Antique Indian Mewari Engraved Chess Set

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A complete set of bone abstract-style chessmen from the former Indian Kingdom of Mewar, dated 1873. The two sides are red and green with coloured caps and basis. Kings are 9 cm.

The red King contains an engraved Mewari inscription; the characters are similar to the Devanagari script, but without the typical horizontal lines, which corresponds to a script used for Gujarati, another Indoeuropean language spoken in Gujarat.

Mewari is a dialect spoken in the area from which this chess set originates. The Mewari dialect is sometimes written using a script which is similar to the Gujarati characters.

The inscription reads: Sri Thakur (Count) Saheb Sri Laksman Singhji (name of the count) Thikana (County) Amet samat 1930 (corresponding to 1873 AD) mulk (state) Mewar.

At some time the chess set was presented to the Abbot of the Saran monastery which is situated in the earlier kingdom of Marwar close to the border of Mewar; the abbots of that monastery had a great reputation in the area and received kings and nobility.

This chess set has the remarkable feature that each of the thirty-two pieces is inscribed in clear script with its name in Mewari, bearing even a consecutive numbering. Thus each pawn is labelled `sipai' (corresponding to Hindi `sepoy') and the specific number selected from 1-8; similarly each elephant is is labelled 'hati' 1 or 2 and so on.

Most probably the reason is that the set was used to teach e.g. children how to play chess. It would be very practical to make a child read the name of each piece when learning how it is moved and it would be entertaining and beneficial in starting games to turn a piece round so as to hide the inscription and test the child's recognition. There is no likely alternative explanation so much so that one might conclude that the owner had it specifically made when he had many grandchildren who needed teaching.