Can you guess a country by its playing cards?
The most interesting card patterns are in China, Japan, India, Germany, Spain and England. The cards there are so different, they are easily recognized.

India Cards

India has had a long history of various board games and innovative pastimes in the earlier centuries like the famous Ashtapada, which was played in the country in the 5th century. However, card games were only introduced to India in the 16th century by the Moghul kings from Central Asia that were fond of the game Ganjifa.

The game of Ganjifa

The name Ganjifa evolved from the Persian word for playing cards, ganjifeh. The first references to the game were found in the biography of the founder of the Mughal dynasty in India, Babur. Ganjifa was first introduced as a Court game and was played with lavish sets of cards that were made with various ivory or tortoise shell and were decorated with various precious stones. It was only much later, that the game spread to the general people of the country, when normal and inexpensive cards were made and sold on the market. These sets were made mainly from palm leaf or wood.

The traditional Ganjifa cards were round and were made by local artisans only. The cards were divided in suits that have twelve different subjects on different backgrounds. The pip cards were from the values of 1 to 10 with two court cards. The decoration, style and the arrangement of the card sets were always different, depending on the artisan who made the cards. For example, the Dashavatara deck of Ganjifa had different designs based on the ten different avatars of the God Vishnu.

Older decks of cards

However, traces of cards that go back before the Mughal rule in India can be found in the local traditions. These cards were mostly known as Kridapatram and there were twelve different suits in a deck. Each suit was made with the same number of subjects and different designs like men, elephants, horses and other animals were used in the cards.

Quite a lot of the earlier decks were also inspired by the Mahabharata epic and many of these had lesser suits rather than the traditional twelve used in Ganjifa. It is believed in the local tradition, that these cards were already being used by the locals for several centuries before the Moghuls arrived in India; however, there is no written evidence of the same.

The Ganjifa cards always had dark colored backs but the faces of the cards were painted in different colors and grounds. Some of the characters that can be found in these cards were the Lion and Sun, the King, the Lady, the Lakat, the soldier etc. Each deck of card was different than the other in design since they were all made by different artisans, and in many cases these were even obscene.

Even today, in several parts of Orissa the Moghul Ganjifa is played by the locals with 96 cards that consist of eight suits of eight different colors. In Maharashtra and some parts of West Bengal the Dashavatara Ganjifa is played with a deck of 120 cards.

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