This remarkable chess set in Burmese lacquer is the only such set that we are aware of. It is a full set of 32 pieces; none are missing and all are original.
There are 16 pieces for each player. Each piece has been carved from a light wood. One set is covered in orange-red lacquer; the other with black lacquer.
It seems likely that the set was made for local use. It has localised features: the (orange-red) knights (horses) have been carved with riders; all bishops have been replaced by elephants with riders; the king and queen figures have Mandalay court-style headgear; the rooks (castles) look like watchtowers from the Mandalay Palace moat; and the pawns have been rendered as squatting servants.
A form of chess was played in ancient South Asia and it was conceived of as a war game. It was known in sanskrit as chaturanga. It is believed that the game made its way to Europe, where it underwent some transformation, as some pieces were replaced by others.
The game is played with 32 pieces on a board of 64 squares. The number 64 has particular significance in Indian culture and cosmology. There are 64 classical Indian ‘arts’. The mastery of the 64 is called chatushashti Kalas. It is believed that Shiva taught 64 kalas to Krishna and Balarama.
The set here is in excellent condition.
Fraser-Lu, S., Burmese Lacquerware, White Orchid Books, 2000.
Pal, P., Art from the Indian Subcontinent: Asian Art at the Norton Simon Museum, Yale University Press, 2003.