The eve of the World Yoga Day is an occasion to ponder over fascinating ancient Indian inventions and marvellous feats of the mind our ancestors were capable of, and one such, is the game of Chess.
Fortuitously, it is also a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched in the national capital the first-ever torch relay, borrowing the Olympian spirit of spreading the fire and values, in a build up for the 44th Chess Olympiad, in the presence of Arkady Dvorkovich, president of FIDE, the premier body of world chess, former world champion and Grandmaster Vishwanathan Anand and Grandmaster Koneru Humpy.
Chess was India’s gift to the world, but it might be one of the many ancient truths lost on us. Most Indians might not even be aware that folklore has references of the game in the Ramayana, one of our greatest epics, which in most probability between 750 BCE and 500 BCE, had an orally transmitted tale of how the game was invented by the great demon king Ravana to amuse his wife Mandodari. Surprisingly, she beats him at it.
As Anand wrote once in a blog more than a decade ago, chess also featured in another epic Indian treatise — Arthashastra, perhaps the world’s oldest political treatise — in which Chanakya, in the 3rd century BCE, described it (then called chaturanga) a game of war strategy, played on an 8-by-8 board.
India gave the world its first virtual war game. Ancient India’s ability to invent and give the world products of its great reasoning minds was peerless. Its successes span from ayurveda to zero, mathematical insights to breakthroughs in astronomy, architecture to philosophy, from yoga to chess, and beyond, is a facet modern Indian needs to rediscover.
Prime Minister Modi invoked this spirit, when he said, “...we are delighted to see chess return to its birthplace.”
Let all of us Indians ensure the spirit is rekindled, when reason trumps all irrationalism and stupidity, in the most profound Indian wisdom of invoking light to defeat darkness....