Friday, July 8, 2011

Origins of Ashtāpada: the 8 x 8 Grid

Ashtāpada, the uncheckered 8x8 board
Ashtāpada is an Indian board game known for his board have been used in earlier versions of chess, Chaturanga famously appeared sometime around the 6th century in India. It could be played by two to four participants and data used to determine the amount of houses to be moved. Ashtāpada The word comes from Sanskrit and its meaning was established by Patanjali in Mahābhāshya book written in the 2nd century, as a board in which each line has eight squares and the term a familiar object.

Chess was designed for an ashtāpada (Sanskrit for "having eight feet", i.e. an 8x8 squared board), which may have been used earlier for a backgammon-type race game (perhaps related to a dice-driven race game still played in south India where the track starts at the middle of a side and spirals in to the center).[17] 

Ashtāpada, the uncheckered 8×8 board served as the main board for playing Chaturanga.[18] Other Indian boards included the 10×10 Dasapada and the 9×9 Saturankam.[18] Traditional Indian chessboards often have X markings on some or all of squares; these may have been "safe squares" where capturing was not allowed in a dice-driven backgammon-type race game played on the ashtāpada before chess was invented.[17]

Two citations are presented here comparing the ashtāpada to the a "field of action" involving combat, or fortune and misfortune:
It has been pointed out[3] that [the chess-board] symbolizes existence conceived as a "field of action" of the divine powers. The combat which takes place in the game of chess thus represents, in its most universal meaning, the combat of the devas with the asuras, of the "gods" with the "titans", or of the “angels”[4] with the "demons", all other meanings of the game deriving from this one.
"Therefore there is in the Changes the Great Primal Beginning. This generates the two primary forces. The two primary forces generate the four images. The four images generate the eight trigrams. The eight trigrams determine good fortune and misfortune. Good fortune and misfortune create the great field of action."
(Commentary on I Ching, tr. Wilhelm and Baynes 1967: Pt.1, Ch.11)
It is worth mentioning that the battlefield referenced in the opening chapter of Bhagavad Gita is an historical location called Kurukshetra.  Kuru, from the Sanskrit root kri="work, material action" and ksetra="field". This "field of action," Kurukshetra, is a metaphor for the human body with its physical, mental and soul faculties, on which all activities of one's life take place.
Ashtapadi are Indian hymns where the music has eight lines (steps) within each composition. Each ashtapadi song is set in a special raga (an Indian musical mode) and tala. It is a rhyme of eternal love and supreme devotion. The literal meaning of "ashtapadi" is "eight steps." This word is also the source for the word ashtāpada, an Indian board game, the forerunner of chess.

Dr. Anand Bhardwaj explains types, properties and uses of Mandala:

In Hindu cosmology the piece or the surface of land is represented in the form of square. The earth is represented as four cornered with reference to the horizon's relationship with sunrise and sunset, the North and South direction. It is known as Chaturbhuji (four cornered) and represented in the symbolic form of the Prithvi Mandala. Each side of square can be divided from 1 to 32 divisions therefore, the number of squares in mandala may vary from 1, 4, 16 till 1024. Each of these mandalas are used in specific contexts and has a distinct name.Whatever the case may be, each square is sub-divided into smaller squares by drawing parallel lines to the sides.
The central area in all the mandalas is brahmasthana and space occupied by it varies in different mandalas. The most important mandalas are the Manduka/Chandita Mandala with 64 squares and the Paramasaayika Mandala with 81 squares.
Normally, ideal position of Vaastu Purusha is depicted by head in northeast and feet in southwest. While in Manduka Mandala, the ideal position is depicted by keeping head towards east and feet towards west.

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