Page images



Gradual change into the Shatranj, or Medieval Game.

I WOULD now beg leave to hazard a few conjectures respecting the mode in which the ancient Chaturanga became gradually changed into the Shatranj, or mediæval game. We have seen that, in playing the former, it was an object of importance with each of the four players to gain possession of his ally's throne-a step which thenceforth secured to him the undivided command of the allied forces. It must, therefore, have often happened, that, after some twenty or thirty moves, the contest remained to be concluded between two players only; and this circumstance of itself was sufficient to have given rise to the mediæval game. But this is not all; it is evident the Chaturanga might have been, and frequently was, played by only one person on each side, and that, too, from beginning to end. Of this fact we have a noted instance in the case of Yudhishthira (as stated in Chapter II.,) who lost the whole of his possessions in a premature encounter with Shakuni at this very game. Nay, further, it is extremely probable for reasons immediately to be assigned—that the game of Chaturanga was generally played by either four or two persons, without admitting the use of the dice at all, except merely for the purpose of determining

[ocr errors]

which party should have the first move. If we examine into the principles of the game, and, so far as we have the means, into its practical working, we shall find that the dice do not in any way constitute an essential element. On the contrary, it is evident that, after having determined who is to have the first move, the dice may be wholly laid aside, and the struggle becomes a mere matter of wary tactics and strategic skill.

Now we have excellent reasons for believing that at a very early age the use of the dice must have been altogether discontinued; otherwise the game could not have been played at all, except in secret amongst regular gamesters. In order to understand the validity of these reasons, let us examine into the state of the oldest and most rigid of the Hindu laws, such as those of Manu, &c. The law and religion of the ancient Hindus strictly prohibited two species of gaming-1st, that species called Dyuta," which is equivalent to our games of chance or hazard, including pure dice, or dice combined with skill, as in the ancient games of Chaupar and Chaturanga. The other class of gaming, as defined by Manu, was called "Samāhwaya," and included all matches between male animals, such as cock-fighting, ram-fighting, &c. Against both these classes Manu is clear and explicit in his denunciations. For instance, in his 9th Book, he says "Let the King punish corporally, at discretion, both the gamester and the keeper of a gaming-house, whether they play with inanimate (Dyūta) or animated things (Samahwaya)."

The law and religion of the Hindus being thus clear and positive against the game of Chaturanga, as explained by Vyasa to Yudhishthira, what was to be done by the contemplative and sedentary Brahmans? The answer is obvious: dismiss the dice from the game, and it no longer

falls under the category of "Dyūta," or game of chance. Besides, in the purer period of the Hindū religion, the Brahmans really had no interest in gambling, for an excellent reason they were understood to be possessed of no property to lose, and consequently they had no temptation to win worldly wealth. Hence we have every reason to conclude that the game of Chaturanga was generally played amongst the strictly religious and orthodox Hindūs, by two or four persons, as the case might be, without the aid of dice, and that in the course of time this game was changed into the still more intellectual contest of the Shatranj, or mediæval game. It must be confessed, however, that the severe and rigid laws of Manu in latter times became considerably relaxed, and that both sorts of games might at all times be played by special license from the magistrate-on condition that half the winnings should be paid over to the worthy magistrate aforesaid, (to be applied, of course, like the gains of more modern indulgences, to pious purposes), and the remaining half into the pockets of the winner (vide "Halhed's Code of Gentoo1 Laws," 8vo edition, London, 1781, page 254). This merely shows that mankind have ever been, and ever will be, the same, whether they dwell on the banks of the Ganges or on those of the Rhine; for in either locality we find that the rigour of the laws against gambling might be relaxed for certain weighty reasons."

[ocr errors]

1 This very vulgar term, "Gentoo," was applied to the Hindus by our older writers. It is of Portuguese origin, and means "Gentile" or "Heathen." No writer of the least respectability now uses it.

2 In Scotland there is a very sensible law applicable to gamesters, which appears to be still in force. A few years back I remember reading in the "Times" of a case of gambling, or rather fleecing, which took place in a railway carriage on its way from Edinburgh to Glasgow. The plucked pigeon had the Rooks up before a magistrate, who made the scoundrels disgorge the whole of their ill-got gain, which he handed over to the Kirk Session for the benefit of the poor. Verily this Baillie, whose name I did not learn, is a worthy successor of the renowned Nichol Jarvie, "Let Glasgow flourish."

The historians of Arabia and Persia are unanimous on the following points, viz. :-First, that the game of Chess, as known in the middle ages, was invented in India, some time previous to the sixth century of our era; and secondly, that the game was introduced from India into Persia during the reign of Kisra Naushirawan, the Chosroes of the Byzantine historians, and the contemporary of Justinian. We have shown, however, that the game virtually existed in India, some thousands of years previously; and we have every reason to believe that the "invention of Chess," alluded to by the Arabs and Persians, simply meant the final establishment of that modification of the Chaturanga which we call the mediaval game, and which in Asia, on this side of the Chinese empire, goes under the name of Shatranj. In fact, one anonymous writer (of whom more in due time), repeatedly asserts that the common game brought into Persia, from India in the reign of Naushirawan, was not an invention of the Hindus at that time, but merely an abridgment and modification of a more ancient game, previously introduced into India, from Greece, by Alexander the Great. This theory has at least the merit of novelty to recommend it, and shall be thoroughly examined hereafter; at present it is enough to say that the anonymous writer, by the Greek game, which is altogether visionary, undoubtedly meant the Chaturanga, of which the Muhammadan writers had never heard. The reader will bear in mind that, till the reign of the enlightened Akbar, the contemporary of our Queen Elizabeth, the classical writings of the Brahmans were, in the strictest sense, a sealed book to all men existing out of the pale of the Hindū creed, and even the small knowledge then attained by the Muslims, was owing to a clever stratagem on the part of the Emperor. (vide note (1) page 9th). We need not

wonder, then, at the circumstance of the Chaturanga's being unknown to the earlier Muslim writers.

Before we proceed further, it will be well to lay before the reader a diagram of each of the boards with the men placed as described in the book. On both boards the number of the pieces, their modes of moving, and their powers are precisely the same, save that in the Shatranj, one of the two allied Kings has become a minister with only half his former authority. The Bishop and Castle have changed places though they still retain their old names. The Bishop is to this day called the Elephant by the people of India, the Persians, and the Arabs; and the Rukh is nothing more or less than the Sanskrit Roka, "a boat," whence came (through the Persian) our word Rook which is after all no great deviation from the original.

Let us now for a moment examine, for example, the Green army, as arranged in the Chaturanga. We see the Elephant (i.e. our Rook) stand next the King; and the Ship (i.e. the medieval Bishop) placed in the corner of the board. The first alteration effected, then, is to make the Rook and Bishop change places-a step which gives the Bishop more freedom, as he will then be able immediately to attack or command two squares of the board; whereas, when placed in the corner, he could only attack one square. The next step is to call over the Black allies, and array them in like manner on the right of the Green—the Rook and Bishop of course having changed places. Now, one of the allied Kings-it matters not which is reduced to a subordinate situation, called in the Sanskrit, "Mantrī," and in the Persian "Farzin"-both of which mean precisely the same thing, viz., "Monitor," or "Counsellor." Thus, we shall sup

1 The Sanskrit word mantrī is of the same meaning and derivation as the Latin Monitor and the Greek με τωρ.

« PreviousContinue »