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From the Ramayan Era to Olympiads: the journey of Chess in India

India's love affair with Chess is older than written history and evidences through years have provided ancient chess pieces in excavations

The 44th International Chess Olympiad 

It is not quite often that India gets to host a world sporting event. Thus, the world’s biggest chess event – the 44th International Chess Olympiad – to be held in India is rousing a lot of interest and curiosity.

From July 28 to the 10th of August, the Poonjeri Village in Mamallapuram, (a UNESCO heritage site, located about 50 kilometres from Chennai, Tamil Nadu), will be the hotbed of all activities that accompany global sporting events of such nature. Around 2000 participants are expected.

Video above: In Chennai, the Chess capital of India: Napier Bridge painted like a chess board.

The ongoing Russia-Ukraine war compelled the International Chess Federation (FIDE) to look for new bidders, as Russia that was originally hosting the event was now deemed unsuitable to do so. What should make every Indian proud is the fact that among all the bidding nations, India was considered the most suitable destination to host the high-profile event for the first time.

Mamallapuram, also known as Mahabalipuram, the heritage village accommodating the event is also well known for its historical sites and monuments. The Shore temple, Butter Ball, Cave Temples, Mahabalipuram Lighthouse, and Dakshinachitra Museum are a few spots worth a visit. It is noteworthy that Vishwanathan Anand, the first chess grandmaster from India, also hails from the Indian state of Tamil Nadu where the grand event is taking place. The Prime Minister of India, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, and other special invitees and dignitaries will attend the inaugural ceremony at Nehru Indoor Stadium on July 28.

44th international chess olympaid mascot 'Thambi'
Thambi: inspired by the 'Knight' meet the Veshti-Sattai wearing mascot of the event (image source)

All required arrangements are made to make this event a huge success. A 24/7 control room is also in place to assist the participants, guests and the public. The accommodation and other facilities such as parking, water and power supply, road facilities, etc are being taken care of. The event is also appropriately publicised. The Tamil Nadu tourism department would be providing a free bus service for the event. Rules and regulations are set to be followed by the participants and chess enthusiasts attending the event.

Here is a small quiz for you! Find answer at the end of blog.

Chess Quiz

Chess quiz answer options

The Indian origin and history of Chess

The tryst and fascination of India with the sixty-four square board indoor game involving sixteen pieces each of two competing players could be traced long back in our history and across time. 

Radha Krishna playing chess, mahabharat
Radha Krishna playing chess (image wiki commons)

References to the game are found in our epics - Mahabharat and Ramayan. Broken pieces of Chess have been discovered in excavations in Dimapur, Nagaland. The game of chess was popular here. It is believed that the Pandava brother, Bheem used to play chess with his wife, Hidimba and their son, Ghatotkacha. A pre-historic version of the game, namely Chaturanga, which was a virtual war indoor game involving soldiers, a king, infantry, horses, and chariots was known to be played in this part of the world.

ravan and mandodari playing chess, ramayan
Ravan and Mandodari playing chess (image source)

Both the demon king Ravan and his wife, Mandodari, are believed to have been involved in the invention of the game like chess and playing it.

The great Indian saint, philosopher, and spiritual guide- Swami Vivekananda- revered for his intelligence, wisdom, memory, and wit- was known to be a great player and enthusiast of this fascinating game. 

Chess also is a part of Indian literature, art, and culture.

shatranj ke khiladi movie munshi premchand

The world-renowned Indian filmmaker, Satyajit Ray, had based one of his movies on a story written by famous Hindi novelist, Munshi Premchand. The movie, and the book alike, was titled Shatranj Ke Khiladi and quite in keeping with the name, it was based on the game of chess. The addictive nature of the game and how it continued to captivate the folks from this part of the world was hilariously portrayed and two kings were shown engrossed in the game of chess when their respective kingdoms were under attack! The backdrop of the movie was British India, and the widely acclaimed movie was released in 1977. 

Seeking divine blessings for Chess

Sathuranga Vallabhanathar temple for chess
Sathuranga Vallabhanathar: Mahadev Mandir in Tiruvarur, Tamil Nadu

A historical Lord Shiva temple located in the Tiruvarur district, Tamil Nadu, namely Sathuranga Vallabhanathar, is gaining attention ahead of the chess mega event. The word Sathuranga implies the game of chess in Tamil. Lord Shiva in disguise assumed the name as that of the temple and outwitted the princess, Rajarajeswari (a manifestation of goddess Parvati) in the game of chess. The princess was undefeated in the game till then. Archaeological studies suggest that chess was played in Tamil Nadu as early as 1,500 years ago.

The Kalyani Devi temple, a 1500-year-old Hindu shrine located in the heart of Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh draws devotees from all over the world, among them are some chess players. The tradition started a few decades ago. The late Pandit Ramji Pathak who was the main priest was a chess fanatic and the love for the game is inherited by his son, Pandit Shyamji Pathak. This temple has catapulted many well-known chess players from the nation. The game is discussed, encouraged, and promoted by the pandits and here one gets to hear the names of legends like Anand, Kasparov, Karpov, and Bobby Fischer! The pandits coach many players for tournaments! 

As we conclude, let us wish great success to the upcoming 44th International Chess Olympiad- let us celebrate the great sports, let it be played in the right spirit, and may the best win!

Answer: yes you guessed it! It is Chess.

But how? Because together they have queen, king, knight and a castle. Each of which are represented thus:

1) Queen (British music group- Queen; lead singer – Freddie Mercury of Indian origin) 

2) King (Stephen King - American writer of ghosts/ supernatural) 

3) Knight (Knight Rider- an American action crime Television series) 

4) Castling/castle (castling is a move in chess, and a Japanese animated fantasy film is named "Howl's Moving Castle")


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