Thursday, April 15, 2010

Forgotten in Mysore, Remembered in France Today

Following article appeared in the well known evening newspaper Star of Mysore, yesterday. Yesterday 14 April, was the first day of the four day international symposium '13th Board Games Studies Colloquium' at France. 

14 April 2010. Star of Mysore


Master of Board Games: Mummadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar

Mysore, Apr. 14- The 13th Board Games Studies colloquium began this morning at the FIAP Jean-Monnet Centre in Paris.

The four-day colloquium will conclude on Apr. 17. German scholar Irving Finkel in his address "A very early counting system in traditional Indian games," will pay homage to Mummadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar III, the then Maharaja of Mysore who was the Master of Board Games.

Maharaja Mummadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar was not only interested in philosophy, astrology and mathematics but invented complex symbolic games and puzzles. Only a few of the encylopedic records made by Mummadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar are to be found in the Jaganmohan Palace Art Gallery while the majority of manuscripts are either in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London or in private collections in the United Kingdom and Germany.

In 1982, a remarkable double-sided Mysore game board in rosewood, inlaid with ivory, was discovered in London.

This reversible folding board game (Karmic game of Shivasayujam) is a version invented by Krishnaraja Wadiyar based on snakes and ladders.

In this Shivasayujam board, the deity appears in 'Mukhalinga' form at the centre, with Nandi, Ganesha and other deities. The six concentric circles lead to Shiva's abode and contain numerous ivory roundel plaques with images and inscriptions engraved and highlighted with lac. The four players each have six pieces, whose starting squares are marked within lotuses at the corners of the board.

Another invention of Mummadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar is to be found not in Mysore but in the Victoria and Albert Museum. According to Veronica Murphy and Andrew Topsfield, formerly of the V&A Museum, this magic board game was designed for four-handed chess.

The Maharaja also invented a numerical table in chess, found in V&A Museum (Catalogue No. 9047). The full text (beneath a Mysore Royal Crest) reads: "The following Numerical Table in chess has been invented by HIS HIGHNESS Maha Rajah Krishna Rajah Wodayer Bahandar Rajah of Mysore, on 31st July, 1852. On this board of 64 squares termed Poornataraculpaturro, the figures are placed according to the movements of the knight, which give a total of 260 in 116 different ways, by adding the figures horizontally, perpendicularly, and in a variety of other ways, taking at a time 8 spaces that bear the same relative position to each other. It further rests with the ingenious to obtain the singular numerical property on this board of 64 squares in which the knight is made to move, for instance, 130 if 4 spaces, 260 if 8 spaces, 520 if 16 spaces, 1040 of 32 spaces, and 2080 if 64 spaces are added together."

There is a reference to the Maharaja's Knight's moves in H.J.R. Murray's "The Magic Knight's tours: A mathematical recreation."

A game board diagram inscribed by the Maharaja was sold at Sotheby's auction on Apr. 8, 1983 (Lot 209). A Karmic version of snake & ladder invented by the Maharaja, in a private collection in Britain, was later sold by Sotheby's on Nov. 23, 1987 (Lot 395). The provenance note of Lot 395 says: "Said by the late owner to have come from the Mysore Palace, as a gift from the Maharaja, in about 1875."

Andrew Topsfield of the V&A Museum says that if this dating, 1875, is accurate, this Maharaja would have been not Krishnaraja but his successor !!!

Art historian Vasantha Rangachar says the five manuscripts written in 1855 on board games writer Krishnaraja — Chaturanga Sarasvasam of 666 pages; Sri Krishnaraja Chaturanga Sudha-kara of 118 pages; Kempu Kitabu of 98 pages; Sankhya Shastra of 65 pages; Chaturanga Chamat-krita Chakramanjar of 248 pages — are now in the British Library.

Two manuscripts also written in 1855 are found in the Oriental Research Library and Kuvempu Institute of Kannada Studies. Incidentally both the manuscripts are "out of bounds' for public.

A city-based researcher into the antiquity of board games was not allowed to even take a look at the manuscripts because he was not a post-graduate, because he was not associated with any college body and because he was a, in the eyes of the University, common man !

The German Scholar Finkel in "A Raja's Diversions: Board Games in Mysore," and "Asian Games: The Art of Contest" (Eds: Mackenzie and Finkel) has this to say, '... their achievements are recorded in his court manuscripts, which played a central role in the Raja's programme of documentation and dissemination of his games' creation: for he wished, in his own words, to "broadcast them to the world."

This is being done in London and today in Paris, but not in the heritage city of Mysore.

'According to modern oral tradition at Mysore, the Maharaja would lock himself up in the Krishna Temple inside the Mysore Palace for many hours a day. Legend has it that Krishna himself descended from heaven and played games with Wadiyar...'

'Krishnaraja describes a board array called "Garuda Vyuha" and discusses the positioning of pieces to block the opponent: with Minister confronting the Raja at f7, camel at d5 and d8, chariot at d4 and d9, flag at e3 and e10, the house and chariot at equal distance from the Minister maintaining a balanced force, and the pawns at c4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9.'



Raja said...

I was very pleased to visit your blog. Maharaja Mummadi Krishna Raja Wadiyar was truly destiny’s own child. He was born as a prince albeit nominal; as three year old he was thrown to a miserable hovel by Tipu; as a five year old catapulted as the King by an unusual and propitious sharing of victory by the Conquerors of 4Th Mysore War; Lost his ruling power under controversial circumstances by age 36; yet undaunted he succeed in his fight to restore the Kingdom to his adopted son at the ripe age of 71! These are stories which no sound and light can ever capture. His relentless fight and indomitable spirit to get ruling powers back from East India Company and later from British Empire are not mere History’s foot notes but deserve to be written in golden letters. The fact that even British Press and Parliamentarians fought on his side are unprecedented in Indo- British History. Juxtapose that with the Karnataka legislator’s action in confiscating the Palaces from His Great Grandson. Yes, these are quirks of fate and tell tale epithets of vicissitudes! Ironically History has been very unkind to this colossal personality and Mysoreans, Kannidagas and Indians (in that order) have not recognized the immense talent and contributions of this colorful personality.

Many thanks to Ramsons Kala Pratishtana for their stupendous effort in kindling Mysoreans interest on Mummadi’s innovations.

Raja said...

Sritattva Nidhi is in nine parts, each called a nidhi ("treasure"). The nine sections are: 1)shakti nidhi, 2) viShnu nidhi, 3) shiva nidhi, 4) brahma nidhi, 5) graha nidhi, 6) vaiShNava nidhi, 7) shaiva nidhi, 8)Agama nidhi & 9) kautuka nidhi.

A part of Kautuka Nidhi dealing with Yoga is already published by a Sanskrit scholar and hatha yoga student named Norman Sjoman. He has written a book titled: The Yoga Tradition of the Mysore Palace (Year of Publication : 1996,ISBN : 8170173892).The book presents the first English translation of a part of Kautuka nidhi/Sritattvanidhi , which includes instructions for and illustrations of 122 postures—making it by far the most elaborate text on asanas in existence before the twentieth century.

But if one were to assume that Mummadi immersed himself in his intellectual pursuits after he lost his Ruling powers in 1831, then the work could have been written anytime between 1831 to 1868. Hence it may have evolved much before the first magic knight's tour by William Beverley (1847). The fact that all the three night’s tours are dated around few years of each other also suggest it may have been taken out of India by many of Mummdi’s European admirers.

These tours were preserved in a manuscript by Pandit Harikrishna Sharma Jyotishacharya, written in 1871, which was printed in Devanagari script by Venkateshwar Steam Press, Bombay in 1900, and is reproduced, with English commentary, in a book on Indian Chess by S. R. Iyer (NAG Publishers, Delhi 1982).

A silk handkerchief bearing this tour was exhibited at the Margate Easter Chess Congress, 1938. The present whereabouts of the silk (or silks?) is unknown.

Raja said...

The first magic knight's tour is credited to Mr. William Beverley, an Englishmen in 1847. He was a scene painter and designer of theatrical effects. It was published in Philosophical Magazine in March 1848.
Mr. Carl Wenzelides is credited with the Second Magic Night’s tour. It appeared in the February-March number of the Schachzeitung 1849, under the heading ‘Der Rösselsprung in höchster Kunstvollendung’ {The Knight's Tour in its Highest Perfection}. Mr. Carl Wenzelides was an invalid, confined for many years to his couch, who found a welcome relief to the tedium of his life in the composition of chess problems and knight's tours.

Maharaja is credited with Third Magic Kinigt’s Tour. This is part of Kautuka Nidhi which is the last and ninth part of the encyclopedic work known as “Sritattva Nidhi” by Mummadi. However it is very difficult to exactly place with certainty when this magnum opus “Sritattva Nidhi” was written. An original copy of this colossal work is available in the Oriental Research Institute, University of Mysore, Mysore. Another copy is in the possession of the scion of the Royal Family of Mysore, Sri Srikanta Datta Narsimharaja Wadiyar. In recent times the Oriental Research Institute has published three volumes (Saktinidhi, Vishnunidhi, and Sivanidhi).