While many ganjifa cards had deities on them, other motifs such as elephants appeared as well.
Ganjifa is an ancient Indian card game that is believed to have been popularised during the Mughal period. During this time, ganjifa cards were presented as gifts to royal dignitaries and visitors. As it became popular among the Indian royalty, craftspersons were employed to make ganjifa cards with Indian themes. Not only did ganjifa entertain the players, it also gave them an opportunity to learn mythological stories.
While each region has its own version of the game, Mysore ganjifa is the most popular due to its intricate designs that are painted using natural colours made from herbs, flowers and seeds. "Mysore ganjifa is unique as the art is hand-painted on an ivory base. This is then lacquered on for durability," says Ganjifa Raghupathi Bhat, an artist who has been designing ganjifa cards for over 30 years.
Mysore's tryst with ganjifa got prominence during the reign of King Krishnaraja Wadiyar III. Then, as many as 18 types of ganjifa games were in existence. Of these, ganjifa card decks with the themes of Dashavatharam and the Ramayana were the most popular ones. While many of the cards had deities on them, other motifs such as elephants appeared as well.
This game was, in fact, not only played by the royals, but also by the commoners. The only difference was that the royals used the cards made of expensive material like ivory, shells and deer leather, while commoners used the ones made from affordable material like paper, wood and fabrics. While ganjifa cards can be found in various shapes, it is traditionally made in a circular shape. Today, not many are aware of ganjifa game. And efforts are underway to revive the traditional game.