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Strategic Games That Evolved From Chaturanga, an Ancient Board Game

Updated on February 17, 2020
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Chess is my favorite game, so I decided to do some research on its origin. Chess and many other games have a common predecessor, Chaturanga!

In The Beginning, There Was Chaturanga...

Chaturanga is an extremely ancient game, and probably one of the very first board game ever to be invented. Most historians believe that the games originated approximately 1400 years ago in the land of the Guptas. While almost nobody ever plays the game nowadays, it is very likely that they've heard of at least one board game that has evolved from Chaturanga. One of these games is chess.

Krishna and Radha playing Chaturanga
Krishna and Radha playing Chaturanga | Source

How Was Chaturanga Played?

Chaturanga was played on an 8 x 8 checkered board, and the pieces used looked and move very similarly to chess pieces with one exception, the elephant, which stands where the modern day bishop stands. The exact moves of the elephant piece is unknown. Here are the moves of the different chaturanga pieces.

  • The Raja (i.e. king) can move one square in any direction.
  • The Mantri (i.e. queen) can move one square diagonally in any direction.
  • The Ratha (i.e. rook) can move in any distance in a straight (not diagonal) line.
  • The Gaja (elephant) unknown
  • The Ashva (knight) advances two squares in any nondiagonal line, and then one square to the right or left. It's the same move as the modern day knight in chess.
  • The Padati (pawn) would always moves one square at a time away from your side of the board in a straight line, with one exception. When capturing another piece, it always moves diagonally, it can never capture a piece directly in front or anywhere behind or side by side.

Nobody really knows what the exact rules were of the game. However, most historians agree that the object of the game was to kill all the opponents pieces until only the king remains, and if you'd accomplished this, you've won!

Chess is my favorite game!
Chess is my favorite game!

Chaturanga to Chess

The game Chaturanga eventually evolved into the modern day chess. What the exact paths the game took to become chess is largely debatable. Most historians agree that from India, which is where Chaturanga was most likely created, it spread out into Persia.

The Persians are noted to give the pieces more abstract designs, instead of the lifelike depictions used previously. They did this because the Muslims thought creating any life-like artwork was a form of idolatry.

From Persia, it spread to Europe, where the game evolved into the modern day chess. It was in europe, under the Christian influence, that the pieces of the chess set were depicted as real people again, that is, the king, queen, rook, bishop, knight, and pawn. Also, it was in Europe that the queen and bishop were given more power. Both pieces could now move across the board, and thus the pawn promotion rule was given much more attention.

A Short Video on The History of Chess

An interesting game of Xiangqi.
An interesting game of Xiangqi.

Chaturanga to Xiangqi

Another major game that is believed to have evolved from Chaturanga is Xiangqi. There is many differences between chess and xiangqi. Xiangqi pieces move only on the lines, and rests upon the intersection of two lines instead of inside of a square.

Also, the pieces are flat like checkers, and are designated by the name on the piece. Another striking difference is the river that runs through the middle of the board, which is obviously not present on chaturanga or chess boards.

How to Play Xiangqi (Part 1)

How to Play Xiangqi (Part 2)

Having fun playing Shogi
Having fun playing Shogi | Source

Chaturanga to Shogi

Shogi is another popular game that is believed to derived from Chaturanga. This game is from Japan, and is often called Japanese chess. Shogi is very similar to chess but also has some notable difference. For example, the pieces are flat, though not round like Xiangqi. Instead, shogi pieces are wedge shaped, and are created this way to show which opponent controls which piece. A piece pointed away from you is your piece whereas a piece pointed toward you is your opponent's piece.

Similar to Xiangqi, the pieces are differentiated by the names written on the piece. Also the pieces are all different sizes depending on the value/importance of the piece.

Another very important difference between chess and shogi is the board has more rows (9) and the game has more pieces (20). The setup of shogi is seen in the image to the right.

Tutorial on How to Play Shogi

Makruk (aka Thai chess)
Makruk (aka Thai chess) | Source

Chaturanga to Makruk

I find the Makruk (thai chess) game to be very intriguing. Not only is the queen one of the weakest pieces, there is no piece that can advance across the board. In fact, it is the Knight who can advance the most moves, it moves exactly like modern day chess.

The fact that not one of the pieces have a very far reach may be the reason why Vladimir Kramnik said that there is more strategy involved in this game then chess even.

The rule that was most surprising and difficult for me to understand is that when all pawns of both sides are gone, depending on what pieces are still on the board, the losing opponent counts down the set moves his rival has to win the game (i.e. checkmate).

The following video will show you a little more about how to play this game...

A Great Tutorial on How to Play Makruk

Deep in a game of Janggi!
Deep in a game of Janggi! | Source

Chaturanga to Janggi

Janggi reminds me very much of Xianqi, and the two are indeed very similar. Also known as Korean Chess, the pieces, like Xianqi, move along the lines. They are flat, and usually have an octagonal shape to them.

None of the Janggi pieces have the same name as chess. The following list are the names of the different pieces, which are named via a Chinese Character.

  • General - Similar to kings in western chess.
  • Guards
  • Elephants
  • Horses
  • Chariots
  • Cannons
  • Soldiers

As you can very well see, this game is very different from Chaturanga. Although it is considered one of the many variations of the game, a person who knows how to play chess would be learning a completely new game when play Janggi!

Below is another video demonstrating Korean Chess.

The Korean Version of Chess - Janggi

As you can see, the game of chaturanga has evolved into many different variations. While I do know how to play chess, and am becoming quite good at it, I'd love to learn how to play the other variations as well. My dad taught me how to play chess, but I don't think he knows how to play any of the other variation, so I probably have to teach myself, which isn't quite as fun. We'll see!

© 2014 ProjectResolute


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      3 years ago

      Makruk is easy it has endings to draw because his rules. Xiangqi and shogi are very tactic.I prefer play with westernized pieces.


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