In early India, games and sports were very much concerned about the development of the physique and for the art of offense and defense. Games were also considered a kind of recreation. These played a vital role in the development of a man’s personality. Important of them included indoor games, Chess, music, fishing and boating, singing and dancing, water sports, etc.

Ancient India Games Chess

Fortunately, India has a rich heritage of these activities. They can be found in the archaeological excavations of Mohenjodaro and Harappa, the Vedic literature, The Ramayana and the Mahabharata, the Puranas, the literary works of Kautilya, Kalidasa, Panini, and Dandin as well as a whole lot of Buddhist and Jain literature. Various archaeological evidence like coins, inscriptions, and monumental carvings support them.ral

Ancient India Games

Games like, Chess, Snakes and Ladders, Playing Cards, Polo, the martial arts of Judo and Karate originated in India. Also, it was from here that these games were transmitted to foreign countries, where they were further developed.

Chess – The game of chess was invented in India. It was originally called Ashtapada or sixty-four squares. There, however, were no light and dark squares like we see in today’s chess board for 1,000 years. Other Indian boards included the 10×10 Dasapada and the 9×9 Saturankam.

Chaturanga Game

Later this game came to be known as Chaturanga. The Sanskrit name ‘Chaturanga’ means ‘quadripartite’ or ‘the four angels.’ The earliest known form of chess is two-handed Chaturanga, Sanskrit for “the 4 branches of the army.” Like real Indian armies at that time, the pieces were called elephants, chariots, horses and foot soldiers.

Ancient India Games Sports Chess
Indian Chaturanga Chess Set

Unlike modern chess, Chaturanga was mainly a game of chance. In this game, result depended on how well one rolled the dice. Chaturanga is well recognized as the earliest form of chess. This game was played on an authentic cloth game surface by 2, 3 or 4 players. Chaturanga combined the basic strategy of chess with the dynamic challenge of chance. This was because each move was determined by the random roll of wooden dice.

There is evidence of ‘Chaturanga’ having been played with dice. This is still not uncommon, although it involved more skill than chance in this version. It was only in 600 AD that this game came to be learned by Persians who named it Shatranj.

Ancient India Sports Chess

Shatranj was a foreign word among the Persians and the Arabians. Hence, its natural derivation from the term Chaturanga is obvious. As a matter of fact, even the word ‘checkmate’ is derived from the Persian term Shah Mat which meant ‘the king is dead!’ The Sanskrit equivalent of this was called as Kshatra Mruta.

Ancient India Games Sports Chess

The Mahabharata story throws light on the fact that a game similar to Chess was played in ancient India. The Mahabharata is variously dated around 800 and 1100 B.C. Thus this game was known in India nearly 3000 years ago. It is the view of some historians that this game was also used in the allocation of land among different members of a clan. This took place especially when a new settlement was being established.

Local Variations in Chess

Tamil variations of Chaturanga are ‘Puliattam’ (goat and tiger game). In this, careful moves on a triangle decided whether the tiger captures the goats or the goats escape; the ‘Nakshatraattam’ or star game where each player cuts out the other; and ‘Dayakattam’ with four, eight or ten squares. This was like Ludo. Variations of the ‘Dayakattam’ include ‘Dayakaram’, the North Indian ‘Pachisi’ and ‘Champar’. There were many more such local variations.