Ganjifa (gan-jee-faa) are circular hand-painted playing cards of Persian origin, introduced to India presumably by the Mughals. Over time, the number of cards in a set increased and Hindu mythological themes like the Dashavatara (the ten incarnations of Vishnu) began to be depicted.
Typically, the card base is prepared with layers of cloth glued together and dried before being cut into circles. A coat of lime plaster is applied and once dry, the figures relevant to the theme of the set are painted on with lacquer colours. Usually, the backgrounds are darker so the intricately illustrated miniature figure in the foreground stands out. The prepared card is then varnished. The size of cards vary between 2 inches and 4 inches, and each set is made up of 120 evenly sized round cards.
These playing cards are also decorative and it is not uncommon for collectors to display cards from various parts of India, like Maharashtra, Karnataka, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh, where the art flourished.
An edited version of this article was published in the August 2012 issue of Culturama