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Ganjifa – The Game Of Cards From The Royal Palace

India is a land of traditional practices and cultural activities. Due to the invasion of different foreign rulers, there has been induction of various customs, rituals,  and entertainment arts. These aspects have been either carried forward in their original form or have been transformed according to the Indian ideologies to suits the locals’ need. Although a lot of these activities have either been extinct or have just occupied a permanent place in museums or royal palaces, the knowledge of these historical facts is always bemusing to know. Ganjifa, a game of playing cards is one such thing that arrived long back and preserved for years by the Indian counterparts.

Photo of ‘2674’ by ptwo under CC BY 2.0

What is Ganjifa?

Ganjifa is set of playing cards that originated in Arab and Persia. The term gan is known as “treasure” in Arabian dialects while the later half is an amalgamation of Chinese word “pae”. The Chinese word apparently means playing cards. Existing for a span of 400 years, the game of Ganjifa is a set of 96 to 106 cards.

They are either rectangular or circular in shape with different sets of design. The different mythic designs have let to a variety of attribution in the nomenclature of the same. This includes Moghul Ganjifa, Dashavatara Ganjifa, Ramayan Ganjifa, Rashi Ganjifa, Ashta Malla Ganjifa, Naqsh Ganjifa,  Mysore Chad Ganjifa, Akbar Ganjifa, Mamluk Ganjifa, and French suited Ganjifa. These variations have relative character- design on the cards.

These cards during ancient times were made of ivory, tortoise shell and other rich materials. In royal courts, the Ganjifa card game was known as Darbar Kalam. At the same time, as it went famous with masses, it was called Bazaar Kalam. Bazar Kalam was made of cheaper materials like cloth, hardboard, etc. which were affordable for everyone.

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With the advancement of technology, this hand made Ganjifa cards were produced in a printed form by the machines. Moreover, with the introduction of games like poker by Britishers, the Ganjifa’s popularity gradually declined.

Ganjifa in India

In India, Ganjifa was introduced with the entry of Mughals in the 16th century. In accordance to the Indian belief system, the designs and the nomenclature of Ganjifa varied.  The sets were known as Darchitri, Navgraha, Shivaji Maharaj, Mughal Ganjifa, Dashavatara and the grew in their popularity. In India, the Ganjifa was spread in locations like Mysore, Rajasthan, Orissa, Maharashtra, etc.

Today the Ganjifa is extant in Maharashtra due to the efforts made by royal families to preserve this game as well as in way of art form. In Sawantwadi of Maharashtra, Dashvatara Ganjifa is popular. It is played amongst three or five players with 120 cards. On the same lines, Ramayan Ganjifa is composed of elements of Ramayan characters and it is played in Orissa. Similarly, Mysore cad Ganjifa has 360 cards, with elaborate corresponding designs.

The back of the cards is flat toned and has no motifs or design. Today, Ganjifa is hardly played except in Orissa. Moreover, there has been a worldwide exhibition in notable museums that possess the required ancient collection.

Featured Photo of ‘Krishna Preparing to Decapitate King Kamsa, King of the Krishna Suit, Playing Card from a Dashavatara ‘ by Ashley Van Haeften under CC BY 2.0

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