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Antima Khanna

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Ganjifa Cards

Ganjifa tradition of Sawantwadi is almost three hundred years old.
However, the technique of executing round playing cards did not originate from Sawantwadi. Scholars believe that the game of large size circular playing cards
was first invented by the Malla Kings of Bishnupur (Bengal) in the 8th Century AD.
Jaipur, Orissa and Cuddappa in the South
were other places where the round, playing cards game was known.
In each such place, the playing cards were executed by local artists.

ganjifa 1


These were different in size and number compared to the Ganjifas of Sawantwadi.
Even the iconographical illustrations were different in each place,
such as the Navagraha in the north and the Dashavatara in the south, including Sawantwadi.


But today, except for Sawantwadi, there is no other place in India in which
the craft of making Ganjifas is being maintained.

Ganjifa are circular playing cards made from paper that is covered with a mixture
of tamarind seed powder and oil, painted and coated with lac.
Darbari cards have decorative borders and Bazaar cards are without borders.
It used to be a popular pastime at the Indian courts.



The classic Mughal Ganjifa with its 96 cards and 8 suits penetrated into the social milieu
of India and the Deccan that later,
with its themes and characters from Hindu mythology, gained widespread acceptance.


The most popular was the Dasavatar with ten different circular pieces
depicting the ten incarnations of Vishnu.
These form a set along with painted cards of Vishnu’s weapons.

Ganjifa cards were introduced in Sawantwadi after its ruler, Khem Sawant Bhonsle III,
heard of it from scholars of the Telangana region.
The Chitari community in Sawantwadi, known for their skill in lac ware and wood craft,
learnt to make these cards.
They are no longer used to play games but used as gift items and educational aids.


Rudy Von Leyden, an Austrian scholar, working for Voltas in Bombay for several years
had made an exhaustive collection of round playing cards from all over India.
(This collection is now in the Vienna Museum).

You will get to see these cards in form of
Playing cards, Dasavatar, Nine Planets, Zodiac signs, Tarot cards.


Naralachi- karwanti-coconut shell
Wooden plate
Babhlicha-dink-gum arabic
Painting brush

You can visit the site of IGNCA for more designs.

6 thoughts on “Ganjifa Cards

  1. Hi, Love these beautiful Ganjifa cards. In the 4 rows x 4 columns image of the set, which one is Buddha & which one is Kalki avatar? Thanks

    1. Thanks Surbi for your comment. I am not an expert on Ganjifa but as far as I know, the 16th card is Buddha & 14th (Chariot) is Kalki avatar.
      how much do know about these cards?

    1. Sir, unfortunately even I don’t know how to play with them. I Just know, that the similar designs are available now as normal playing cards.
      I shall keep you posted, in case I get to know anybody knowing more about them.

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