Etymology: The 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 city of Karnataka and was initially called ‘Kareeda Patra’. This card game predominantly took root in Mysore city of Karnataka

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 card games were painted for the entertainment of the aristocratic class. It was an already dead custom in Persia, but it was revived when the Mughals migrated from Persia and Arab to India. 


Significance: Ganjifa, a royal court game of cards which is an influence of Persia, is very different to the card games we play now. It is a deck of 96 or 106 cards which are hand-painted with a unique and different design on each card. These card games were painted for the entertainment of the aristocratic class.

Culture and Societies: Today, artists who practice Mysooru-Ganjifa and Sawantwadi-Ganjifa actively work towards reviving this craft. Earlier, Mysooru-Ganjifa didn’t reach mass appeal as it was heavily patronized by the Royal Mysore family.

Religious significance: Mysooru-Ganjifa in these contemporary times has resorted to revive these cards with 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 commonly painted design.

Ganjifa Painting

new outlook

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