hist-games: card games--Naib/ganjifa

Trevor James trevor.james at virgin.net
Wed Dec 20 15:11:08 PST 2000

SEDWilkins at aol.com wrote:
> While I'm asking impossible questions, does anyone know of any directions,
> period or contemporary, for card games using ganjifa? I seem to be only
> finding them as art objects.

Dear Sally W,

Here are 'Rules of the ganjifa game', taken from "Ganjifa: The Playing cards of India",
von Leyen, R. HMSO< London (1982), P.40:
"Ganjifa rules apply to games played with the eight-suited Mughal ganjifa pack a well as
with the ten-suited dashavatara packs. They vary from one part of India to another, though
the fundamental principles remain the same. Ganjifa is a trick-making game.
Cards are distributed to the players (normally three, but provision is made for more)
according to set conventions. The deal rotates in an anti-clockwise direction. The
aftab[1] cards open the game; a low card is played with the leading card and makes two
tricks in one go. The first player must lay his top cards in sequence first and then he
draws the high cards of the others in order to establish more high cards his hand. The
players who follow him do the same. Special rules regulate the passing of the lead. The
skill of play lies in memorizing each card played, because it is essential to retain high
cards for the last tricks. The loser in one round owes the number of cards lost to the
winners, who have the right to exchange low against high value cards with him in the next
deal. Thus, once a loser, it is difficult to recover. A rubber normally consists of three
rounds. Rules exist for an Orissan game called 'ekrang' played by partnerships of two
against each other.[2] The gambling game of 'naqsh' has its own rules.[3] More detailed
rules are given in the Appendix by Michael Dummett.[4]
No card games with similar rules are to be found in Europe. The compulsion to play one's
top cards when in the lead or when challenged by opponents make the game 'a test of memory
more than strategic skill' (Dummett).[6]
[1] The 'raja' card of the Balarama or Krishna suit is the lead card (afrab, arka) during
the day, and the 'raja' card of the Ramachandra suit during the night.  In Bishnupur (West
Bangal) the Rama 'raja' opens the game during the day, Narasimha during twilight, Kurma on
a rainy day and Matsya during the night.
[2] From 'A note on Ganjpa, an ancient Game played with circular cards'; Maharaja of
Sonepur; in J. Bihar & Orissa Res. Soc., 1924, 10/3, pp.221-26.
[3] Ibid, 1921, 7/1, pp.60-77:
Describing the duties of Hindus on the night of the full moon in the month of Ashvin:
"They should keep up the night in honour of the Goddess of Fortune, and for that purpose
indulge in gambling and play of all sorts. It is in fact a day of licence for gambling and
the form of gambling and play prominently mentioned by Raghunanda (16th cent.) is the
quadruple chess with two dice." Nowadays cards are used.
[4] The Appendix is eight pages long. Not only is it a lot of typing, I suspect that
posting all of it would contravene copyright laws. If anyone is desperate, contact me

Trevor (York,UK)

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