a b c d e f g h
8 a8 black rook b8 black knight c8 black upside-down bishop d8 black king e8 black queen f8 black upside-down bishop g8 black knight h8 black rook 8
7 a7 black pawn b7 black pawn c7 black pawn d7 black pawn e7 black pawn f7 black pawn g7 black pawn h7 black pawn 7
6 6
5 5
4 4
3 3
2 a2 white pawn b2 white pawn c2 white pawn d2 white pawn e2 white pawn f2 white pawn g2 white pawn h2 white pawn 2
1 a1 white rook b1 white knight c1 white upside-down bishop d1 white queen e1 white king f1 white upside-down bishop g1 white knight h1 white rook 1
a b c d e f g h
Chaturanga starting position.[1] The Rajas do not face each other; the white Raja starts on e1 and the black Raja on d8.

Chaturanga (Sanskrit: चतुरङ्ग; caturaṅga), catur, is an ancient Indian strategy game which is the common ancestor of the board games chess, shogi, makruk, xiangqi and janggi.

Chaturanga developed in the Gupta Empire, India around the 6th century AD. In the 7th century, it was adopted as shatranj in Sassanid Persia, which in turn was the form of chess brought to late-medieval Europe.

The exact rules of chaturanga are unknown. Chess historians suppose that the game had similar rules to those of its successor shatranj. In particular, there is uncertainty as to the moves of the Gaja (elephant), the precursor of the modern chess bishop.


  • History 1
  • Rules 2
    • Pieces and their moves 2.1
    • Additional rules 2.2
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • Further reading 5
  • External links 6


Krishna and Radha playing chaturanga on an 8×8 Ashtāpada

Sanskrit caturaṅga is a bahuvrihi compound, meaning "having four limbs or parts" and in epic poetry often means "army".[2] The name comes from a battle formation mentioned in the Indian epic Mahabharata, referring to four divisions of an army, namely elephants, chariots, cavalry and infantry. An ancient battle formation, Akshauhini, is like the setup of chaturanga.

a b c d e f g h
8 a8 b8 c8 d8 e8 f8 g8 h8 8
7 a7 b7 c7 d7 e7 f7 g7 h7 7
6 a6 b6 c6 d6 e6 f6 g6 h6 6
5 a5 b5 c5 d5 e5 f5 g5 h5 5
4 a4 b4 c4 d4 e4 f4 g4 h4 4
3 a3 b3 c3 d3 e3 f3 g3 h3 3
2 a2 b2 c2 d2 e2 f2 g2 h2 2
1 a1 b1 c1 d1 e1 f1 g1 h1 1
a b c d e f g h
Ashtāpada, the uncheckered 8×8 board, sometimes with special markings, on which chaturanga was played

Chaturanga was played on an 8×8 uncheckered board, called Ashtāpada.[3] The board sometimes had special markings, the meaning of which is unknown today. These marks were not related to chaturanga, but were drawn on the board only by tradition. Chess historian Harold Murray conjectured that the Ashtāpada was also used for some old race-type dice game, perhaps similar to Chowka bhara, in which the marks had meaning.

An early reference to an ancient Indian board game is sometimes attributed to Subandhu in his Vasavadatta (c. AD 450):

The time of the rains played its game with frogs for pieces [nayadyutair] yellow and green in colour, as if mottled by lac, leapt up on the black field squares.

The colours are not those of the two camps, but mean that the frogs have a two-tone dress, yellow and green.

Banabhatta's Harsha Charitha (c. AD 625) contains the earliest reference to the name chaturanga:

Under this monarch, only the bees quarrelled to collect the dew; the only feet cut off were those of measurements, and only from Ashtâpada one could learn how to draw up a chaturanga, there was no cutting-off of the four limbs of condemned criminals...

While there is little doubt that Ashtâpada is the gameboard of 8×8 squares, the double meaning of chaturanga, as the four-folded army, may be controversial. There is a probability that the ancestor of chess was mentioned there.

The game was first introduced to the West in Thomas Hyde's De ludis orientalibus libri duo, published in 1694. Subsequently, translations of Sanskrit accounts of the game were published by Sir William Jones.[4]

In Arabic, most of the terminology was carried out directly from chaturanga: modern chess itself is called "chitranj" in Arabic, and the bishop is called "elephant".


The initial position is as shown. White moves first. The objective in chaturanga, the same as modern chess, is to checkmate the opponent's Raja (king).

Pieces and their moves

  • Raja (king) (also spelled Rajah): moves one step in any direction (vertical, horizontal or diagonal), the same as the king in chess. There is no castling in chaturanga.
  • Mantri (minister or counsellor); also known as Senapati (general): moves one step diagonally in any direction, like the fers in shatranj.
  • Ratha (chariot) (also spelled Śakata): moves the same as a rook in chess.
  • Gaja (elephant) (also spelled Gajah or Hathi): three different moves are described in ancient literature:
  • Two squares in any diagonal direction, jumping over the first square, as the alfil in shatranj. This is a fairy chess piece which is a (2,2)-leaper.
    • The same move is used for the boat in chaturaji, a four-player version of chaturangam.[5]
    • The elephant in xiangqi has the same move, but without jumping.
  • One step forward or one step in any diagonal direction.
    • The same move is used for the khon (nobleman) in makruk (Thai chess) and the sin (elephant) in sittuyin (Burmese chess), as well as for the silver general in shogi.
    • The move was described c. 1030 by Biruni in his book India.
  • Two squares in any orthogonal (vertical or horizontal) direction, jumping over the first square.
    • A piece with such a move is called a dabbābah[6] in some chess variants. The move was described by the Arabic chess master al-Adli[7] c. 840 in his (partly lost) chess work. (The Arabic word dabbābah in former times meant a covered siege engine for attacking walled fortifications; today it means "army tank".)
    • The German historian Johannes Kohtz (1843–1918) suggests, rather, that this was the earliest move of the Ratha.
  • Ashva (horse) (also spelled Ashwa or Asva): moves the same as a knight in chess.
  • Padàti or Bhata (foot-soldier or infantry) (also spelled Pedati); also known as Sainik (warrior): moves and captures the same as a pawn in chess, but without a double-step option on the first move.

Additional rules

Al-Adli mentions two further differences:

  • Stalemate was a win for a stalemated player. This rule appeared again in some medieval chess variations in England c. 1600. According to some sources, there was no stalemate, though this is improbable.
  • The player that is first to bare the opponent's king (i.e. capture all enemy pieces except the king) wins. In shatranj this is also a win, but only if the opponent cannot bare the player's king on his next turn.

See also


  1. ^ "The History Of Chess". ChessZone. Retrieved 29 March 2011. 
  2. ^ Meri 2005: 148
  3. ^ "Ashtapada". Jean-Louis Cazaux. 2005-07-25. Retrieved 2013-07-16. 
  4. ^ Henry Edward Bird. Chess History and Reminiscences. Forgotten Books. p. 47.  
  5. ^ W. Borsodi, etc. (1898). American Chess Magazine. Original from Harvard University. p. 262. 
  6. ^ Dabbābah
  7. ^ Al-Adli

Further reading

  • Davidson, Henry (1981) [1949]. A Short History of Chess. McKay.  

External links