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Regional Cards

page 4
Other Ganjifa Patterns
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special thanks to Jeff Hopewell, whose knowledge of Ganjifa
has been a precious reference in the compilation of this gallery

Besides the Dasâvatâra and the Mughal Ganjifa (including the "birds" variety), several other patterns exist, yet less common than the two aforesaid ones. They feature specific themes with a various number of suits.


3 of Rams (Aries)
Rashi ("zodiac") Ganjifa is a twelve-suited pattern that features zodiac symbols as suit signs.
The Indian or Vedic zodiac is similar to the Western one: it divides the year into twelve periods or "houses", each of which is identified by a symbol. However, the astronomic reference of the Indian zodiac is the actual position of the constellations, whereas the Western zodiac's cycle elapses from each year's spring equinox (March 21); this discrepancy between the two systems, due to a certain variation of the Earth's yearly rotation (called "precession of the equinoxes"), at present causes the Indian zodiac to be about 18 days behind the Western one.
How the periods are calculated, though, is of little importance for the Rashi Ganjifa deck. The twelve symbols, instead, used as pips on the cards, are much more pertinent: the following table shows a comparison between the Western and the Indian ones.

10 of Bulls (Taurus) and 5 of Virgins (Virgo)

mantrî and râjâ cards of Scorpions (Scorpio),
Bows (Sagittarius) and Fishes (Pisces)
CancerKarkatacrab - circle
VirgoKanyavirgin - daughter
LibraThulascales - weight
SagittariusDanusbow - weapon
AquariusKumbhapot - jug

1 of Scales (Libra)
In this edition, from the city of Parlakhemundi (Orissa), the personage of the mantrî card is featured holding a double suit sign, while the râjâ card shows Vishnu and his wife Lakshmi resting on Shesha, the mythical snake with a thousand heads (only one of which is seen in this representation); an identical illustration is found in the Dasâvatâra "birds" pattern, shown in page 3, from the same city.

6 of Water-dragons (Capricorn)


Navagraha means "nine planets". In Hindu culture, these planets are believed to bestow humans with special gifts, and are worshipped as gods (specific prayers are recited to each of them).
In India this is an important cult; in fact, the Navagraha Ganjifa pattern was created at the beginning of the 20th century by Shankar Sakharama Hendre, whose project was to sell cards to raise enough money for building a temple dedicated to the Nine Planets, in Bombay. Although his goal was not achieved, the Navagraha Ganjifa survived.

1 of Surya (Sun) and 5 of Chandra (Moon)
In this pattern each suit represents a planet; but the last two, Rahu and Ketu, are actually lunar nodes, namely the ascending node and descending node, respectively referred to as "dragon's head" and "dragon's tail", and often pictured as a bodyless head and a headless body.

mantrî and râjâ cards of Sukrana (Venus),
Buddha (Mercury) and Ketu (Dragon's tail)
Each planet a is a deity itself, to which a month, a zodiac sign, a colour, a gem and a steed are matched.

The table shows the full series of planets (some have alternative names, according to the different parts of the country):

Surya  RaviSun7 horse-drawn chariot
ChandraMoonantelope-drawn chariot
Mangala  KujaMarsbuffalo goat
Budhan  BuddhaMercuryyali (lion with elephant's trunk)
Guru  BrihaspatiJupiterelephant goose
Sukrana  SukraVenushorse
Sani  ShaniSaturneagle crow
RahuDragon's head(no steed)
KetuDragon's tail(no steed)
This edition, from Orissa, features the same signs usually found in the local Mughal pattern, plus an additional one made for this purpose, since the Navagraha suits are nine. For instance, the red shapes with a central striping on cards with a yellow background, which in the Mughal pattern form the suit of Kumancha ("merchandise"), in this deck represent the Mangala suit (Mars), but all in all they are the same graphic symbol. And so on for the other suits.

7 of Mangala (Mars) and 10 of Buddha (Mercury)
The only relation with the planets can be found in the highest courts, the râjâ cards, that feature the planet-deity as a human figure together with his own traditional steed, on which the identification is also based, see the previous table.
In Navagraha decks made in other parts of India, instead, also the signs of pip cards are different from those of the Mughal sets.

Besides the Ganjifa varities mentioned so far, some others exist: the Ramayana Ganjifa, a twelve-suited pattern inspired by the Sanskrit epic Ramayana, the Ashtamala Ganjifa, inspired by eight episodes of Krishna's life as a youth, and the Ashtadikpala Ganjifa which refers to the eight cardinal directions.

page 1
historical and general notes
page 2
Mughal Ganjifa
page 3
Dasâvatâra Ganjifa


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