Everybody knows Poker, a popular playing cards game. This is generally played in US and Europe but there are several Indian playing card games hidden from the world. The most ancient one and interesting one is called Krida Patram.
India was a monarchy before the British invaded. Several princely states were scattered across the country being ruled by different noble families. The royal families had leisurely tastes and hobbies. Hunting, painting, being a patron of arts and music and games. They also favored games that allowed them to play in the comfort of their own palaces or mansions. Scholars, artists and innovators started discovering new games and board games they could play. The games usually involved intricate boards, handcrafted objects and an Indian style. Since the royals had money to spare most of these games were expensive to make. This would mean that the ordinary Indian could not afford or access them. Of course the ordinary Indian in those ages didn’t have spare time to play. They had a difficult life, trying to work or farm and earn enough money to survive. Some games were easy and available for all classes to play with. These games also meant that everybody could play it for leisure and entertainment. A game that could be played by royals and commoners alike was Krida Patram.
A game started to entertain the nobility and royal families, card games were a novelty. The first mention of the game was found in Ain-I-Akhbari, a record of the Mughal period by Abul Fazal. Krida Patram has different versions and the Mughals had a varied set of cards and rules. The cards were often called ‘Ganjifa‘ but the game was titled Krida Patram. In Ain-I-Akbhari, Fazal notes that Mughals used 96 cards with 12 sets of 8 cards each. Indian royalty and princes often used 144 cards with 12 sets of 12 cards each. Each card set had a name and a leader. The highest playing in the card was the ‘King’ or ‘Ashvapati’. The card featured a King or Leader on horseback. The second highest card was ‘General’ or ‘Senapati‘. This card depicted the Commander of an Army on horseback. The first card set thus featured everybody on horses and was considered the most powerful set. The second set showed everyone on elephants and the leader was called ‘Gajapati.’ Another set portrayed the soldiers or the squadron on foot. Some had the navy or the animals on them. To ensure their cards don’t resemble anyone else’s the royals commissioned local artists, illustrators and painters to paint and draw designs.
Florals, mythology, legends and epics were drawn on the cards to make them look unique and beautiful. Mughal rulers were known to play with cards of lattice, ivory, wood or thick cloth. These cards resembled works of art and cost a lot of money and time. There are mentions of cards with real jewels, rubies and pearls embedded in them! The current deck of cards are found to have floral patterns and our ancient culture is where it comes from. Artisans also created a wooden box or metal box to store these cards. The boxes were an extension of the theme and featured drawings or paintings on them.
Commoners or ordinary Indians couldn’t afford these expensive cards so they bought ready ones. Paper was expensive and rare so pieces of cloth were stuck together to achieve thick cards. The ordinary Indians had to ask friends or talented neighbors to draw something on their cards. Color was also expensive and thus the regular set of cards would mostly be in black and white. The art of painting and creating hand-made cards has been washed away due to commercialization. It was a beautiful local Indian craft that has suffered at the hands of technology. You can still find hand painted cards in museums and national emporiums.