The following information has been extracted/generalised from an hour long conversation with the queen of sawantwadi:
Ganjifa is the card game, which is believed that came to India from Persia, which became popular in India during the Mughal emperors reign in 16th century. Playing cards was a part of Indian culture especially during the festivals or functions (occasions) where all the community members sit together and spend their time in playing these cards. Sawantwadi is a place located in the Sindhudurg district of Maharashtra, which was earlier capital of a territory, ruled by the Bhonsle king of the Marathas where the Ganjifa cards are made till date.
Rani Satvashiladevi Bhonsle wife of Lt. Col. Raja Bahadur Shivaram Sawant Bhonsle talking about the history of Ganjifa cards.
Rani Satvashiladevi Bhonsle
Classic Mughal cards were long with Arabic/urdu language writing on it with 96 cards and 8 suits. Senior King Khem Sawant Bhonsle III heard about the cards from the Telengana region scholars. Based on the administration of the state, 9 department depending on the state i.e. one king was looking after each department of which 1 to 10 are there, 96 cards of colors black, chocolate, red, green etc were there. Earlier cards for royalty were made of ivory, tortoise shell, mother of pearl and for commoners from papier-mache, palm leaf or cloth.
The painted playing cards were formerly made of cloth, heavy paper, thin cardboard, plastic coated paper and cotton paper blend which are usually of palm sized and convenient for handling. As this craft was vanishing, the heirs of Sawantwadi took special interest in learning the craft from Chitrakar community and few craftsmen were also trained in 1972 to safe guard and promote. The Chitrakar community was known for their skill in making of these cards, lacquer ware and woodcraft for which it is known.
A Sawantwadi ganjifa card has 120 numbers (Mughal ganjifa cards have 96 numbers) which were made taking the names of God. “Chankanchan” cards were mostly originated at Sawantwadi where “Chang” usually refers to as instrument and “Kanchan” is means gold. The main aim of these games was to teach and tell the stories from the ancient scriptures and holy books. Some of the types of ganjifa cards were of “Dashavatara” with the incarnations of Lord Vishnu of the Ramayana version. Navagraha or nine planets, Ashtadeekpala ganjifa cards are few variants of the cards, which were very popular. Dasha-Mahavidya cards give the ten forms (rupas) of Mother Goddess. Whereas the Darbari cards have decorative borders, Bazaar cards are without borders that used to be the popular pastime at the Indian courts. Usually in these cards the back is plain and unpainted, watercolors are preferred due to the increased cost of natural colors.