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Home » Sports in Kerala » Chathurangam Sport In Kerala

Chathurangam Sport In Kerala

Ancient India is reputed to have provided the world its first initiation to chess and other games that help develop a keen intellect. While a chess-like play called Shataranj developed in North India, in Kerala "Chathurangam", a prototype of international chess was developed by the ancients.

Two sects of Kerala's society, The Namboodiris and the Muslims were keen patrons of the sport. The differences in religion, customs and philosophies of these two communities was somewhat diluted by their love for the game. Both classes were known for their strategic planning, keen sense of reason, foresight and opportunity to indulge in the sport.

Cordial relations prevailed in the name of Chaturangam and a common passion united the otherwise antagonistic classes.

Origin of the Game:

The origins of Chathurangam date as far back as the 13th century AD. It is mentioned in Malayalam poetry such as "Payyannur Paattu" (13th Century) and "Chandrolsavam" (16th Century).

It is even believed that the celebrated poetry "Krishnagaattha" by Cherusseri Namboodiri was inspired by this game. Chathurangam also wins mention in the verses written by Punam Namboodiri and Kunchan Nambiar and in the folk songs upto 17th century period.

Namboodiris' Reign:

When the Aryans settled in Kerala, they settled amicably, intermingled with the Dravidian elite (namely royalty) and were honored due to their superior intellect. These Brahmin Namboodiri (Aryans) and upper classes stressed the value of education and intellectual exercises.

They excelled in subjects such as Philosophy, Mathematics, Geometry, Logic, Literature and the Natural Sciences. Their leisure too was spent in exercises that developed their acute mental acumen.

Thus Chathuragam gained spectacular importance in the Namboodiri society. A Namboodiri adept in the game gained considerable respect among his peers. Thus the Namboodiris gained outstanding expertise in the game and ruled the roost.

So much were they taken up with the game that the well-to-do Namboodiri households had a special game room where they entertained visitors with rounds of Chathurangam.

The temples, which were exclusively Namboodiri domains, became centers of Chathrurangam matches. Festivals and other occasions were marked with tournaments etc.

Some temple courtyards were even constructed with 64 granite blocks to resemble a checkered play board. Rich Namboodiri chieftains used to organize annual tournaments and gave away handsome rewards to the victors. Azhakapra Narayanan Namboodiri (1897 - 1974), Kallanikkaatt Neelakandhan Namboodiri (1851 - 1923) and Maakkara Govindan Namboodiri were some noted Cathurangam players.

Chess Woes:

It was however unforeseen that the unrivalled skills of the Namboodiris failed them when with popular interest Chathuragam merged into Chess. The post 1950 era saw a slump in the Namboodiri reign in the world of Chess.

A handful still succeeded. Some of the famous Namboodiri Chess players from Kerala are C V Vasudeva Bhattathiri, Kummini Raman Namboodiri and P V N Nambudiri.

Chathurangam vs. Chess:

The Arab traders were fascinated by this sport and carried it home with them. Those who came to Kerala and learnt their culture came under the influence of the game of Chathuranam.

The Christian missionary, Rev. Fr. Arnos lived in close association with the Namboodiris and quickly learnt the game. He believed that Chathurangam needed to be included in mainstream education due to the exercise of mental skills, it provides.

Chathuranam thus was taken up by the world, developed and the rules and regulations revised. Thus with the rise in popularity of this new game, Chathurangam lost its character and started on its decline path.

However the aged folk of Kerala still take great pleasure in trying their hand at Chathurangam on occasions such as Onam during the Onakalikal.