with time and continue to be played almost under the same format with only slight changes in the rules. In the case of Chess, the way it is played today, we have to link it to some games that are documented to have been played. To take an authoritative view regarding its origin, it greatly depends on historians’ perception to the extent the modern game bears similarity to some game known to have been played longest ago; and that’s a ticklish issue!

If we go by the format/rules of modern Chess, we find a predominant view by historians that it was played in India around sixth century by the name Chaturanga, a Sanskrit word meaning a formation of four components. The Chess pieces find first specific mention in recorded history around the seventh century; the history of that century also records that the game gradually spread to other parts of Asia. Shatranj, a name with which the game is known in many parts of Asia today bears an uncanny resemblance with Chaturanga.

There is yet another view that is based more on hearsay; a game known as Xiangqi was played in China as far back as the second century. The game was one involving high skills on the part of contestants; perhaps the oldest in this genre of games. It bears a mention here that during a time when games were evolved to test and try physical prowess, Xiangqi called for use of mental strength. Modern day Chess is very similar to the known features of Xiangqi.

The question of whether the origin of modern day Chess be traced back to China or India therefore continues to be an open question!

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