Ganjifa A Game From Persia That Evolved With The Indian Subcontinent

The Ganjifa cards came to India from Persia around the 16th century. After making this journey, they evolved with the culture of the subcontinent and became a popular court game
Ganjifa, is a card game and type of playing cards that are most associated with Persia and India. Photo credit Shutterstock
Ganjifa, is a card game and type of playing cards that are most associated with Persia and India. Photo credit Shutterstock

The word &ldquoGanjifa&rdquo derives from the Persian word &ldquoGanj,&rdquo which means &ldquotreasure&rdquo or &ldquogranary.&rdquo However, as Ganjifa, it has come to stand for card games. In fact, during the Mughal reign, Ganjifa was a well-known card game. It is mentioned in Babur&rsquos memoirs. Later, Abul Fazl, Akbar&rsquos historian, mentioned how Akbar had simplified the game. As a source of entertainment, Ganjifa was a very popular card game in the Mughal courts. It was played on several occasions, including festivals.

The Game

Each suit has two court cards, Raja (King) and Mantri (Minister) and ten other cards that adopt various attributes. Three types of cards are known Chitrakatha, which is similar to the Pathan style and allows the mobility of the figures the Devastaan (temple) style, which is rather static. In the more-popular Ganjifa style, there are many iconographic depictions of the ten incarnations of Vishnu. However, kings used to play with cards made of ivory or tortoise shells laid with precious stones. The cards today are painted on cartridge paper cut into circles. While a downgrade, it requires highly skilled labour with a lot of patience. At least in the traditional style, a pack of cards takes nearly three months to make

The rules of Ganjifa remain largely consistent regardless of its different versions. Usually played by three players, the game consists of three rounds, although the duration can be modified as needed. The goal in each round is to collect hands or tricks. At the end of a round, the player with the lowest score must exchange their high-ranking cards for the low-ranking cards held by the other players in the subsequent round. The number of cards to be exchanged is determined by the number of tricks lost by that player.

Where to Buy

Sawantwadi in Maharashtra is one of the few places to pick up a pack. With the decline of this traditional art form, the descendants of Sawantwadi displayed a keen interest in preserving it. They actively sought to learn the craft from the skilled Chitrakar community, and in 1972, a few artisans were specifically trained to safeguard and promote the tradition. The Chitrakar community was renowned for their expertise in creating these cards, lacquerware, and woodcraft, which contributed to their reputation.

A Sawantwadi ganjifa card set consisted of 120 cards, whereas Mughal ganjifa cards had 96 cards. These cards were intricately designed, bearing the names of various deities. The term &ldquoChankanchan&rdquo was commonly used to refer to the cards originating from Sawantwadi. &ldquoChang&rdquo symbolized an instrument, while &ldquoKanchan&rdquo meant gold. The primary purpose of these games was to impart knowledge and convey stories from ancient scriptures and holy books. Among the different types of ganjifa cards, there were the &ldquoDashavatara&rdquo cards featuring the incarnations of Lord Vishnu from the Ramayana. Additionally, there were popular variants like the Navagraha cards representing the nine planets and the Ashtadeekpala ganjifa cards.

Getting There

To get to Sawantwadi, drive to Kudal and then to Akheri Road Junction (15 km away from Kudal) on NH17. From here, Sawantwadi is 2 km away.

Related Stories

No stories found.
Outlook Traveller