Treasure Trove of playing cards

On 20th Nov, 13 students from SDM Kannada High School, Dharmasthala: joined us to participate in the Manjusha Museum’s Activity on Ganjifa Cards-“A Treasure Trove Of Playing Cards”.

Organized: Manjusha Museum

Planning and Direction: Chaitra Rao Sharma, Art Historian and Conservator, Manjusha Museum. Chief Guest: Dr Pavan Kumar, Associate Researcher, SDM Oriental Research Institute, Dharmasthala.

What are Ganjifa cards?

Ganjifa Cards are very similar to the playing cards used in present times. Earlier cards for royalty were made of ivory, tortoiseshell, mother of pearl and decorated in the enamel of gold and silver. The Cards for the commoners were made of paper mache, palm leaf, or cloth. The main aim of these games is to teach and tell stories from the ancient scriptures and texts. The most common theme of the cards was Dashavatara, Navagarha(9 planets), Ashtadigpala, and Dasha-Mahavidhya (which informs Ten forms of Mother Goddess).

Background or History

Ganjifa playing cards can be traced back nearly 500 years ago, to the emperor Babur (the Mughals), in the 16th century.  Its Persian root “Ganj” means a Treasure Trove. There are just a few places in India where these cards are made, like Sawantwadi in Maharashtra, Mysuru in Karnataka, and Ganjam in Odissa.

The Ganjifa cards are an example of the rare art of making beautiful crafts in India.

The activity

However, for our activity, we provided illustrated cards along with brushes, paints and necessary pieces of equipment. Each student made their Ganjifa playing cards to depict a character from the Dashavatar. The children were excited to paint their characters and pleased with the result. We showed them prepared a presentation, explaining the process of making different types of cards.

By the end of the activity, each student was given a certificate along with a set of 12 printed cards, to take home, play and paint by themself.