The Mahabharata and the Origins of Chess

Did you ever stop to wonder where the game of Chess came from and how all the pieces got their names and shapes? It is difficult to determine exactly how old chess really is. There are many different scholarly opinions, but it does seem to come from Ancient India, and there is a great deal of information available that seems to indicate that chess comes from the ancient Indian epic poem “The Mahabharata.” It had a different name of course. Chaturanga.

The word Chaturanga comes from the Sanskrit word caturanga and meant divided into four quadrants, and referred to the first standing military. India was the first place to have a standing military, and it was so long ago that the references are vague and shadowy and steeped in mystery (something chess players love). When you look at the word itself it certainly makes sense as “runga,” the second part of the word, meant elephant (a big part of the ancient military of India). Perhaps “Chatu” or “Catu” may have referred to one of the other parts of that military, where the duties and functions were divided up. The ancient army consisted of the calvary (the knight) the foot soldier (the pawn) the elephant (the bishop) and the chariot (the rook).

The Chaturanga is a deeply profound spiritual battle that takes place in a chapter from the Mahabharata. It involves spiritual forces or ancient Hindu gods like Krishna and Arjuna facing their enemies and learning wisdom. Great elephants from the sky attack and chariots burst into flames. This battle, and the entire Mahabharata itself is really something interesting and exciting.

The Mahabharata is a difficult book to read but one that is certainly worth the effort. It is full of mystery, allegory, spirituality and entertainment.

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    The Mahabharata and the Origins of Chess

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