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Reema Bhalla Jul 03 2013

What is Ganjifa and where did it originate?

Reet Cheema Jul 03 2013
0 people found this answer useful Useful ?Yes

Ganjifa, traditional playing cards of India, are circular in shape and may be 20 mm, 32 to 34 mm, or 120 mm in diameter. By the 17th century, playing ganjifa was a popular recreation for royalty as well as the commoners. Select sets were crafted of ivory, tortoise shell, mother of pearl and brass.

, a small town in southern Maharashtra, is synonymous with hand-crafted ganjifa (Indian playing cards) and painted wooden toys. Ubha Bazaar, the town’s main market, is dotted with shops selling painted wooden fruits and vegetables, palm-leaf baskets, ganjifa and other lacquered crafts.

The origin of ganjifa in Sawantwadi can be traced back to the 17th century. Raja Shrimant Khem Sawant Bhonsle III, the then ruler, is known to have patronised this art form in a big way. More recently, the art was revived when the former royal family converted the durbar hall of its palace into an atelier.

Earlier, the chitrakars (artists) worked with mineral colours mixed in coconut shells, brushes made with animal hair, and lacquer made from natural resins. However, today the they work with cartridge paper and powdered pigments. Apart from ganjifa they also paint other articles such as furniture, boxes, and chess sets in the same style.

A pack of ganjifa typically comprises of 96 or 120 cards. The motifs on the cards are largely inspired by mythology, royalty, nature, and everyday life. After the motifs are painted, the cards are lacquered. This process makes them stiff and gives them a protective, glossy coat. The obverse of the card bears colourful decorative designs, while the reverse is generally of a single colour. A pack contains eight, 10 or 12 suits and each suit consists of numeral cards from ace to 10 and two court cards. As it is essential for the players to identify the card at a single glance, each card is decorated with its suit sign.

There are several types of cards — darchitri cards with central figures; the dashavatara ganjifa based on the 10 incarnations of the Hindu deity Vishnu and changkanchan or Mughal style ganjifa. Inexpensive, printed Europeanstyle playing cards have replaced ganjifa, which continue to be handcrafted as souvenirs in memory of a once popular indoor game.

Have a pack of these at home, gifted by my grandparents. In very fragile condition but a family treasure nevertheless. Thanks for sharing what they are, never thought they were so famous :)
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