Sawantwadi Ganjifa has a lot to offer as a craft: a memoir of the Indian history, Hindu mythology, and exceptionally skilled craftsmen struggling to revive this art form. Text and Photographs by Anuja Dixit
Ganjifa is a handcrafted card game believed to be brought to India by Persians in 14th century, which caught attention during the Mughal rule in 16th century. The earliest traces of Ganjifa can be found in the annals of Egypt and Syria that talk about events where “Kanjifa” was played by the well-heeled of society. The cards were initially played by the Muslim community for gambling, which was later adapted by the Hindu population who introduced Dashavatar Ganjifa, Navgraha Ganjifa, Rashi Ganjifa etc. Later these cards became popular and gained recognition in several parts of the country like Rajasthan, Kashmir, Orissa, Mysore and Sawantwadi, among others.
Sawantwadi is a 300-year-old administration of Sindhudurg district in Maharashtra. This picturesque small town is centred around a small lake called Moti Talav, which keeps the town cool and engaging. Adjacent to the lake stands the enormous royal palace served by Maharani Satwasheila Devi, a descendent of Sawant Bhosle dynasty. The palace serves as a workplace to the Ganjifa artisans.
Sawantwadi Ganjifa cards are pieces of ivory sheets cut into 8 cm and 10 cm of diameter of cards, which are then painted with intricate designs and coated with lacquer to give a lustrous finish. These cards have 10 variants which include Moghul, Dashavatar, Rashi, Navgraha, Rashi to name a few. Sawantwadi Ganjifa is popular for its Dash avatar Ganjifa, which includes 10 suits of 12 cards each and is played by three people. These are beautiful pieces created out of enormous efforts and costs a fortune. The cards are generally gifted as a memoir or token of respect.