The Game of Cards - The popular game of cards originated in ancient India. It was known as Krida-patram. It was one of the favorite pastimes of Indians in ancient times. This game was patronized especially by the royalty and nobility. In medieval India, playing cards was known as Ganjifa cards. These were played in practically all royal courts. This game was recorded to have been played in Rajputana, Kashyapa Meru (Kashmir), Utkala (Orissa) the Deccan and even in Nepal.
The Mughals also patronized this game. However, the Mughal card-sets differed from those of the ancient Indian royal courts. The first was Ashvapati which means 'lord of horses'. This Ashvapati was the highest card in the pack. It represented the picture of the king on horseback.
The second highest card represented a General or Senapati on horseback. After this card come ten other with pictures of horses from one to ten. Cards were known as Krida-patram in ancient India. These cards were made of cloth and depicted motifs from the Ramayana, Mahabharata, etc. A tradition carried on today with floral motifs and natural scenery.
Another set of cards had the Gajapati (lord of elephants). These represented the king whose power lay in the number of elephants. The other eleven cards in this pack represented the Senapati and ten others with a soldier astride an elephant. Another pack has the Narpati, a king whose power lies in his infantry.
We also had other cards. These were the Dhanpati, the lord of treasures, Dalpati the lord of the squadron, Navapati, the lord of the navy, Surapati, the lord of divinities,Asrapati, lord of genii, Vanapati, the king of the forest and Ahipati, lord of snakes, etc.
Themes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata are painted on these cards. The largest numbers of such cards are to be found in Orrisa. The largest numbers of such cards are to be found in Orissa. The painters from Orissa have represented various illustrations like the Navagunjara. This Navagunjara was a mythical bird human animal which was the form assumed by Sri Krishna to test Arjuna's fidelity. Further, illustrations from the Dashavatata of Vishnu are also portrayed.
All these cards were hand-made and were painted in the traditional style. This required considerable patience and hard meticulous work. The kings usually commissioned painters to make cards as per their preference.
The commoners got their cards made by local artists. The local artists were to be found in urban as well as rural areas. In order to obtain the required thickness a number of sheets of pieces of cloth were glued together. The outlines of the rim were painted in black and then the figures were filled with colors.
Different types of cards can be traced. This was because cards were played by members all strata of society. Some cards were also made of ivory, tortoise shell, mother of pearl, inlaid or enameled with precious metals. The cards were of different shapes like circular, oval, and rectangular. But the circular cards were more common.
The cards were usually kept in a wooden box. This box had a lid painted with mythological figures. The memory that Indians ever had played the game of cards with their own specific representations of the Narapati, Gajapati and Ashvapati has somehow faded. The reason for this was the extinction of the art of making and painting cards.