GANJIFA: Rejuvenation of the Card Game of India

GANJIFA: Rejuvenation of the Card Game of India

Author: Suvarnareha Jadhav Write To Author

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GANJIFA: Rejuvenation of the Card Game of India
 
© Suvarnareha Jadhav 2009
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GANJIFA: Rejuvenation of the Card Game of India
 
© Suvarnareha Jadhav 2009
 
Ganjifa, or Gânjaphâ, is a card game that originated in Persia and became popular in India under the Mughal emperors. The name Ganjifa comes from the Persian word ganjifeh (گنجفه), meaning playing card. The origin of the word Ganjifa is vague. Gunj is a Persian word meaning treasure or minted money. Although the origin of the word Ganjifa is not fully recognized, there is one factor in favour of it. There is always one money suit named after a coin of local currency.
 
 It is difficult to tell when card games made their first appearance in India. Playing cards were apparently not known in India before the beginning of the sixteenth century. Though there is evidence to show that Ganjifa playing cards were in use in India as far back as the seventh century A.D. or earlier. They were introduced under the first Mughal Rulers who brought them from their ancestral homes of Central Asia. The first known reference is in an early-16th century biography of Bâbur, the founder of the Mughal dynasty.
 
The game of Ganjifa first became popular at the courts, in the form of lavish sets of precious stone-inlaid ivory or tortoise shell (darbar kalam).The game has been in vogue for hundreds of years. It was played during the time of the Peshwas. During the reign of Bajirao II, this game was brought to Vidarbha, primarily in Mahur Village of Kimwat District of Marathawada. There the king Udaram Jagjivanram used to play Ganjifa and he taught Dashavatara Ganjifa to his staff and his family. From Mahur Village, the game came to Pune District.   It later spread to the general public, whereupon cheaper sets (bazâr kalam) would be made from materials such as wood, palm leaf, or pasteboard.
 
Ganjifa cards are circular and traditionally hand-made by local artisans. The precise style and arrangement of the decoration on any set is dependent on its artist. Addition of the Indian elements to the Ganjifa themes must have contributed greatly to the spread and popularity of the game. Dashavatara Ganjifa with the avatars as incarnations of Vishnu presiding over the ten suits was the most popular card game in Rajasthan, Bengal, Nepal, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra.
 
 
SUVARNAREHA JADHAV Consultant in Textile Design, Dyeing and Printing. She has also lectured on textile design and her experience gives her a unique view of the ancient card game of Ganjifa and of the art and design of the cards that were used.
 
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