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The 8×8 square board known as an Ashtapada board was used to play a race game in ancient India probably similar to Thaayam. Around the fifth century A.D. the board was used to play Shaturanga, a game considered to be the precursor to the modern-day game of Chess. Shaturanga is a miniature battle game played between four people. Each player controls an army consisting of 4 Infantry pieces, a Boatmen piece, a Cavalry piece, an Elephants piece and a piece representing the Rajah.
The Infantry pieces are equivalent to the pawns in Chess and move orthogonally one square forwards unless they are capturing a piece, in which case they move one square diagonally. The Boatmen pieces move diagonally the same as the Bishops in Chess. The Cavalry move as the Knights do, one square forwards then one square diagonally. The Elephants are the equivalent of the Rooks in Chess and move orthogonally forwards, backwards and sideways. The last piece is the Rajah, which is a king or prince. There is no queen, the queen must have been introduced some time later when the game became a two player battle with each player having 16 pieces instead of 8.
Shaturanga is a dice game played with a four-sided wooden long dice numbered from 2-5 and was widely used for gambling. Gambling became forbidden at an early date in Hindu culture and in the ninth book of the laws of Manu is written:
‘Let the king punish corporally, at discretion, both the gamester and the keeper of the gambling house, whether they play with inanimate objects such as dice, or shaturanga, or with living creatures as in blood sports of cock and ram fighting.’
Three different Shaturanga games.