Ganjifa is a set of paper cards in difereny shapes with intricate paintings on them. It is also a refernce to a card game played with the Ganjifa leaves. ‘Ganjifeh’ is a persian word which means a ‘playing card’. ‘Ganj’ also means a ‘treasure’. This is essentially a pan Indian game originating in the Mughal courts. It was prevalent in states such as Orissa, Bengal, Rajasthan, Kashmir and Maharashtra. However, the state of Mysore cultivated its own brand right from the days of Mummadi Krishnaraja Odeyar. (1794-1868) the game was known as ‘Chaad’(God’s Play) or ‘dEvara paTada ATa’ (Game, that makes use of paintings of Gods) It was called ‘KreeDapatra’(Playing leaves) in some other regions.
Ganjifa cards are now better known for the artistic paintings on them rather than the game that is played with them. The cards in the Mysore style of Ganjifa are either circular or rectangular. The cards are usually made of paper pulp, fibers, leaves and sea shells. Natural organic dyes are used to paint these cards and a final coat of lacquer is applied as a finishing touch. Mysore style of cards contain exquisite miniature paintings with gold inlay work. These cards are not flat. The parts of the body are above the card level and the gold ornaments are set in the grooves so that they last longer. Each leaf has a unique design.
Krishnaraja Odeyar-3 composed his collosal work ‘Sri Tatvanidhi’ in hand writing and got it ilustrated by artists. He mentions therein, a ganjifa game called
‘Sarva sAmrAjya pETikA’, that makees use of six hundred cards. The artists and the constructors of the games have selected interesting episodes from Indian mythlogy and literature and created paintings based on them. Bhagavata, Shivapurana, Ramayana and Mahabharatha are some of the perennial sources. Some cards depict interesting variants such as Sushruta the ancient physician examining the eyes of a patient.
G. Raghupathi Bhat or Ganjifa Raghupathi Bhat as he is fondly called is a Ganjifa artist and a collector of these cards. He runs an Inter National Institute devoted for Ganjifa art. Consequently Mysore is one of the few places where this art is still parcticed. He has recently contributed a number of drawings to the latest edition of Kumaravyasa Bharatha a medieval epic of Kannada.
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