Published: 11th December 2019
Ever heard of Ganjifa? Meet the people who are bringing this ancient card game back to life
Forget modern-day playing cards. Did you know that India had its own card games even during the rule of the Mughals and famous emperors of Mysuru? MJ Kamalakshi from KCP speaks about Ganjifa art
With the ever-changing times and the advent of technology, many forms of traditional arts and games have faded away. Ganjifa is one such game that has been lost in the sands of time and needs to be preserved. To do just that, Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath (KCP) released a book titled Splendours of Ganjifa Art last month. And this is not the first time that KCP is taking on such an initiative to revive a lost artform. Earlier, the institute played a key role in publishing a book on leather puppetry and traditional paintings of Karnataka. MJ Kamalakshi, General Secretary, KCP, has put in a lot of effort in not only gathering the right information about Ganjifa, but also to find those potential artists who still make the Ganjifa cards. She says, "In 2018, we conducted a workshop and experimented by combining Ganjifa and contemporary art. There were several artists from Mysuru, Odisha and West Bengal who were part of this workshop. We then compiled the names of these artists and the work they have been doing to include it in the book. It showcases articles that were written and artworks created by famous artists. I think this is the only detailed documentation on the Ganjifa art in India."
The General Secretary further adds, "This book is a result of several years of hard work. A few decades ago, famous writer and music critic BVK Sastry suggested that we collect Ganjifa cards. So, we formally began the process in 1977, when the All India Folk and Tribal Art Exhibition was held at our institute for 45 days. It was during this exhibition that two famous artists Rajasaheb Parashuram Shivram Bhonsle and Rajmata Satyasheeladevi Bhonsle conducted workshops on Ganjifa art and sold the cards too. Many people came forward to buy these artworks which proved to be a form of encouragement for the artists. From then on, there was no looking back. We got in touch with artists from all across India. There are several artists who make these cards in Maharashtra's Sawantwadi, Odisha, Rajasthan, Mysuru, Kashmir and even Nepal."
KCP conducted the first workshop on Ganjifa art in 1977
Not just the northern parts of India, Ganjifa has a solid connection with Mysuru. In the 19th century, Mummudi Krishnaraja Wadiyar III (1794-1868) experimented and created dozens of new cards and designs. He formulated new games like Chamundeshwari, Jagan Mohana, Navarathna and others. He used to play these games with the neighbouring kings or noblemen when they visited Mysuru. In fact, there was a centre in the then Mysore state called Mysore Chada Ganjifa that made these cards. This has been included as one of the chapters titled Kouthuka Nidhi. Kamalakshi says, "As the days passed, the game was reduced to just an artform. Now, many people buy these cards only as artworks and not games. In those days, these cards were created on sandalwood and ivory and were etched upon with silver and gold. The artists now make them on hard sheets which are used to make cards. Usually, the paintings on these cards have pictures depicting incidents from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata and the Dashavatara of Lord Vishnu has also been depicted. Currently, in Karnataka, we have Raghupati Bhat from Udupi who is a perfectionist when it comes to making these cards. Sudha Venkatesh is also another senior artist from Mysuru who followed her father Ramnarasiah's footsteps and learnt this artform."