The Mysterious Origins of Chess

Although chess is popularly believed to have originated in medieval Europe, it likely has its true roots in other cultures and civilizations.  Understandably, there is also a degree of controversy over where exactly this famous game started.  Some say it came from the Moors of North Africa as they invaded Spain.  Other attribute chess to Persia and claim that the game traveled westward on the Silk Road.  Contemporary scholars increasingly believe that chess-style games may be older than previously realized.  Yet, as is true with yoga, games will tend to evolve alongside the cultures which embrace them.


In the early 6th century a game called chaturanga was developed in the Gupta Empire, located in present-day India.  As we’ve often heard in yoga classes, chaturanga means four-arms, or perhaps interpretively four-armies.  The concept of a game in which pieces possess different powers distinguished it from other traditional board games of its era, including backgammon, go, and checkers.  Translated into English, these four variety of pieces are: infantry, cavalry, elephantry and chariotry.  Respectably, these pieces bear resemblance to the modern pawn, knight, bishop, and rook.

Another interesting aspect, confirmed by archeological evidence, is that chaturanga is played on a board called and ashtapada.  A simplistic understanding of common Sanskrit words suggest that ashta must mean “eight” and pada likely means “tablet” or “book.”  Together, these works seem for confirm an idea, that the 8-by-8 checkered board could have had its origins in India too.  I claim these statements as fact, however many beloved aspects of the game, including check and check-mate to win, likely have their origins in different countries and eras.



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