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Game of Chess is a gift from India, just as Yoga

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A bright young 18 year old boy from India, GrandMaster Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa has won Silver at the International Chess Championship* and earlier, GrandMaster Vishwanath Anand had won Gold in the year 2000 at this Championship. Therefore, this is perhaps an appropriate time to reflect on our heritage-link with this sport. 

Chess, just like Yoga, is essentially a gift of the Ancient Indian knowledge system to mankind. Everyone knows this, globally all chess organisations admit this and Google also says so! Now India has to work on projecting chess and repositioning it as a costless tool to sharpen intellectual prowess, something like a kind of Intellectual Yoga or “BrainYoga”. Also let us remember not to confuse this grand intellectual game with chance games of dice. Chess is not a game of chances but it is a war-game of strategic thinking, planning and executing an attack on an enemy.

Chess is another evidence of ancient India’s cultural current, softly and gracefully flowing throughout the globe, just like Yoga does. Contributing to the intellectual elevation of the human potential at almost no cost, no commitment and no demand. In that way, chess parallels Yoga. Yoga contributes to humanity by elevating health and wellness at no cost, no commitment and no demand.

It is no secret that what was once a very commonly played game in India has lost that place, albeit, due to very legitimate reasons. Finding peaceful leisurely time for this sport was nearly impossible during the centuries of assaults and oppressions of colonisers. Now that the tide has turned in favour, independent India is slowly finding its feet, it is the right time to work on India’s assets, intangible and tangible.

In most Indian languages, such as Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi, Bengali, Urdu etc, the game of chess is known by its Arabaised pronunciation,“Shatranj”. However, it was not so before the foreigners colonised India. Wherever the Indic civilisation existed, from the Far-East to South Asia, chess was known by the original name “CHATURANG – चतुरंग”. In Tamil language and many other Asian languages such as Burmese, Bahasa Indonesia etc. it is still Chaturang, expressed as ‘Chaturnkam’ in Tamil or similar meaning in their local languages. 

The word ‘Chaturang’ carries a meaning. When applied to an army, Chaturang means ‘a strong full-fledged army consisting of all “4-Elements”. Namely, 1- foot-soldiers, 2- elephant mounted soldiers, 3- cavalrymen riding camels and 4- cavalrymen riding horses’. The army is led in the game by a King and Chief of the Army.

Chaturang has almost the same set of rules as those used in Chess today, however the titles of the pieces on the chequered board are not the same. The  Indian Chaturang pieces were secular soldiers but modern international chess today has religiously anointed soldier pieces such as Knights and Bishops.

Shatranj is just a mispronounced original word, “Chaturang”. It came came to be known as Shatranj in many languages in Asia and by names such as  échecs, ajedrez, schach, xadrez, check, shakhmaty, or chess in Europe. While Shatranj is merely Arabised** pronunciation of the Indian word Chaturang, the European name connects it to the word ‘Shah’, as the game of Kings/Rulers. In the Islamic ruler dominated regions such as India/Persia etc, the ruler was known as ‘Shah’ or ‘Shehanshah’. Eventually Chaturang took various local customised forms of ‘Shah’ in Spain, Portugal, France, Britain, Germany, Russia, England etc European countries and even in China.

Persian, Nepali, Sinhala languages etc and all the modern Indian languages such as Hindi, Gujarati, Urdu, Marathi, Bengali etc had no alphabetical or larynx deficiency, they being members of the Indo-European Language group, with roots in Sanskrit, were fully capable of proper pronunciation of every syllable of ‘Chaturang’ but had ironically began adopting the “ruler-friendly vocabulary” ‘Shatranj’ for the game of Chaturang.

Thus, most of the current names for chess do not capture the essence of the game as brilliantly as the original name “CHATURANG” that alludes to the spirit of the game, The Battle. This leaves a possibility that the world might welcome a more relevant name such as Chaturang in the future. Perhaps it can begin by making a positive narrative about it first in India, taking care not to waste away the goodwill of the game even though obtained by use of any other name.

Chess can be on the global stage as an ancient Indian game of Chaturang on the lines of Yoga for health and Chaturang for Brain Enhancement. Maybe India can host the FIDE office in India. Maybe India can begin with encouragement schemes, awards, incentives, coaching centres for Chess players in state capitals etc. and build on the potential that exists in the talented young generation of India. 


Chess Championship*: The International Chess Federation, well known by its French language acronym FIDE, is based in Switzerland. 

Chess Championship 2000: India’s first international success at the championships came in 2000, when Viswanathan Anand won the Gold. 

Chess Championship 2023: Rameshbabu Praggnanandhaa now won the Silver at the FIDE World Cup in 2023.

Arabised** Arabs always replace ‘च – Ch’ with  ‘شوِِ‘ – ‘Sh’ or ‘س’-, ‘S’  simply because Arabic alphabets does not have any syllable equivalent to ‘च – Ch’. (We are aware that in Arabic, the Chai is Shy, China is Sin, Chocolate is Shockolate, etc. Secondly, Arabic alphabets ‘G’-‘ग’, ‘GH’-’घ’, and ‘J’-’ज’, have certain freedom of transpositioning resulting in tribe-wise/country-wise pronunciation differences. (We know that Gamal is occasionally Jamal, Sharga is Sharjah, Gabriel is Jibriel, etc). This led to Chaturang coming to be pronounced as ‘Shatranj’ and the original word began its life in the Islam dominated parts of the globe with Arab, Turkic or Mongol rulers in the mediaeval time as a new spoken word, “Shatranj”  – ”شطرنج” (in Arabic).

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