Vazurgmihr then retaliates by inviting the Indian to guess the rules of the pre-eminently Iranian game of backgammon (nev-ardashêr > nard). Now these correspond to the workings of the macrocosm of which the game is a miniature version. The Indian sage having been beaten, the king finds himself obliged to pay tribute to Khusrô.
This is without doubt the earliest description of the game of chess.
Jamasp-Asana, Palavi Texts, 115-120.
Vijârishn i Chatrang, tr. J.C. Tarapore, Bombay, 1932.
Il testo pahlavico sul giuoco degli scacchi, ed. With Italian translation by A. Pagliaro in Miscellanea G. Galbiati, III (Milan, 1951), 97-110.
The testimony of Firdôsî (Shâhnâma)
Firdôsî gives this version on the authority of on Shâhôy a wise old man:
There lived a king in India, Jamhour by name, who was more valiant than four. He was an intelligent and wise monarch, whose territory extended from Kashmir in the west to China in the east. The king had a wife who was equally intelligent and wise. The queen gave birth to a prince. The king gave the child the name of Gau. A short time after the birth of the prince, king Jamhour died, conveying his last wishes to his queen. The civil and military authorities of the State met together and after some consultation resolved, that as the prince was a minor, and, as such, was not capable of carrying on the affairs of the State, the crown be bequeathed upon Mây, a brother of the late king, who lived in Dambar. Mây accepted the throne and came to Sandali from Dambar. After ascending the throne, he married the wife of his deceased brother and a son was born, whom he named Talhaend. When the child grew two years old and Gau seven years old, king Mây fell ill and died within 15 days of his illness. The nobles of the State met together and resolved, that up to the time when the two princes came to age, the throne be entrusted to the queen who had all along shown herself to be virtuous and wise. The queen ascended the throne.
When the princes grew up, they separately went to their mother and asked her, which of her two sons she found to be nobler and worthier than the other. She evaded the question, saying in general way, that in order to deserve her approbation they must be as temperate, courteous and wise as befitted the sons of a king.
And again they went separately to her and asked her, to which of the two sons she would entrust the throne. She said to each of them in turn, that he was entitled to the throne on account of his wisdom.
Thus both the princes came to age with their minds filled up with the ambition of being the future rulers of the country. Their respective teachers fanned the fire of this ambition. They looked with jealousy at each other. The noble men of the court and the people divided themselves into two factions, one supporting the case of Gau and the other that of Talhend.
One day both the brothers went together to their royal mother and asked her, which of the two sons she found to be worthy of the throne. In reply she asked them to be patient and to submit the question to the leading men of the State for a peaceful settlement.
The two brothers then resolved to submit the question of succession to the arbitration of their tutors. But the tutors, being interested in the elevation to power, of their respective pupils, did not come to any decision. Then the princes got two thrones placed in the audience hall and sent for the nobles of the State and asked them to settle the question, but as the court was equally divided it was difficult to do so. Then the last resort was to submit the question to war.
A bloody and fierce battle was fought, wherein Talhend was found dead, over his elephant. When the queen heard of the death of her younger son, she lost herself in profound grief. Gau, when he heard of the grief of his mother, went to her and consoled her, saying that he had no hand in the death of his brother. The mother could not believe the fact that Talhend was found dead on the back of his elephant and that he died of exhaustion without being killed or wounded by any one in the turmoil of the battle. Gau thereupon asked his mother to be patient for some time, in order that he may prove to her satisfaction, that a death like that of Talhend was possible in a battlefield, and that neither he nor any body else had any hand in his death.
Gau accordingly sent messengers all round and called a council of the learned men o the country. The preceptor of the king explained to them the whole state of affairs and then described the battle-field on whih the battle between the two brothers was fought and the position of the different armies and generals. On learning all the particulars, the learned men, and especially two among them, invented the game of chess, wherein one could see how one of the two kings, without being slain, was shut up on all sides, by the army of his opponent and lost the battle or the game.
Two great and good-natured men prepared a square board of ebony wood. It represented ditches and a battle-field on which two armies had met face to face. They painted 100 squares on that board for the movement of the army and the king. Then they prepared two armies out of teakwood and ivory and two exalted kings with dignity and crown. Over it the footmen and the horsemen were drawn in two lines prepared for the battle. Horses and elephants, the Dastôr of the king and the warriors who ride their horses in the midst of an army, all presented the picture of warfare, some marching fast and at a gallop and others going at a slow pace. The king led the centre of the army, having his well-wishing minister on one hand. On the two sides of the hand of the king were two elephants. The movements of the elephant raised the dust of the colour of the water of the river Nile. On the sides of the two elephants were standing two camels having two intelligent persons for their riders. On the sides of the camels were two horses and two riders, who could fight on the day of battle. On the sides of the two lines of the army were two warlike rooks, with all foam over the lips, being excited for the battle. The foot soldier moved here and there, because in the midst of the battle it was he, who provided help. When one of these foot soldiers succeeded in going to the other end of the battle field, it had the right of sitting by the side of the king as his adviser.
The adviser (or the vizîr) cannot move in the midst of the battle more than one square away from the king. The exalted elephant moved three squares and he looked across the whole battle field up to a distance of two miles; similarly the camel also moved three squares, moving pompously and majestically over the battle field. The horse also moved three squares, one of which was out of the way. Nobody dared to go before the rook which ran over the whole of the battle field, looking for revenge. Everybody moved within the sphere of his own plain; none moved more or less. When somebody saw the king within his reach, he called out “Hold off, oh king!” The king then moved away and away from his square, until he had no more room to move. Then the rook, the horse, the minister, the elephant and the foot-soldiers all shut up the way of the king. He looked round in all the four directions and found his army defeated with their eyebrows dejected. He found his way shut up by water and ditches. On his left and right, in front of him and behind him, were the soldiers of the enemy. Out of fatigue and thirst, the king perished. This was the lot that he had obtained from the revolving heavens.
Firdôsî, Shâhnâma (ed. Mohl, vol. vi).
J.J. Modi, Firdousi on the Indian Origin of the Game of Chess, J. of the Anthropological Society of Bombay, 1895.
A Preliminary Study
We find from these details of Firdôsî that among the ancient Indians, the chess board was made up of 100 squares instead of 64 as we have at present. In the modern method the following pieces make up the first line of eight squares:
|1||Rook or castle|
|8||Rook or castle|
But in the Old Indian method, as there were 100 squares, ten pieces formed the first line in the following order :
|Firdôsî||to use modern words|
We give below the English names of the different pieces and their Persian equivalents as given by Firdôsî:
|Queen||Frazâna (i.e. vizîr), Dastôr (bishop, adviser)|
In the modern game, the queen, as the adviser of the king, occupies the second place of honour, which in the old game was occupied by the dastôr, i.e., the minister or the bishop of the king. The name bishop, for one of the pieces in the modern English game, seems to have been taken from the old Persian game, where, according to Firdôsî, his equivalent was dastôr. But these two pieces have changed their places in their respective games.
While all the different kinds of piece in the modern game have one name, the piece representing the rook or castle has two alternative names; this shows that in the ancient Indian game rook and castle represented two different pieces. It appears that it was in Persia that the amalgamation was first made.