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Essay on the Chaturanga, by Sir William Jones.-On the Burmha Game of Chess, &c., by Captain Hiram Cox.
I CANNOT more appropriately conclude my researches on Oriental Chess than by reproducing here two valuable communications on the subject which appeared in the Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, towards the close of the last century. The first is by Sir William Jones, being an Essay on the Chaturanga; and the second by Captain Hiram Cox, on the Burmha Game of Chess, &c.
Of Sir William Jones's eminence, as a virtuous man, -an upright judge,-and an accomplished scholar,—it were needless, yea, even presumptuous in me to say a word. In March, 1783, he was appointed a Judge of the Supreme Court of Judicature at Fort William, in Bengal. On the 27th of April of that same year, he sailed from England, and precisely eleven years after that date, he breathed his last at Calcutta, 27th April, 1794. Soon after his arrival in India he betook himself more especially to the study of the Sanskrit language, with a
view to be able to decide for himself cases of Hindu law," independent of the interpretations of the native Pandits, which, it was shrewdly suspected, were not always to be relied on. As a relaxation from his severer studies, he indulged, in the evenings, in a quiet game of Chess, either with Lady Jones, or such of his friends as might be visiting him.
In Lord Teignmouth's Life of Sir William Jones, page 304, we have the following interesting note :-" As a proof of the strict regularity observed by him in the application of his time, the reader is presented with the transcript of a card in his own writing. It contains, indeed, the occupations which he had prescribed to himself in a period of the following year; but may serve as a sample of the manner in which he devoted his leisure hours at all times.
DAILY STUDIES FOR THE LONG VACATION OF 1785. Morning-One letter-ten chapters of the BibleSanskrit Grammar-Hindū law, &c.
I have now only to add that I have appended to Sir William's Essay a few explanatory notes of my own, in small type at the bottom of the pages; together with some critical remarks that follow the text, as indicated by the letters (a), (b), (c), &c., in which I have pointed out a few mistakes into which the accomplished author has fallen-mistakes which I am confident he himself would have remedied had his life been longer spared to us. This Essay will be found in the second volume of the Society's Transactions, viz.
ON THE INDIAN GAME OF CHESS.
By Sir William Jones, President of the Asiatic Society of Bengal.
"If evidence be required to prove that Chess was invented by the Hindus, we may be satisfied with the testimony of the Persians; who, though as much inclined as other nations to appropriate the ingenious inventions of a foreign people, unanimously agree that the game was imported from the west (a) of India, together with the charming fables1 of Vishnusarmā, in the sixth century of our æra. It seems to have been immemorially known in Hindustan by the name of Chaturanga, that is, the four
angas," or members of an army, which are said in the Amarakosha to be Hasty-aswa-ratha-padātam, or Elephants, Horses, Chariots, and Foot-soldiers; and in this sense the word is frequently used by epic poets in their descriptions of real armies. By a natural corruption of the pure Sanscrit word, it was changed by the old Persians into Chatrang; but the Arabs, who soon after took possession of their country, had neither the initial nor final letter of that word in their alphabet, and consequently altered it further into Shatranj, which found its way presently into the modern Persian, and at length into the dialects of India, where the true derivation of the name is known only to the learned. Thus has a very significant word2 in the sacred language of the Brahmans been transformed by successive changes into
1 The fables alluded to are now well known throughout the civilized world as the "Fables of Pilpay."
2 I have satisfactorily shown (p. 45 and p. 208) that all these terms are derived from the word Shah, introduced into Europe by the Arabs. The "significant" term Chaturanga, in the sacred language of the Brahmans, could not by any imaginable transformation, have become Chess, Check, or Cheque, or Exchequer.
axedres, scacchi, echecs, chess, and by a whimsical concurrence of circumstances, given birth to the English word check; and even a name to the Exchequer of Great Britain.
The beautiful simplicity and extreme perfection of the game, as it is commonly played in Europe and Asia, convince me that it was invented by one effort of some great genius; not completed by gradual improvements, but formed, to use the phrase of Italian critics, by the first intention; yet of this simple game, so exquisitely contrived, and so certainly invented in India, I cannot find any account in the classical writings of the Brahmans. It is, indeed, confidently asserted, that Sanskrit books on Chess exist in this country; and, if they can be procured at Benares, they will assuredly be sent to us. At present I can only exhibit a description of a very ancient Indian game of the same kind, but more complex, and, in my opinion, more modern than the simple Chess of the Persians. This game is also called Chaturanga, but more frequently Chaturājī, (b) or the Four Kings, since it is played by four persons representing as many princes, two allied armies combating on each side. The description is taken from the Bhawishya Purana, in which Yudhishthira is represented conversing with Vyasa, who explains, at the king's request, the form of the fictitious warfare, and the principal rules of it.
"Having marked eight squares on all sides," says the sage, "place the red army to the east, the green to the south, the yellow to the west, and the black to the north: let the Elephant stand on the left of the King; next to him the Horse; then the Boat; and, before them all, four Foot-soldiers; but the Boat must be placed in
1 This is a mere poetical flight, or rhetorical flourish.- Vide p. 44.
the angle of the board." From this passage it clearly appears, that an army, with its four "angas" must be placed on each side of the board, since an Elephant could not stand in any other position on the left hand of each King; and Rādhakant informed me, that the board consisted, like ours, of sixty-four squares, half of them occupied by the forces, and half vacant. He added, that this game is mentioned in the oldest law-books, and that it was invented by the wife of Ravan, king of Lankā, in order to amuse him with an image of war, while his metropolis was closely besieged by Rāma, in the second age of the world. He had not heard the story told by Firdausī, near the close of the Shāhnāma; and it was probably carried into Persia from Kanyakuvja,' by Borzu,2 the favourite physician [thence called Vaidyapriya (c)], of the great Anushiravān;3 but he said that the Brahmans of Gaur, or Bengal, were once celebrated for superior skill in the game, and that his father, together with his spiritual preceptor Jagannath, now living at Tribeni, had instructed two young Brahmans in all the rules of it, and had sent them to Jayanagar at the request of the late Rājā, who had liberally rewarded them.
1 Kanyākubja, or Kanyakuvja, was the ancient Sanskrit name for the modern Kanoj; hence the wonder that Sir William should have, in his first sentence, asserted that "the game was imported from the west of India, together with the charming fables of Vishnu sarmā." The fact is, that the game was imported from Kanoj in the first place, and the Fables from some part of India not mentioned, at a later period; but both events took place during the reign of Naushirawan.
2 It is evident that Sir William had not read Firdausï's account of the introduction of Chess into Persia. The sage Borzu was, at a subsequent period, commissioned by Naushirawān to travel into India, and, if possible, to procure a copy of the famous "Book of Wisdom," now known as "Pilpay's Fables," a work of which the Persian monarch had heard from the Indian embassy.
3 Anūshīrawān is frequently used by Firdausi for Nūshirawān, or Naushirawan, for the sake of the metre.