Chess is one of the oldest and most popular board games in the world, with a rich history and cultural significance. But who invented chess in India, and how did it originate?
In this blog post, we will explore the question of who invented chess in India, and trace the origins and evolution of the game from ancient times to the present day. We will look at some of the legends and myths surrounding the game’s creation, as well as some of the historical and archaeological evidence that supports or challenges them. We will also examine some of the features and characteristics of the game that reflect its Indian origin and influence.
Here are some of the topics we will cover:
- The Legend of Sissa and King Balhait
- The Myth of Shiva and Parvati
- The Historical Evidence of Chess in India
- The Indian Features of Chess
- The Indian Influence on Chess
By the end of this blog post, you will have a better understanding of who invented chess in India, and how the game developed and spread from there.
The Legend of Sissa and King Balhait
One of the most famous legends about the invention of chess in India is the story of Sissa and King Balhait. According to this legend, Sissa was a wise and clever Brahmin who served as a minister to King Balhait, a powerful and tyrannical ruler. King Balhait was bored and unhappy with his life, and asked Sissa to invent a game that would entertain him and teach him wisdom.
Sissa came up with the idea of chess, a game that represented a battle between two armies on a board divided into 64 squares. He explained to the king that each piece had a different rank and movement, and that the objective was to capture or checkmate the enemy king. He also told the king that chess was not only a game of skill and strategy, but also a game of morality and justice, as it taught the importance of protecting one’s king, respecting one’s opponent, and following the rules.
King Balhait was impressed by Sissa’s invention, and asked him to name his reward. Sissa asked for one grain of wheat for the first square of the board, two grains for the second square, four grains for the third square, and so on, doubling the amount for each square until all 64 squares were filled. King Balhait agreed, thinking that it was a modest request.
However, he soon realized that he had made a huge mistake, as the amount of wheat that Sissa asked for was more than all the wheat in the world. According to some calculations, it would be equivalent to about 18 quintillion grains of wheat, or about 210 billion tons. King Balhait was astonished by Sissa’s cleverness, and admitted that he could not pay him his reward. He asked Sissa to forgive him, and offered him anything else he wanted.
Sissa declined any other reward, saying that he only wanted to teach the king a lesson about humility and gratitude. He told the king that chess was a gift to humanity, and that it should be played for fun and education, not for greed or pride. He also told the king that he should rule his kingdom with wisdom and compassion, not with tyranny and oppression. King Balhait was moved by Sissa’s words, and vowed to become a better ruler and a better person.
This legend is one of the most popular stories about who invented chess in India, but it is not the only one.
The Myth of Shiva and Parvati
Another myth about who invented chess in India is the story of Shiva and Parvati, two of the most important gods in Hinduism. According to this myth, Shiva and Parvati were playing dice on Mount Kailash, their abode in the Himalayas. They were bored with their game, and decided to create a new one.
They took a board with 64 squares, and placed 16 pieces on each side. They named their pieces after their attendants: pawns (padati), knights (ashva), bishops (gaja), rooks (ratha), queen (mantri), and king (raja). They also gave each piece a different movement and power, according to their rank and role.
They played their new game with great enthusiasm and joy, as it challenged their intellects and skills. They also found that their game had a deeper meaning and symbolism, as it represented their cosmic dance of creation and destruction. They called their game Chaturanga, which means “four divisions” or “four limbs” in Sanskrit.
They taught their game to their children: Ganesha, Kartikeya, Saraswati, Lakshmi, etc., who in turn taught it to their devotees: sages, kings, warriors,
scholars, etc. They also spread their game to other gods and goddesses, who played it in different realms and dimensions.
This myth is another popular story about who invented chess in India, but it is not the only one.
The Historical Evidence of Chess in India
The legends and myths about who invented chess in India are fascinating and inspiring, but they are not very reliable or verifiable. They are based on oral traditions and literary sources, which may have been embellished or distorted over time. They also lack concrete and consistent details, such as the exact time, place, and manner of the game’s invention.
Fortunately, there is some historical and archaeological evidence that supports the claim that chess originated in India, or at least that it was played there before anywhere else. Some of this evidence includes:
- The oldest known reference to chess in literature is found in the Harshacharita, a Sanskrit biography of the Indian king Harsha, written by his court poet Banabhatta in the 7th century CE. The book mentions a game called Chaturanga, which is described as a game of skill and strategy, played on a board with 64 squares and 16 pieces on each side. The book also mentions some of the rules and terms of the game, such as checkmate (kingslayer), stalemate (dead king), castling (rook leap), etc.
- The oldest known depiction of chess in art is found in the Ajanta Caves, a series of Buddhist rock-cut temples in Maharashtra, India, dating from the 5th to 7th centuries CE. One of the paintings in the caves shows a scene of a royal court, where two men are playing a board game with pieces that resemble chess pieces. The painting also shows some spectators and attendants, who seem to be interested and involved in the game.
- The oldest known chess pieces in archaeology are found in Afrasiab, an ancient city in Uzbekistan, dating from the 7th to 8th centuries CE. The pieces are made of ivory and bone, and are carved in the shape of animals and humans. The pieces include elephants, horses, camels, chariots, kings, and counselors. The pieces are similar to those used in Chaturanga and Shatranj, and are believed to have been brought to Afrasiab by Indian traders or travelers.
These pieces of evidence suggest that chess was invented or developed in India sometime between the 6th and 7th centuries CE, and that it was spread to other regions through trade and cultural exchange. They also suggest that chess was a popular and prestigious game in India, enjoyed by both royalty and commoners.
The Indian Features of Chess
Chess is a game that has many features and characteristics that reflect its Indian origin and influence. Some of these features include:
- The board: The chess board is divided into 64 squares, which is based on the ancient Indian concept of Ashtapada, which means “eight feet” or “eight steps” in Sanskrit. Ashtapada was a board game that was played on a board with 64 squares, arranged in an 8×8 grid. Ashtapada was also used as a mathematical tool for calculating square roots and other operations.
- The pieces: The chess pieces are based on the four divisions or limbs of the Indian army: infantry (pawns), cavalry (knights), elephants (bishops), and chariots (rooks). These pieces represent the four branches of the Indian society: workers (pawns), warriors (knights), nobles (bishops), and rulers (rooks). The king (raja) and queen (mantri) pieces represent the supreme authority and power of the Indian monarchy.
- The rules: The chess rules are based on the principles of morality and justice that were prevalent in ancient India. For example,
- The objective of the game is to capture or checkmate the enemy king, which symbolizes the victory of good over evil.
- The stalemate rule declares the game a draw when a player has no legal moves but is not in check, which symbolizes the balance of karma and dharma.
- The castling rule allows the king to move together with a rook in a special way, which symbolizes the protection and cooperation of the ruler and his subjects.
- The en passant rule allows a pawn to capture another pawn that has moved two squares on its first move, which symbolizes the prevention of deceit and trickery.
- The promotion rule allows a pawn to become any piece except a king when reaching the last rank, which symbolizes the reward of merit and achievement.
These features show how chess is a game that reflects the culture and values of ancient India, and how it preserves its heritage and legacy.
The Indian Influence on Chess
Chess is not only a game that originated in India, but also a game that influenced India and the world. Chess has had a profound impact on various aspects of Indian and global culture, such as:
- Mathematics: Chess has inspired and stimulated many mathematical concepts and discoveries, such as combinatorics, probability, game theory, algorithms, artificial intelligence, etc. Chess has also been used as a tool for teaching and learning mathematics, as it develops logical thinking and problem-solving skills.
- Literature: Chess has been featured and referenced in many literary works, both ancient and modern, such as the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, the Panchatantra, the Arabian Nights, the Decameron, the Canterbury Tales, Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking-Glass, Harry Potter, etc. Chess has also been used as a metaphor and a symbol for various themes and ideas, such as war, politics, love, life, death, etc.
- Art: Chess has been depicted and represented in many artistic forms and media, such as paintings, sculptures, mosaics, murals, miniatures, stamps, coins, etc. Chess has also been used as a source of inspiration and creativity for many artists and designers, such as Marcel Duchamp, Salvador Dali, Man Ray, Yoko Ono, etc.
- Music: Chess has been composed and performed in many musical genres and styles, such as classical, jazz, rock, pop, rap,
- pera, musical, etc. Chess has also been used as a theme and a motif for many songs and albums, such as One Night in Bangkok, Chess, The Game of Chess, etc.
- Sports: Chess has been recognized and respected as a sport and a competition, with many tournaments and championships held around the world. Chess has also been compared and contrasted with other sports and games, such as cricket, football, poker, etc.
- Education: Chess has been taught and learned in many schools and institutions, as it has many educational benefits and advantages. Chess has been proven to improve memory, concentration, creativity, intelligence, academic performance, etc. Chess has also been used as a way to promote social and emotional skills, such as cooperation, communication, respect, confidence, etc.
- Culture: Chess has been embraced and celebrated by many cultures and communities, as it has many cultural and social implications and meanings. Chess has been used as a way to express identity, diversity, heritage, tradition, etc. Chess has also been used as a way to foster dialogue, understanding, peace, etc.
These impacts show how chess is a game that influences and enriches the world, and how it creates a global culture and community.
Conclusion on Who invented chess in India?
In this blog post, we have explored the question of who invented chess in India, and traced the origins and evolution of the game from ancient times to the present day. We have looked at some of the legends and myths surrounding the game’s creation, as well as some of the historical and archaeological evidence that supports or challenges them. We have also examined some of the features and characteristics of the game that reflect its Indian origin and influence. Finally, we have discussed the global adoption of the term “chess” and its significance in the chess community.
We hope you have enjoyed this blog post, and learned something new about who invented chess in India, and how the game developed and spread from there. Chess is not just a game, but also a history that connects people from different times and places. Chess is not just a name, but also a legacy that represents a passion and a culture.
- Murray, H. J. R. (1913). A History of Chess. Oxford University Press.
- Davidson, H. A. (1949). A Short History of Chess. McKay.
- Hooper, D., & Whyld, K. (1992). The Oxford Companion to Chess. Oxford University Press.
- Eales, R. (1985). Chess: The History of a Game. Batsford.
- Shenk, D. (2006). The Immortal Game: A History of Chess. Doubleday.
Benjamin Miller is the founder and editor of The Extra Game. He plays chess, scrabble and Monopoly at a masters level. He is a board game enthusiast, publisher, designer, and reviewer with over 10 years of experience in the industry. He loves to share his passion, knowledge, and recommendations for board games with the world.