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Etymology:  Ganjifa is a derivative of the Persian word ‘Ganj’ which means money or treasure, or ‘Ganjifeh’ which translates to playing cards. 

Origin: This card game has its roots in Persia but flourished under the Mughal rule in India, especially in Mysore and Karnataka. It was preceded by a card game called ‘Kreeda Patram’.

Location: Ganjifa cards used to be produced in many parts of India, but now they’re primarily produced in Sawantwadi in Maharashtra as Sawantwadi-Gajifa, Bishnupur as Bengal-Ganjifa, Mysore as Mysooru-Ganjifa, and Orissa as Odisha-Ganjifa.

Relevance: These playing cards were painted for the entertainment of the aristocratic class. It was an already dead custom in Persia, but was revived when the Mughals migrated from Persia and Arabia to India.


Significance: Ganjifa, a royal court game of cards, is very different to the card games we play now. It comprises of a deck of 96 or 106 cards which are hand-painted with a unique and different design on each card. A set of traditional Ganjifa cards would usually have four suits.

Culture and Societies: Today, artists who practice Mysooru Ganjifa and Sawantwadi Ganjifa are actively working towards reviving this craft. Mysooru Ganjifa gained mainstream popularity very late as it used to be heavily patronized by the Royal Mysore family.

Religious significance: A version of Ganjifa called ‘Dashavatara Ganjifa’ contained 10 suits, depicting ten avatars of Lord Vishnu. This version was popular among Brahmin priests and Hindus. In contemporary times, the artists of Mysore Ganjifa have resorted to revive these cards by including hand-painted scenarios and figures from the Hindu epics.

Understanding the Art

Style: There were two main styles, the ‘Darbar kalam’ or royal style, exclusively made for the rulers and their noblemen and ‘Bazar kalam’ or bazar style made for the common man. 

Central motifs: Motifs such as royal figures, hunters, musicians, animals, and birds were painted on these playing cards. Elephants were a commonly painted design.

Ganjifa Painting

new outlook

Sawantwadi Palace is one of two active patronages that are striving to bring back the traditional craft and practice of Ganjifa. They are working not only on producing these playing cards but are also applying Ganjifa designs to other products as well as on digital platforms.

ganjifa Art blogs