Ganjifa: A Craft Inspired By The Playing Cards Of The Royals

Playing cards isn’t new. It is just that earlier they used to be the work of art. They were so artistic that the very art that was used to create them is used today to craft different types of decorative pieces. We are talking about ‘Ganjifa’ cards.

Mughals introduced Ganjifa cards in India in the 16th century.

The Word ‘Ganjife’ means playing cards in Persian from where the art had travelled to India.

Soon we had variants with motifs inspired from Hindu mythology (Credit:

Ganjifa’ cards are always hand painted and need intricate detailing (Credit:

The present royal of Sawantwadi (Maharashtra) is patronizing the art for its revival (Credit:

The boxes in which Ganjifa cards are kept are also artistic (Credit:

Some examples of modern usage of Ganjifa

Credit for all the above images:

Few things worth knowing about Ganjifa

1. The earliest origins of the cards remain uncertain, but Ganjifa cards as they are known today are believed to have originated in Persia and became popular in India under the Mughal emperors in the 16th century. They are colourful and intricately hand-painted and are made in different shapes.

2. In June 1527 Babar sent a pack of an exquisite set of Mughal Ganjifa playing cards, each hand-painted on ivory and inlaid with precious stones. He really wouldn’t have imagined that this small gesture would attract the entire continent’s attention.

3. As the populace took to playing Ganjifa, the inexpensive materials came into usage. The materials like wood, palm leaf, stiffened cloth or pasteboard. Subsequently, different regions came up with their own versions. Many versions like ‘Dashavtara’, ‘Ramayana’, ‘Ashta Malla’ had Hindu motifs on them.

4. About 350 years back, Bhosle (the royals of Goa) settled in Sawantwadi in Maharashtra and brought with them artists who were good at wood carvings and paintings. Of all things these artists crafted for the royals, one was Ganjifa cards.

5. As this craft was vanishing, the heirs of Sawantwadi decided to work for its revival. In 1972 they managed to get the Chitrakar community to train a few craftsmen who could carry this art forward. Today you can consider Sawantwadi as the last bastion of Ganjifa.

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