Chaturanga: The Lost Wisdom from a Lasting Game of Chess

Mahesh Prabhu

Mahesh Prabhu

Udupi Mahesh Prabhu is a seasoned media, management & political consultant. He is a Founder and Chairman of Vedic Management Center and Vivaswaan. A fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain & Ireland, London (UK) and member of the International Federation of Journalists(USA), he also holds a Masters in Business Administration with a specialization in Marketing. For more info visit www.indiamahesh.com

Chaturanga or Chaduranga is the predecessor of Chess. As played on an 8X8 unchecked board, Chaturanga was also called Ashtapada. It is, probably, the first strategy board game ever invented. Although we cannot be sure if the rules of the Chess and Chaturnaga are the same, what we can be sure, thanks to albeit limited historical records, is that the look of the game has barely changed.

There were, and are, thirty-two pieces on board divided equally between two parties: playing from two ends of the board. Each side has one Raja or King, one Mantri or Minister, two Rathas or the Chariots, two Ashwas or the Horses, two Gajas or the elephants, and eight Padatis or the soldiers.

Chaduranga was a game of patience and perseverance. It was game-driven more by thinking than by actions. Two fingers are adequate to move pieces, but the thoughts that went behind each move was exhausting and elaborate.

It was a game designed to explain the dynamics of Karma or actions. Each move was sure to have consequences. No moves went without certain consequences. You also must bear the consequences. Worse, those consequences are irreversible, and there was no time for regrets or remorse. If you had to prevail, you must move on. It was a game where emotions played havoc, where absolute objectivity was a necessity, never the choice.

Chaturanga was a game designed to explain the dynamics of Karma or actions. Each move was sure to have consequences. No moves went without certain consequences. You also must bear the consequences. Worse, those consequences are irreversible, and there was no time for regrets or remorse. If you had to prevail, you must move on. It was a game where emotions played havoc, where absolute objectivity was a necessity, never the choice.

The calm of the mind is of the essence. A calm player is sure to observe the moves and see through the strategies employed, outsmart them, and then outflank the opponent. A mind overwhelmed by initial gains could as well be driven by brimming overconfidence and wreak havoc leading to loss.

The greatest fascinating aspect of this game is the concept of Gatirodha or Stalemate. A unique situation where neither party could win. Imagine a game of Chaturanga played meticulously over a period, with great efforts and at great costs of your pieces only to neither win nor lose, consider the amount of frustration.

According to legends, when two players of matching intellect played the game it out often resulted in a draw.

Chaturanga also presents the consequence of conflicts in real life. You could have a prolonged conflict, at a great cost of life and wealth, with your opponent in which neither would appear victorious. Of what use are such conflicts? Of what meaning are such wars?

Chaturanga, Chaturanga or Ashtapada was a game like no other. It was not any petty game, but a practical experiment, teaching the crucial nature of Karma (actions) and Dharma (duty). It was a game that explains the dynamics of leadership in the extremely volatile environment; it taught the limitations of power and showed consequences of actions, besides sharpening the intellect in a way as to imbibe wisdom.

According to some legends, the game of Chaturanga had a unique tradition: The pieces were laid on the board by the players themselves. Also, after the game was over players were intended to put the pieces in the boxes themselves. It signified the nature of life and death. The uncertainty of positions. The fact that only change is the only constant. On our birth, we assume power and weakness depending on set factors. We are all with more and less power in comparison to others, but in the end, until we are on the board called Life, we all are bound to suffer. And in the end, we all go into the same box; powerless, meaningless and with no sense of glory. The essence of Chaturanga was to impart the most crucial essence of life – Vinayam or humility.

According to some legends, the game of Chaturanga had a unique tradition: The pieces were laid on the board by the players themselves. Also, after the game was over players were intended to put the pieces in the boxes themselves. It signified the nature of life and death. The uncertainty of positions. The fact that only change is the only constant. On our birth, we assume power and weakness depending on set factors. We are all with more and less power in comparison to others, but in the end, until we are on the board called Life, we all are bound to suffer. And in the end, we all go into the same box; powerless, meaningless and with no sense of glory. The essence of Chaturanga was to impart the most crucial essence of life – Vinayam or humility.

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Learn about our continuing and online course connecting Vedic knowledge with contemporary situations including mind, body, management, leadership, politics and diplomacy.
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We've published over 6 books in hardbound, paperback and eBook format. Audio formats of our books are underway already along with graphic novels and comics.
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A unique Vedic Management Centre Initiative specially devised to rekindle the lost art and science of Vedic leadership for management, politics, and diplomacy.
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