Chaturanga the Original Chess

Chaturanga is the oldest known form of chess. To find it we must leave Japan and shogi. We're heading back to the Asian mainland. Back to India where it all started during the Gupta Empire in the 6th Century AD.

There are actually two different variants that take the name Chaturanga. There is a two player game which looks similar to Western chess. It's an ancestor to Western chess with Shatranj as the missing link.

The other variant is a four player game. Four armies consisting of four pieces and four pawns lock horns on a 64 square 8x8 board. This game involves a dice. It can be two players against two players or a free for all. Now you can upload your own myths and legends of this game.


Chaturanga History


Chaturanga began in India in the 6th Century. The two player version had rules very similar to Shatranj and later Western Chess which are variants of it. Chinese Chess and Shogi are also said to have evolved from it. Chaturanga directly translated means having four limbs.

This is a reference to the Chaturanga army which was styled on the Indian army of that time. It was composed of infantry, cavalry, elephants and chariots.

The four player game, also known as Chaturaji (four kings), had four eight a side armies set up in the four corners. Some people have suggested that the four player version is an ancestor rather than a descendant of the two player version.

Two Player Rules

Chaturanga is said original chess game.

The Original Chess

The main differences between 2 player Chaturanga and modern chess are the pieces are weaker, the player who stalemates the enemy king loses and pawns promote to the piece which occupied the square it promotes on. The pawn promotes to a bishop on the c and f files for example.

The Raja (king) moves like a chess king. The Mantri (minister; this piece is a queen in chess) moves one square diagonally in any direction. The Ratha (rook) moves like a chess rook. The Gaja (elephant; now a bishop in chess) moves two squares straight or diagonal, one square diagonal or forward. The Ashva (horse) moves like a knight in chess. The Padati or Bhata (soldier; now a pawn in chess) moves one square forward, captures like a chess pawn.

Promotion on the king square is not permitted. Victories are claimed by way of checkmate or reducing the opposition to just the king.

Four Player Rules

Chaturagi: Four armies set up and attempt a boat triumph.

Four armies set up in the corners. It is very rare to see a boat triumph in a game but it happens.

In the 4 player version players start with a boat on the corner square, a horse inside that, an elephant inside that and a king inside that. Four pawns line up in front and the players play in clockwise direction. The armies do not directly face each other in their starting positions.

The boat moves two squares diagonally in any direction. If it is moved into a perfect square with three enemy boats it captures them. This special capture is called a boat triumph and is extremely rare. The horse moves like a chess knight. The elephant moves like a chess rook. The king moves like a chess king. The pawns promote after six moves to the far side of the board.

Kings can be captured like any other piece. Points are awarded for pieces captured and the winner is the one with most points at the end. If a player captures the other three kings while his own is still on the board he is awarded 54 points, the entire value of all the pieces in the game.


Chaturanga strategy is kill or be killed.

In chaturaji you are in a free for all situation against three opponents

There is more than a hint of luck involved. Each player must throw a dice to determine which piece they will move. 1 or 5 means you move a pawn or king. 2 means you move a boat. 3 means you move a horse. 4 or 6 means you move an elephant.

Players can catch the dice in the air which allows them some control over the outcome of the toss. Sometimes the game is played without a dice and players just move the pieces they want. You may prefer this option.

This is a real cut-throat game with four opposing tribes on one small board. There is one major difference between this variant and our chess. Instead of two armies meeting head on and trying to break through a pawn shell you have four armies starting with ready made access to the flank of an enemy. As the armies advance they are vulnerable to attacks from the rear. It gets really crazy.


Chess Variants: Play Chaturanga


There are resources to play 2 player Chaturanga online. Whether you want to play against a computer or against a human opponent you're in luck.

There does not seem to be much in the way of online play for Chaturaji though.

You can play Chaturanga against computer based opposition at Pathguy. You can find people to lock horns with at

Tell Your Chaturanga Story on the Birth of Chess

Chaturanga is said by many to be the original chess variant from which sprang all forms of chess known to man. Literature with mentions of the game has been found dating back 1,500 years and we can be sure the game was played long before then. And yet although several things are known, there is much of the story of Chaturanga that as yet remains a mystery. We have many myths and legends coming from the game that each may have at least a grain of truth. Maybe you know a story from it's history that you would like to share here. Do you have an fascinating Chaturanga Story?

Fascinating Chaturanga Stories Left by other Lapocites

Click below to see Fascinating Chaturanga Stories by other Lapocites...

Chaturanga - Indian chess Not rated yet
In the early years of the eleventh century, the Greek Princess Anna Comnena was playing a game which she fondly called Zatrikion with her sister Maria …

Mahabharata Chaturanga Not rated yet
Mama Shakuni was the prominent character in the Indian mythological tale: Mahabharata. Although most of the times, they were on cards and playing over …

Sissa The Wise Not rated yet
For my Legend on how Chaturanga was invented, we have to go back in time, back to the east where we find a wise Brahmin by the name of Sissa. At this time …

Click here to write your own.

Moving On

Play Makruk

Play Makruk

Two variants for the price of one. Can't say fairer than that. One is the precursor to Western Chess and has many similarities, the other is heading down a different track.

Chaturaji is a very interesting variant that you can easily play with your friends with a standard chess set and pieces from another set that are different from the first. It really is kill or be killed in that free for all.

Our next journey takes us into Thailand as we explore chess Thai style. This variant known as Thai Chess is also called Makruk.

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