The “Ganjifa” Indian playing cards.

Why any language or culture lived or died? No matter it is the script or just dialect or part of the high-end trend. The answer is very simple-

“If it is in use it will live; if not, then it will not survive for long”.

Same thing happens to Indian ancient traditional practice too.I believe there is the only way to restore the glory of our past traditional practice to start reusing it; though u may need to contemporize it to bring them in our current lifestyle. That’s my personal opinion.

So today we going to talk about a tradition which is about to extinct “The Ganjifa Indian playing cards”

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I hardly ever show interest over playing cards. As I grew up in a middle-class north Indian state, my mom used to think, these playing cards are the beginning of gambling obsession, so better to keep kids away from this obsession she never ever let us touch playing cards.but here I got something very interesting about these playing cards while researching about handmade toys and games, I met to the treasure of Indian hand-painted playing cards, that’s called “GANJIFFA” and “GANJAPPA” cards…..as every existing thing has its story of origin, these cards also follow the same. Let’s get digging deep into.

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It is said that in India around thousand years ago in 7th-century playing cards were exist known as Kreeda Patra in Sanskrit. But According to, evidence many scholars speculate that the origin may have been in China and then it gets migrated in Central and West Asia in the 13th

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In the 16th Sawantwadi Ganjifa from Maharashtra, Navadurga Ganjifa from Orissa, Rajasthan and Gujarat Ganjifa, Kashmir Ganjifa, Nepal Ganjifa and Mysore Ganjifa.

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Bengal style of Ganjifa cards
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Sawantwadi style of Ganjifa
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Mysore style of Ganjifa cards

    Mughals miniature style Ganjifa cards

          Mysore style of Ganjifa cards

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Orissa style painted Ganjifa

These cards are still played in a few places in India even today, although they have been edged out of the mainstream by mass-produced playing French cards that we are now familiar with, since the later 19th century.

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Many of you must be thinking about that if Mughal brings it and patronized to thrive in, then how come this Hindu iconography came over these cards?

“During the Muslim period when Islam was the dominating religion

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So that’s how Ganjifa cards had a religious purpose also, People chanted the name of the deities while playing these cards, creating a spiritual atmosphere around. Mythological symbols and deities were painted intricately by the artists onto the cards, and the Ganjifa art surpassed the delicacy, richness, color, novelty and most importantly, expression.

A fun, intelligent and a brain-teasing game, Ganjifa art enjoyed much popularity in medieval times, however, its name and fame have been in decline now. With the fall of blue blood kingdoms and empires. The Ganjifa cards are hardly sold in any shops today. The Ganjifa artists have not only lost patronage, but also acknowledgment, With the rise of the digital era and the influx of modern printed cards.

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Dasavtar Orissa Ganjifa cards

Natungram of Bardhaman district is the hub for wooden doll making in West Bengal.

Natungram of Bardhaman district is the hub for wooden doll making. Bardhaman is well connected by bus and train from Kolkata. From Bardhaman station it takes nearly 1 hour by road to reach Natungram. Crafts persons from this area are traditionally practicing the art form and for most of them it is there primary livelihood. The doll makers are the Hindus, have last name Bhaskar, meaning sculptor or Sutradhar, meaning story teller.

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Photo credit: Shuvarthy Chowdhary

 The craft and craftsmanship were on its peak under the Bardhaman Maharaja. The honesty and the labour of this craft distinguish this art from the others. Wooden dolls to stools, each and every product can be distinguishable by their different colors and the placement of colors. Color can change the character of a same looking product.

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Photo credit : Shuvarthy chowdhary

Dolls are mainly made out of gamar wood, mango wood, shimul wood, ata wood, chatim wood. Men are cutting and carving the wood as per the requirement and women are painted the products with various color. Coloring has to be done by the female member of a family. They did an wonderful job and create various motifs and designs by themselves. They have used lots of colors in the dolls like-green, yellow, black borders and red. they used fabric colors and oil paints in decorating the dolls.

The traditional designs are based on culture and mythology, the richness of ideas, the brilliant combination of pure simplicity and glamour combined with the master craftsmanship, result in an amazing work of art. It can be said that every child born in that village, can make an owl out of the wooden cut piece. It is in their blood.

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Photo credit: Aaheli Naha

Traditionally the crafts persons are specialized in making the wooden owl; considered auspicious for homes as it is the ‘vahana‘  of the goddess Lakshmi. Though, other wooden objects are being made. But the owl, with its unique design and color, is the brand product of the village. On the white background of the owl is painted a distinctive design of red, green yellow and black lines.

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Photo credit : Shuvarthy chowdhary

Apart from these, the crafts persons used to make ‘Rashiputul’ (figures of Radha-Krishna on a single block of wood), Durga, Laksmi, Saraswati, figures of the King, the Queen. They are simply diversified and get a new form .The artisans of Natungram started their wood crafting 200 years ago .Since then the artisans making various types of wooden dolls for their livelihood. Now a days a change of color, texture, and design can be seen. Colors are more vibrant like yellow,red,blue and bold black border of each part to define. Various complex and intricate wood carving techniques have been introduced. The designs of the products are also varied from the older piece of products.

They are more attractive than earlier. Various new products have been introduced in around 5 years ago like they make furniture, lampshade, raja-rani cardholder, fusion furniture, owl lamp shades, owl sofa set, owl chairs and other similar products in Natungram style etc.

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Photo credit: Shuvarthy Chowdhary

The process of making the craft is simple. The figures are first drawn on the blocks of wood and then chiseled out. However, the master crafts person does not need the drawings. The wood is cut as per the size of the block. The piece is cleaned and smoothened. The design of the toy to be made is traced on this piece. Extra wood is chipped off according to the design. Fine strokes with the hammer are made on the chisel. It is smoothened with a file and painted. Add clay and wheat with fevicol and make a paste . Next the dresses with specific designs are marked out by fine strokes of the brush. The facial features are added in the end.

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The finished products are very simple and attractive at the same time. The men are skilled in the wood work and But the most attractive part is coloring part done by the women of Natungram. Even the children are also helping their parents by color the dolls with attractive designs.

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Photo credit: Aaheli naha

 

Paper, mud, and clay are used to make the Chhau masks.

 

Puruliya is a district in the state of West Bengal, India. It is located in the eastern part of the country near Bengal- Jharkhand border. Chhau is a form of dance that has become very popular in West Bengal, Jharkhand, and Orissa. Based on place of origin and development, this dance can be classified in three subgenres—Seraikella Chhau, Mayurbhanj Chhau, and Purulia Chhau.

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Photo credit: Shuvarthy Chowdhury,

Seraikella Chhau is from Jharkhand, Purulia Chhau is performed in West Bengal, Mayurbhanj Chhau is performed in Orissa. The Purulia Chhau and Seraikella Chhau are more popular than Mayurbhanj among the three, cause Seraikella and Purulia use masks but  Mayurbhanj Chhau does not and these chouu quite different from each other by look.

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Seraikella Chhau
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Purulia Chhau

This form of dance performed duringthe March-April months. The locals gathered around the dancers for entertainment, and performers performs various episodes from the epics; Ramayana, Mahabharata and from Puranas to communicate with the people by using the Chhau dance.  You will often see the incredibly fit dancers dressed up as Hindu deities such as Durga, Ganesh, Kartik and dancing around effortlessly in their heavy costumes and masks.

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photo credit: arunima mondal

Paper, Mud,and clay are used to make the Chhau masks. The masks are painted in pastel shades and have a frank, simple, and bold look. The eye- brows, mouth, and eyes are painted to give completeness to the looks. Around 150 years ago during the rule of King Madan Mohan Singh Deo of Bagmundi the tradition of making chau masks started in the CHARIDA village of Purulia. Presently there are around 300 traditional Artists in the village known as “SUTRADHAR” community

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Photo credit: Shuvarthy Chowdhury,

Why we called it chauu? there is a fact to explain it,  that long ago this dance was performed by the military of the local kingdom in their leisure time. The themes included their heroic deeds and traditional folklore. They performed this dance for their own entertainment as well as to encourage themselves. As it was performed in their camps (locally known as “Chhauni”), the name “Chhau” came from that term.

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It is mainly performed at night in an open space, called “akhada” or “asor” along with traditional and folk music on the reed pipes “mohuri” and “shehnai” (locally shaina) and  traditional drums  “dhol” dhumsa” and “kharka”.

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Photo credit: Shuvarthy Chowdhury,

Besides its importance to culture, Chhau is crucial to the local economy. There is a global audience for this folk art form, and a large number of families earn their livelihood by performing and selling masks and dresses.

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Photo credit: Shuvarthy Chowdhury,

The ‘Wooden toys’ are the one of the ancient craft of Varanasi.

Varanasi, said to be the oldest living city in the world, we referred to called as “Banaras” and “Kashai”.  Varanasi is a famous pilgrimage spot for Hindus; there are number of temples on the banks of Ganges. Tourist visited Varanasi for the peace of mind and to wash away all their sins in the Ghats of river Ganges. That is how Varanasi Ghats consider as the place of divinity.

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photo credit: Muralidharan Alagar

 

The Art and culture of Varanasi is quite unique. It has rich cultural tradition with the combination of archaeology, mythology, history, geography and art that makes Varanasi a center of Indian culture. The ‘Wooden toys’ are the one of the ancient craft of Varanasi. The sets of birds, animals, orchestras, soldiers and dance ensembles are made in wood, gaily painted and packed in boxes. The toys can be found in all sizes — from a 1 inch mobile to a large 2 feet tall doll.

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photo credit: Prashant Sharma

The beauty of wooden toys is in the fact that they are carved by craftsmen and painted by them. They show a perspective of life. Craftsmen make them according to their knowledge of history, Indian mythology, Mahabharata, Ramayana, etc. Wooden toy makers are the few craftsmen, who are pursuing the art of toy making over generations. A set of artists are only skilled to make the toys of wood and finish the structure for paint and there are separate families of artists whose soul job is to paint the toys.

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The toys studied can be classified into following categories- religious, cultural, animals & birds, and traditional and modern toys. All these themes have toys treated in a different way—for example—religious toys are generally hand carved, and painted gaudily, they exhibit Indian motifs and patterns. These toys also tell mythological and religious stories of their time.

The cultural theme based toys shows the classes of society, the daily lifestyle and activity of the people in rural India and also some profession which were popular in ancient India. Whereas, the modern toys are generally 3 dimensional, made by turning and have modern patterns

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photo credit: Prashant Sharma

 

Selecting the right kind of wood for toys is very important. ‘Kemah, Chilbil’ and ‘Haldu’ wood is used for making toys but they largely use Chilbil. The wood block as per the size of the toy to be made is cut from the log. The piece is cleaned and sanded to get a smooth surface. The design of the toy to be made is traced on this piece. Extra wood is chipped off according to the design. Sometimes the whole toy is carved out from a single piece of wood whereas in some cases, different body parts are carved separately and joined together with adhesive

Carving is followed by painting. Bright and gaudy non toxic colors are used to paint the body. First, the toy is dipped in distemper. When it dries, it is neatly painted with duco white paint. Two such coats are applied followed by the last coat of lacquer to bring shine to the surface of the toys. In the process of fine painting work, brush made out of the hair from squirrel’s tail is used for painting. They do not finish one piece at a time. They prepare one color and paint all the samples in a batch of toys with it and let it dry before they start with the next color. In one day, one painter finishes at least 20 pieces.

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Lacquering is done on a lathe in the lac turning method. Lacquer ware toys are produced in this way. Thus, the craftsmen manipulate the stick where several colors are used. Some of the lacquered pieces are painted with a brush. Non-toxic colors or acrylic based poster colors are used.

Krishnanagar clay dolls are truly unique in their realism.

Ghurni is a place in the neighborhood of Krishnanagar West Bengal’s Nadia district. What makes it remarkable is that it is a center of production for stunningly beautiful and lifelike clay dolls. These dolls are tiny between three to six inches in height and generally capture ordinary Bengali men and women at work.

Raja Krishna Chandra Ray, king of Krishnanagar in the 18th century, was a great patron of the arts, including literature and music. He supported the production of clay dolls during his reign, bringing a large number of families of potters from Dhaka and Natore in East Bengal to Ghurni and patronizing them.

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Krishnanagar clay dolls are truly unique in their realism and the supreme quality of their finish. They truly represent a remarkable breakaway from traditional clay work. Yet some aspects are rooted in age-old techniques.

The dolls are made with clay deposits from the banks of the holy River Ganges called “etail,” left over once the tide recedes. This soil is incredibly soft, and can be moulded easily into any intricate shape. The doll makers use tiny iron rods to provide the skeletal structure for the dolls, then work with delicate tools to craft the clay. When they are nearly done, the dolls are baked in a kiln, given a final coat of varnish, painted, and then costumed with miniature clothing.

Like a vegetables vendor, fruits vendor. Umbrella repairmen fixing broken handles; mending dhol, bricks maker and many more, represents cultural influential life of West Bengal.

 

 

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