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    Mysore Ganjifa

    Map Academy

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    An umbrella term for thirteen chada (card) games based on Ganjifa, the Mysore Ganjifa were invented in the nineteenth century by the then ruler of the kingdom of Mysore, Mummudi Krishnaraja Wodeyar III (1784–1868). He recorded the details of these games in Kouthuka Nidhi, the final chapter of his book, Sritattvanidhi (1818).

    The Mysore Ganjifa draw influence from a large variety of texts central to Hindu mythology, particularly the Puranas, the Mahabharata, the Ramayana and astrological schema like the Navagraha. In his book, Wodeyar detailed the themes, suit signs, colour schemes and other iconographic characteristics of the cards. Many of the sets described bear similarities with other Ganjifa games such as Ganjapa and Dashavatara Ganjifa, while others were inspired by the cultural heritage of Mysore itself, such as the goddess Chamundeshwari. Most notable among these is Krishnaraja Ganjifa, named after the king himself. This version has four suits representing Vishnu, Shiva, Brahma and Indra, with eighteen cards per suit and each suit using symbols specific to the Wodeyar dynasty, such as gandaberunda (double-headed eagle), haathi (elephant), jatayu (vulture), makara (crocodile) and the gaja virala (lion).

    While the gameplay in the Mysore Ganjifa games was the same as that of the Mughal version, the number of cards varied from thirty six to 360, depending on the number of suits used in each version. The decks, initially commissioned by the king and later made for the public, were painted in the Vijayanagara style using thin lines, and heavy ornamentation. The sets commissioned by the court were made with expensive materials such as ivory and sandalwood, and sometimes enamelled with gold or silver. The sets that were later made for the wider public used cardboard or stiff paper.

    As with most Ganjifa games, demand for the Mysore versions dwindled significantly by the early twentieth century as Western playing cards gained popularity. While the cards continue to be made by artists today, they are largely sold as decorative pieces and not as game sets. Notable Ganjifa artists based in Mysore (now Mysuru) include Subramanya Raju, an early proponent of the art form’s revival who began a course on Ganjifa card painting at the Chitrakala Parishath, Bengaluru in 1971; Raghupathi Bhat, who has been practicing the art since the 1980s; and Sudha Venkatesh, who was introduced to Ganjifa painting by her father, artist M. Ramanarasaiah. The Chitrakala Parishath has lent active institutional support towards the revival of Mysore Ganjifa, most recently having published Splendours of Ganjifa Art (2019), a book on the history of Ganjifa. The craft also received a Geographical Indication (GI) tag in 2006 for artisans based around Mysuru and Bengaluru.


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