Sunday, January 23, 2011


Early Malay chess set found in Selangor

I read two theory about the origins of chess in Malaysia. The first theory by H.J.R. Murray in his voluminous work, A History of Chess, mention that chess came from India where as the second theory by (Chien Chun Ching, "Research in Chinese chess from the Tang and Song Dynasties", p. 86, Hong Kong, 1984 (in Chinese) - said that chess came from China through Burma, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. From there it reached Thailand and Malaysia and crossed to the island of Java in Indonesia, where chess relics have been found. (Chien Chun Ching, "Research in Chinese chess from the Tang and Song Dynasties", p. 86, Hong Kong, 1984 (in Chinese). Although Chinese chess itself is still played in Vietnam, other variations of the game took hold in most of the other countries. Some of these have now died out or, as in the case of Malaysian chess, have been radically modified in recent times so as to conform more closely to the rules of modern western chess. ("Rules in Malay Chess", Royal Asiatic Society - Striates Branch Journal, Singapore, No. 49, p. 87-92 (1907), also No. 8, p. 261 (1917)).


Excerpt from the book - Chessmen for collectors - Victor Keats (pg/181)

"The game of chess as played by people dwelling in the |Malay Peninsula is, as would be expected, the same as that of their close neighbors and co-religionists of Sumatra and Java. Malayan names of the piece are derived from Persian and although much chess is played throughout the Peninsula, no chessmen of any great merit have originated there. There is no recognized traditional type of chess piece associated with Malaya, but simple playing pieces based on Muslim sets were made from nineteenth century onwards. This simple sets were turned to similar Muslim design but with straight- sided diabolo forms surmounted by oviform finials. One side was stained or dyed either red or green and the material used was either Malayan ivory or softwood. They were used before the nineteenth century and are still played with today using the same design. The bishop are 13/4 in (4.5cm) high and the Pawns 7/8 in (2.2cm) high."

7th c AD - Located on the maritime roads linking China and Japan to India and Persia, the Malay islands and peninsula have been influenced by a deep and strong Indian influence before the islamisation, since the 7th c AD. Those people adopted Buddhism and Hinduism and rules mighty empires like the Çailendra at Java from 7th to 12th c. which built Borobudur temple, Çrivijaya at Sumatra from 8th to 13th c., and Majapahit in the 14th c.

Philippines early set are similar with set found in Selangor

Malay Island probably took Chess as well from Indians. Chess is attested there since the first European (Portuguese) contacts at the beginning of the 16th c. and seemed already well known when it happened. However, the game was later on deeply influenced by the European play. For instance, the modern moves for the Queen and the Bishop were adopted.

Main means "game" and Chator is obviously "chess", as a broken form of Sanskrit Chaturanga. The Malay name of the pieces also come from Sanskrit (Raja, Mantri, Gajah) or from Tamil and Telegu, Dravidian languages from South East India (Kuda, Ter, Chemor). The only exception is Bidaq which obviously is inherited from Muslim contacts (Baidaq in Arabic).

My personal opinion is in the past, the game was once called chator or catur but not "main" chator/ catur because in Malay, main is and adjective while chator/catur is a noun. - Hairulov

Two kinds of sets exists. One very basic, carved in 10 mn from bamboo or other vegetals with abstract shapes, the other is finely carved. Interestingly, the Rook is represented by a Boat there, like in certain parts of India and in Burma. It probably denotes the Hindu influence, a common character with Thailand and Cambodia where Boat is name of the piece.
source :

1400 chess spread to Malaya

1509 1st Portuguese expedition off Malacca. The Javans ( and malays ?) recognized chess

source :
Chess History and Chronology by Bill Wall (Dec 6, 2007)

1856-1908 Wan Ahmad bin Muhammad Zain (1856 - 1908) or Syeikh Wan Ahmad Patani is a famous Muslim Scholar in South East Asia.He debate the origin word of chess in Malay - catur which being used by Malaysian and Indonesian .

“…Catur (chess) word originated from the word syatrunj, so it was suit to Malay tounge to catur…”

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