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Various Ganjifa cards from Dashavatara set

Ganjifa, Ganjapa or Gânjaphâ,[1] is a card game and type of playing cards that are most associated with Persia and India. After Ganjifa cards fell out of use in Iran before the twentieth century, India became the last country to produce them.[2] The form prevalent in Odisha is Ganjapa.


Images of ivory playing cards bought in a Cairo bazaar by French traveller Mr. Émile Prisse d'Avennes (1807-1879), during his visit to Egypt in the period 1827-1844. He identified them as Persian by the style and quality.

Ganjifa cards are circular or rectangular,[3] and traditionally hand-painted by artisans. The game became popular at the Mughal court, and lavish sets were made, from materials such as precious stone-inlaid ivory or tortoise shell (darbar kalam). The game later spread to the general public, whereupon cheaper sets (bazâr kalam) would be made from materials such as wood, palm leaf, stiffened cloth or pasteboard. Typically Ganjifa cards have coloured backgrounds, with each suit having a different colour. Different types exist, and the designs, number of suits, and physical size of the cards can vary considerably. With the exception of Mamluk Kanjifa and the Chads of Mysore, each suit contains ten pip cards and two court cards, the king and the vizier or minister. The backs of the cards are typically a uniform colour, without patterning.



The earliest origins of the cards remain uncertain, but Ganjifa cards as they are known today are believed to have originated in Persia. The first syllable is attributed to the Persian word ganj meaning "treasure." Gen. Houtum-Schindler suggested to Stewart Culin that the last two syllables in the word ganjifa may be derived from the Chinese chi-p'ai, meaning "playing cards" [4][5] In a related passage, William Chatto explains that an early Chinese term was ya-pae, meaning "bone ticket", and that the term che-pae came later, meaning literally "paper ticket" (1848: 58). These different terms could account for the different spellings and pronunciations of 'Ganjifa'. These remain unproven theories, but the 18th century, traveler Carsten Niebuhr claimed to have seen Arabian merchants in Bombay playing with Chinese cards.[6] In the 19th century Jean Louis Burckhardt visited Mecca and wrote that "cards are played in almost every Arab coffee-house (they use small Chinese cards)".[7]

Ganjifa became popular in India under the Mughal emperors in the 16th century. The term has been used at times in many countries throughout the Middle East and western Asia. In Kuwait, the word janjifah has become a general term and so is applied to the internationally known French deck.[8]

Arabic sources and surviving cards[edit]

Four Mamluk playing cards

Despite the significance of Persia in the history of ganjifa cards, the very earliest known text reference (Ibn Taghribirdi) and card specimens (Mamluk era) are from Egypt.

An exhibition in the British museum in 2013 noted "Playing cards are known in Egypt from the twelfth century AD. Ganjafeh was a popular card game in Iran and the Arab world." For example, the word 'kanjifah' ( كنجفة ) is written in the top right corner of the king of swords, on the Mamluk Egyptian deck witnessed by L.A. Mayer in the Topkapı Palace museum. The Mamluk cards are difficult to date with any certainty, but Mayer estimated these cards to be from the 15th century. The piece of playing card collected by Edmund de Unger may be from the period of the 12-14th centuries.[9] The term Kanjifah can be found in the 1839 Calcutta edition of the One Thousand and One Nights, in Arabic, at the end of night 460. The first known reference can be found in a 15th-century Arabic text, written by the Egyptian historian Ibn Taghribirdi (died 1470). In his history of Egypt he mentions how the Sultan Al-Malik Al-Mu'ayyad played kanjafah for money when he was an emir.[10]

The cards used by the Mamluks most likely entered Italy and Spain during the 1370s.[11] As early as 1895, William Henry Wilkinson pointed out the similarities between Spanish and Italian playing cards and Chinese money-suited cards.[12] He was unaware of the existence of the Mamluk cards since Mayer did not make his discovery until 1939. The similarities between the Latin European cards and Chinese money-suited cards become more apparent when the Mamluk Kanjifa is described. Looking at the actual games played with Ganjifa cards, Andrew Leibs points out that the cards are divided into strong and weak suits, and in one set the order of the numerical cards is reversed, so that the order runs King, Vizier, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 the weakest. This feature can also be found in the old games of Tarot, Ombre, and Maw played in Europe, and the Chinese money-suited card game of 'Madiao'. He suggests these games may have a common ancestor.[13]

Kanjifa consists of 52 cards divided into four suits:

  • Coins: This suit is in reverse order like in Chinese money-suited card games of Madiao and Khanhoo as well as in Tarot, Ombre, and Maw. The high ranking cards of this suit have blue panels (king, viceroy, second viceroy, 1, 2, 3).[14]
  • Polo-sticks: Very likely originated from the Chinese suit of Strings of Coins. This suit is also in reverse order as indicated by the blue panels. This suit was converted into cudgels (Spain) or batons (Italy) as polo was too obscure in Europe.
  • Cups: The cups are called tuman, a Turkic, Mongol, and Jurchen word meaning "myriad". In China, there is a suit of myriads (). Wilkinson proposed that European cups were created by flipping the Chinese character. In Italy and Spain, this suit was inverted but in the Mamluk deck the blue panels are only found in the three court cards.[15]
  • Swords: This suit is in the logical order with blue panels on the king, viceroy, second viceroy, 10, 9, and 8. Andrea Pollett proposes that it originates from the Chinese suit of Tens () of Myriads.[16]

Richard Ettinghausen speculated that importation of European cards killed off manufacturers in Egypt and the Levant. Trade continued after the conquest of these regions by the Ottomon Turks in 1517. They were also mentioned by Ibn Hajar al-Haytami. The lack of references or cards after the 16th century is likely due to the Ottomans taking a harder stance against cards and gambling which would last until the 19th century.[11]

Persian sources[edit]

Images of cards from the collection of Francis Douce, shown by Samuel Weller Singer. The figure on horseback on the card in the top right corner appears to be holding an object marked " برات ", meaning 'bill' or 'cheque' in Persian.

The earliest Persian reference is found in Ahli Shirazi's (died 1535) poem, 'Rubaiyat-e-Ganjifa', there is a short verse for each of the 96 cards in the 8-suited pack, showing that the Persians had the same suits and ranks as the Mughals.[17] The Austrian National Library possess eight Safavid lacquer paintings from the 16th-century that mimic ganjifeh cards. Despite being produced around the same time as Shirazi's poem, they do not match his description.[18] Shah Abbas II (r 1642-66) banned ganjifeh and the game decline precipitously with no known rules surviving into the present.[19] Around the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries, the game of As-Nas became more popular.[20] In 1895, General Albert Houtum-Schindler described ganjifeh and As-Nas with the following comments:[21]

"The word ganjifeh is in Persian now only employed for European playing-cards (four suits, ace to ten; three picture cards each suit), which, however, are also called rarak i âs - rarak i âsanâs - or simply âs, from the game âs or âsanâs. From travellers to Persia in the seventeenth century we know that a set of ganjifeh consisted of ninety or ninety-six cards in eight suits or colors.[22]

Michael Dummett noted the differences between Mamluk kanjifa and Safavid ganjifeh and postulated that there was an earlier ancestor. This ur-ganjifeh would be similar to kanjifa but with only two court cards, the king and the viceroy/vizier. The second viceroy rank found in the kanjifa pack is not based on any historical title and may be a Mamluk invention. According to his hypothesis, the Chinese money-suited pack entered Persia where the Persians added three new ranks: the 10, viceroy, and king to make a 48-card pack. He suggests the Persians eventually changed most of the Chinese suits to fit their culture while the Mamluks were more conservative with the suits. The addition of new suits in both Persia and India was to make the game more challenging as memory is the most important skill in the eponymous trick-taking game.[11] Chinese money-suited cards copied their pips directly from Chinese banknotes. In 1294, Gaykhatu began printing an imitation of Yuan banknotes in Iran although these were withdrawn quickly after merchants rejected them.[23] By the 17th century, the money-suited deck had acquired a new card depicting a Persian merchant.[24]

Early history in India[edit]

Rudolf von Leyden suggested that the Ganjifa cards may have been brought by the first Mughals from their ancestral homeland in Inner Asia.[25] A key reference comes from an early 16th-century biography of Bâbur, the founder of the Mughal dynasty. In his work the Baburnama, Babur notes in the year 933H (1527) that he had a pack of Ganjifa cards sent to Shah Hassan. This took place in the month of Ramzan, on the night he left Agra to travel to nearby Fatehpur Sikri (Uttar Pradesh, India).[26] The earliest surviving rules date to around 1600 in India.[27] When Edward Terry visited India in the first quarter of the seventeenth century, he saw ganjifa cards often.[28] Modern ganjifa is usually round but rectangular cards were more common during the 18th-century and from records Persian ganjifeh was always rectangular. Its circular shape must have been an Indian innovation.

Mughal Ganjifa Playing Cards, Early 19th century, courtesy of the Wovensouls collection

While Mughal ganjifa had the same suits and ranks as Safavid ganjifeh, a 10-suited deck, the Dashavatara Ganjifa, was created to appeal to Hindus in the seventeenth century.[27] Some historical decks have had more than 30 suits.

Competition from Western style cards[edit]

In countries such as India and Persia, the traditional hand-made Ganjifa cards lost market share to Western-style printed cards, which came to dominate in the 20th century. This decline has several aspects.

  • Improvements in printing techniques and machinery allowed manufacturers in Europe and elsewhere to improve their output and further expand their export of playing cards. Manufacturers introduced steam powered machines, lithography and later Offset printing during the 19th century. For example, the town of Turnhout in Belgium was a centre of playing cards manufacture. The Turnhout manufacturer Brepols installed steam powered equipment in 1852, lithographic printing of playing cards in 1862, and began offset printing in 1920.[29] In the period around 1900 the French manufacturer Camoin[30] exported cards to North Africa, and the Middle East as far as the Persian Gulf.[31] The Indian market was so significant for the Belgian manufacturer 'Biermans' that a factory was established in Calcutta in 1934.[32] In 1938 playing card exports from the US to India totalled some 888,603 packs, and 60,344 packs were exported to Iraq.[33] For the Ottoman Empire some European manufacturers produced cards with specific designs, known as 'cartes turques' and 'cartes orientales'. These were essentially 4-suited European style designs, but the aces featured scenic prints adapted to the target market.[34]
  • Ganjifa cards were less suited to Western card games. The invention of games such as Euchre, Bridge, Poker, and Rummy can be seen as significant events and Western style playing cards are best suited to these games. In Iran, the game of As-Nas largely fell out of fashion by around 1945.[35] In some countries such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, a version of the French game Belote became popular, under the name Baloot ( بلوت ). With regards to India, European style cards were introduced during the colonial period, with demand coming from the wealthier classes.[36] Some cards were imported, some were made by hand using traditional techniques, and others were made by Indian industrialists. The Cary Collection of Playing Cards (Yale University) has a deck of Indian-made bridge cards dated to around 1935, for example.[37]
  • Taxes on playing cards. States used taxes on playing cards to generate revenue, and required specific stamps or wrappers on packs of cards. Such arrangements can create barriers for smaller manufacturers producing cards by hand. The Ottoman Empire introduced taxes on playing cards in 1904.[38]
  • Playing cards monopolies. In many countries state monopolies were established to control imports and production. Such monopolies tend to standardise card designs, or create conditions that better suit larger manufacturers that can win government contracts or meet the necessary conditions. In Iran, the monopoly was set up following the Foreign Trade Monopoly Act of 1931. The British playing card manufacturer De La Rue was commissioned to provide cards during the 1930s. The cards featured indexing in Persian and court card images that evoked Persian history. Nonetheless the cards used Western style suits, and so the commissioning of the cards reinforced the position of Western-style 4-suited printed cards.
Playing cards from Puri, Odisha, India, made with the traditional pattachitra technique.

By the 21st-century, the only place with a significant community of ganjifa makers and players is Odisha in the east of India. They use ganjapa, the local variation known for abstract and highly stylized suit symbols and extra suits.


  • Moghul Ganjifa[39] is played in some parts of Odisha with 96 cards in 8 suits of 12 cards each; each suit is distinctively coloured and comprises ten pip cards from 1 to 10 and two court cards, a vizier and a king. This is the type of pack described by Ahli Shirazi. The suits featured are: slaves (ḡolām, غلام ); crowns (tāj, تاج ) swords (šamšīr, شمشير ); 'red' gold coins (zar-e sorḵ, زر سرخ ); harps (čang, چنگ ); bills of exchange (barāt, برات ); white gold coins (zar-e safīd, زر سفيد ); and cloth (qomāš قماش ). When referring to the king of a suit, he uses the term 'emir', shortened to 'mir' ( میر ) in the titles, but the term 'padishah' ( پادشاه ) in the text of the verses. He describes a card with one suit symbol simply as a 'one', that is to say he does not the term 'ace'.[40]
  • Dashavatara Ganjifa[41] is played by three persons with 120 cards, mainly in Sawantwadi in Maharashtra, India, although it is played by five persons in Bishnupur, West Bengal. There are 10 suits of 12 cards each; the suits correspond to the ten avatars of Vishnu. The order of the suits (from lowest to highest) is: Matsya (fish), Kuchha (turtle), Varaha (boar), Narsingha (lion, or half-man, half-lion), Vamana (Vishnu as a dwarf, round vessel symbols on cards), Parashurama (axes), Rama (bows and arrows), Krishna (round plates shown), Buddha (conch shells), Kalanki (swords).[42]
  • Ramayan Ganjifa, a type with imagery from the Hindu epic, the Ramayan.[43] It is closely associated with the Ganjapa tradition of Odisha and usually has eight, ten, or twelve suits.
  • Rashi Ganjifa is a 12 suited Indian deck, with suit symbols derived from the 12 signs of the zodiac. It appears to be limited to the 18th and 19th centuries.
  • Ashta Malla Ganjifa, meaning 'Eight Wrestlers'. Depicts Krishna wrestling various demons.[44]
  • Naqsh Ganjifa For playing Naqsh, shorter Indian decks exist, with 48 cards. There is only one suit which is quadruplicated. The suit symbols used for the run of 12 cards vary from one pack to the next. These decks are associated with gambling or play during the festival season in India.
  • Mysore Chad Ganjifa. Mysore was a centre for Ganjifa card making, encouraged by the ruler Krishnaraja Wadiyar III in the mid-19th century. He devised a series of complex Ganjifa games, some requiring as many as 18 different suits, permanent trumps, and wild cards. A typical Chad suit had twelve numeral and six court cards, and packs had as many as 360 cards. They never achieved mass appeal and are quite obscure, possibly played only within his royal palace if at all.[45] The games are described in the work called the Sritattvanidhi, in the section 'Kautuka nidhi', and colour illustrations show designs for the cards.
  • Akbar's Ganjifa. The 16th-century Mughal emperor Akbar played using a 12 suited deck, which is described in detail in the Ain-i-Akbari. The suits were horses, elephants, foot soldiers, forts, treasures, warriors in armour, boats, women, divinities, genii, wild beasts, and snakes. No specimens are known to have survived.[46]
  • Mamluk Kanjifa. Very few such cards are known or exist. The examples found by Leo Aryeh Mayer are understood to have four suits: cups, coins, swords, and polo-sticks. Each suit has three court cards, the king (malik), the first vizir (na'ib malik), and the second vizir (na'ib thani). The court cards have no figurative imagery, but they feature calligraphed inscriptions and richly decorated backgrounds. The term 'Kanjifa' appears in Arabic on the king of swords. They directly inspired the Latin-suited playing cards of Italy and Spain.
  • French suited Ganjifa. Hybrids exist that combine Indian or Persian imagery with the hearts, diamonds, spades, and clubs symbols of the French suit system.[47][48]



This is a trick-taking game, played individually. This is the game most commonly associated with ganjifa cards, each player playing for themself. The objective is to win the most cards by taking tricks. At least three players are required. In some games 4 players play individually, and it is also possible to play in pairs. The rules vary, but generally the following apply:

In the simplest form of the game there is no concept of a 'trump suit' that beats cards in other suits.[49] A trick can only be won by a card of the same suit. When a player is not in position to win a trick there is no obligation to follow the suit led.
In all cases the King ('mir' or 'shah') is always the strongest card in each suit, followed by the Vizier. However, in half the suits the numerical cards rank in logical order from 10 strongest (just below the Vizier), down to 1 (weakest), and the other suits the order of the numerical cards is reversed, with the ace strongest (just below the Vizier), and the 10 weakest, thus giving the order K,V,1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10.[50] If playing with a Moghul type pack, the suits with the 'reverse order' numerical cards are barat, zar-e zorkh, qomash, and chang (bills, red gold coins, cloth, and harps) in India; in Iran, zar-e safīd (white coins) were inverted instead of the red coins. In Dashavtar packs the suits with reversed cards are the first avatars, Matsya, Kutchha, Varaha, Nrusinha and Waman (fish, turtle, boar, lion and round vessel symbols).
Before the start of play stakes are agreed if the game is being played for money. At the end of the round the losing player pays this stake value, multiplied by the difference in number of tricks taken between the winner and the loser.


Players draw cards at the beginning to determine who will deal. Traditionally players would sit on a sheet or large cloth on the floor, and the cards are mixed face down in the middle of the cloth, rather than shuffled in the manner of Western cards.
The deal and the order of the play follows an anti-clockwise direction. The dealer deals out all the cards. According to custom cards may be dealt in batches of four, rather than individually. Some accounts stipulate that the first batch and last batch dealt to each player are dealt face up.[51]
Players should sort their cards into suits and put them in order. For convenience, due to the large number of cards, players often separate any low value pip cards and keep them to the side, keeping only the more valuable cards in hand. When discarding during play these low value cards are used indifferently.


During the game players must try to keep track of the cards that have been played. The highest outstanding cards left in play in each suit are called 'hukm', corresponding to the Persian word " حکم ".[52]
The player to lead is the one holding the King in a certain suit. This 'lead suit' varies according to the type of pack, and also according to whether the game is played during the day (between sunrise and sunset) or during the night. With a Moghul pack the lead suits are zar-e zorkh (red gold coins, or figuratively 'suns') by day, and zar-e safid (white gold coins or figuratively 'moons') by night. If playing with Dashavtar cards the lead suits are Rama by day, and Krishna by night. The player holding the King in this lead suit begins by playing two cards at once - the King and another low card. The other players cannot win, and so they each discard two low cards which are won by the player who led the game. This player then leads again. At this point accounts of the game rules differ. The rules below are based on the description by John McLeod.[53]
Rules govern which leads are possible. Players must lead as follows, in order of priority: 1) If the lead player has a continuous series of winning cards in a suit, then this sequence must be led, with the exception of the last card in the sequence which is kept for later. 2) The next possibility is a move called 'deni'. This is possible when a player lacks the hukm in a given suit, but has the second highest outstanding card. In this case the player may lead a low card in that suit, and call for the hukm. The opponent with the hukm then wins the trick but the player that made the 'deni' move retains the lead, which is the advantage of making this move. If the player with the hukm also holds the third highest card in the suit, he may play this card as well, and it is said that the deni is doubled. In this case everyone plays a second card and the player with the hukm wins two tricks. However the lead still returns to the player who made the deni move. 3) When a leader cannot make either of the two leads described above, he then leads out any remaining hukm cards, all at once, a move called 'utari'.[54] In McLeod's account this is the only option available to a player at this stage, so a player would need to lead any hukms they might have, and then pass the lead as described next in step 4. However in the rules given by Wilkins there is a second option, whereby the player can instead simply lead a low card or non-winning card of his choosing to pass the lead.[55] 4) If a player has no further valid options for leading cards, he gives up the lead by shuffling his hand, and placing the cards face down. The player to his right then selects the card that he must lead, for example by saying 'fourth from the top' or pointing to a card if they are spread out. The lead then passes to the player who wins the trick, who then follows the same sequence of possible leads as described above.
In some accounts there is an end phase or secondary phase to the game, in which the leading rules are simplified or changed. According to McLeod, when the players get down to the last 12 cards, steps 1 and 2 described above are skipped, and a player starts by leading out all his hukms directly. After doing so, the player must try to lead a card from a suit named by his right-hand neighbour. If he cannot lead this suit the lead is passed as described in step 4 above, with the player's cards shuffled and placed face down. In Wilkins' account, there is also a second phase to the game, which applies when all the players have held and lost the lead once. From this point onwards hukm cards are played individually instead of in batches. Furthermore, in this second phase, if a player leads a low card, it is played face down and the player can freely choose the suit which must be followed.[55]
The round continues until all the cards have been played. At this point the players can count their tricks and decide any payments or forfeits that must be paid. However in the rules described by Chatto there a final round played using the cards won in tricks. This is a challenging game called 'Ser-k'hel'. Players shuffle their tricks, and the winner of the last trick plays one trick blind against a player of his choice. The winner of this trick then challenges the player to his right in the same way.[56]

Following rounds[edit]

In some accounts losing players are disadvantaged when starting the next round. One possibility is that players are required to use the cards won in tricks for playing with in the following round. Players who are short on cards have to buy cards from other players to make up the difference.[57] Alternatively, cards can be shuffled and distributed equally, but losing players are required to exchange cards with winning players. The losing player must give cards at random, without looking at them, and the winning player is allowed to return low value cards, sorted from his hand. The number of cards exchanged is the difference in the number of tricks won in the last round.[55]
The total number of rounds played may vary. In Chatto's account a full game is made up of four rounds. In the version described by Maudranalay, there is no fixed number of rounds, rather the game must continue round after round until a losing player (presumably meaning a player who lost the previous round) beats the card led by another player on the last trick of the round.[58] This last lead card is called the 'akheri', from a word for 'last' (which exists in persian and Arabic ( آخر ). In Wilkin's account, this event has a different significance. Wilkins writes that if a player beats the akheri card, he is exempted from paying any forfeit money going into the next round.[55]
An adaptation is possible if players use the international 52 card pack. In this case the game is for three players only, and the 2 of diamonds is removed so that players each receive 17 cards each. The lead suit is always spades. In an account of the game in northern India (before the creation of Pakistan), Shurreef writes that the King is referred to as 'Badshah' (corresponding to the Persian term 'Padishah'), the queen as 'Bibia' (Persian term 'Bibi'), and the Jack as the 'Ghulam', meaning 'slave'.[59]

Partnership Ganjifa[edit]

Played in partnerships (two against two). Some call this game 'Dugi'.[60] In this game the order of the suits and the cards is the same as for the individual ganjifa trick taking game described above, however the aim of the game is for one partnership to win all the tricks. The partnership dealt the King in the lead suit has to take on this challenge. It is possible to determine the lead suit by the day or night rule as above, or by cutting cards. The following game rules are taken from an account by John McLeod[61]

The partners taking on the challenge to win all the tricks can decide between themselves who will take on the lead. Before starting, the lead king can be passed from one partner to another in exchange for another card of the same suit.
When leading, a player must lead all the 'hukms' that they have in hand (these are the highest cards remaining in a given suit, that are sure to win). Players must follow suit if they are able to do so. If this is not possible, the leading player names another suit, and they must discard their highest card in that suit. If they do not have any cards in the suit named, then they may discard any other card.
When a player who has the lead has no hukms, he may ask his partner which suit he should lead. Thus the partner can indicate a suit in which he has a hukm, so that the partnership can keep the lead. If the partner names a suit that the leader does not have in hand, the leader must decide himself which card to lead, without asking for more guidance.
If the opponents succeed in winning a single trick then they win the game.


This game can be played with any pack of cards, including the Mughal types, and the shorter 48 card decks. European style packs can be used by removing the jacks. Each suit therefore has two court cards, and ten numeral cards. The game has some similarities with Blackjack. In Naqsh the 'Mir' (or King) is given a value of 12 points, and the second court card, the 'Ghodi' (or Vizir, Cavalier or Queen) is worth 11. The other cards are worth their pip values, including the ace which has a value of 1. Several players can play the game. Mr. Gordhandas suggests 5-7 players, with 6 being the ideal number. The aim is to achieve a total value of 17 with the first two cards dealt, or the nearest number below this total. Players with low value cards can continue to draw further cards to try to improve their total. Variations can be played where 21 is a target total (but only if made with a King and a 9, or a Vizier and a ten), or where different winning combinations are accepted such as pairs, triples and so on. The game is suited to gambling.[62]

Notable Ganjifa card collections and collectors[edit]

  • The German Playing Card Museum (Deutsches Spielkartenmuseum), Leinfelden, Germany.
  • The Cary collection, housed in the Beinecke Library, Yale University (USA).
  • The Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (India), which has a substantial online display of many different Ganjifa cards (
  • The Victoria and Albert Museum in London has at least six sets of Ganjifa cards in its collection. Two sets are from the 19th century (museum nos.: IM.78:1, 2-1938 and 01316&A/(IS)), three sets are from the late 20th century (museum nos.: IS.66:121-1981 and IS.472:60-1993 and IS.46A-1963), and there are cards from a Naqsh set from the late 19th or early 20th century (museum no.:IS.76-1979).
  • The British Museum houses rectangular and circular ganjifa cards from Persia and India, going back to the 18th century [63] and some images are made available online (website: British Museum)
  • The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) has a small collection with some fine examples.
  • The Bodleian Library, Oxford University, has a small collection, including cards collected by Francis Douce. The Oriental section has two sets from the 19th century (MS.Sansk d.337(R) and MS.Sansk.g.4).
  • Powis Castle in Wales has 88 cards from the collection of Robert Clive.[64] The cards are circular, made in ivory with gild edges, and relatively large in size (80mm). Link to images retrieved 1/2/2015: [1]
  • The Topkapı Palace museum in Istanbul is significant for housing one set of centuries old Mamluk playing cards.
  • In India some fine examples can also be found in the National Museum of New Delhi, and the Allahabad Museum. To view examples search "Ganjifa" using National Portal and Digital Repository
  • Jaganmohan Palace of Mysore, India
  • Museum in a place called Ganjam in Srirangapattana has huge collection of Ganjifa. Mr Raghupathi Bhat also known as Ganjifa bhat has adopted this art and contributed to enhance the collections of Ganjifa art
  • Anshul Kaushik, also known as History Hunter has a set of 68 Mughal cards in his collection. The cards are kept in a beautiful hand made painted wooden box from 1800 AD.[65]
  • Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum, for a set of Dashavatar ganjifa cards[66]
  • Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford University (UK), for a set of Dashavatar cards that came into the collection in the late 19th century.[67]
  • Manjusha Museum, India[68]
  • Two sets of ganjifa cards are in the collection of Rev. George Lewis, housed in the cabinet that was sent to the Cambridge University Library in 1727. The cards are made with wafers of wood and tortoiseshell. Lewis was a chaplain in India between 1692 and 1714.[69]
  • A complete set of Mughal Ganjifa is a part of the Wovensouls collection .

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Many different spellings and transliterations can be found, such as Ganjafa, Ghendgifeh, Gunjeefa, Ganjapa, Kanjifa, Kanjifah and so on. In arabic, the spellings كنجفة or جنجفة or غنجفه can be found. The Persian word is ganjifeh (گنجفه). In Hindi the term is गंजीफा.
  2. ^ At the start of the 21st Century production in India was still ongoing in the town of Sawantvadi in the west, and Odisha in the east for example. See Abram (2003: 53) and Crestin-Billet (2002: 189).
  3. ^ A rectangular example dated to around 1770 is held in the collection of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. See
  4. ^ (Culin p928)
  5. ^ Andy Pollett covers this line of argument on (retrieved 03/01/2015).
  6. ^ (Niebuhr 1774: 173)
  7. ^ (Burckhardt 1829: 377)
  8. ^ In Arabic and Persian, there exists also the more general word for playing cards, waraq (ورق). This word can be found in texts that may refer to Ganjifa cards. For example the 16th century work Humayun-namah, about the Mughal emperor Humayun, uses the term waraq. The text describes a gambling game that was played during celebrations upon Humayun's return to Kabul in 1545. The game involved twelve players, each with twenty cards. Refer Beveridge (1902: 178, or 77 in the Persian section of the book).
  9. ^ (Mayer 1971: 9); See also the discussion on the early history of playing cards.
  10. ^ The text is described in English by Richard Ettinghausen, in his article "Further Comments on Mamluk Playing Cards". The quote refers to the work of Ibn Taghribirdi, called "Nujum al-zahira fi muluk Misr wa'l-Qahira". Ettinghausen notes that the reference comes in the section describing events from the year 820H or 1417-1418 AD (1984: 1194). The original Arabic text can be found online at (Google E-book) or Archived 2016-03-04 at the Wayback Machine . The relevant passage begins " ... وأخذ فى إصلاح أمر البلاد ".
  11. ^ a b c Dummett, Michael (1980). The Game of Tarot. London: Duckworth. pp. 33–64.
  12. ^ Wilkinson, W.H. (1895) Chinese Origin of Playing Cards Archived 2016-03-02 at the Wayback Machine. The American Anthropologist, Volume VIII, pp. 61-78.
  13. ^ (2004: 130)
  14. ^ Gjerde, Tor. Mamluk cards, ca. 1500 at Historical playing cards. Retrieved 23 February 2016.
  15. ^ Pollett, Andrea (2002). "Tuman, or the Ten Thousand Cups of the Mamluk Cards". The Playing-Card. 31 (1): 34–41.
  16. ^ Pollett, Andrea. Relations between eastern and western cards at Andy's Playing Cards. Retrieved 23 February 2016.
  17. ^ See Farsi wikipedia article fa:رباعیات گنجفه, or for the full text refer to Shirazi & Rabbani (1965:668-684). The poem is also mentioned in the bibliography of Katip Çelebi page 832.
  18. ^ They depict a mounted vizier playing polo with two assistants, 10 archers, 8 merchants, 8 farmers, 2 bulls, 3 lions, 10 lions, and 2 genii or demons. It is not known if they are purely artwork or supposed to represent a standard pattern of cards. See: Zimmerman, Rolf. Die verschollenen Spielkarten Zentralasiens at Retrieved 31 October 2015.
  19. ^ Mann, Sylvia (1990). All Cards on the Table. Leinfelden: Deutsches Spielkarten-Museum. p. 183.
  20. ^ The collection of the Fournier playing cards museum in Vittoria, Spain, contains As-Nas cards dated to the 18th and 19th centuries. The Cary playing card collection (Yale University) contains various Iranian cards, spanning a period from 1800 to 1905 (estimated dates). All the cards are of the As-Nas type, rather than the older 8-suited variety.
  21. ^ Quoted by Stewart Culin
  22. ^ See for example Jean-Baptiste Tavernier (1676: 626), and Jean Chardin (1811: 451).
  23. ^ Ashtor, Eliyahu. (1976) A Social and Economic History of the Near East in the Middle Ages. Londen: W. Collins & Co. Ltd. p. 257.
  24. ^ Lo, Andrew (2000), The Late Ming Game of Ma Diao, The Playing-Card (XXIX, No. 3), pp. 115–136, The International Playing-Card Society.
  25. ^ (article 'The Search for Ganjifa' in The India Magazine, June 1983, p28. Retrieved from on 02/01/2015)
  26. ^ See Beveridge (1922: 584)
  27. ^ a b Hopewell, Jeff (2004). Mackenzie, C; Finkel, I (eds.). Asian Games: The Art of Contest. New York: Asia Society. pp. 241–251.
  28. ^ See Terry (1777:190), or weblink
  29. ^ Autenboer & Cremers, pages 23-25
  30. ^ See also French wikipedia article fr:Jean-Baptiste Camoin
  31. ^ p81-2, Cartes à jouer & tarots de Marseille: La donation Camoin
  32. ^ Autenboer & Cremers, page 27
  33. ^ Bureau of the Census pages 642-3
  34. ^ Autenboer & Cremers, page 18, and on p.22 an example is shown from the Turnhout manufacturer Glénisson, from the second half of the 19th Century. The ace has a double-headed design, with a scene of the modern city of Istanbul on one end, and a scene of the historic city on the other, when it was called Constantinople. The titles are written using the Arabic alphabet.
  35. ^ Article from the Brooklyn Museum website, consulted 15/11/2014 "As nas became popular under the Qajars and continued to be played until the end of World War II, when it lost favor to games such as poker, rummy, and bridge.". Link:
  36. ^ Crestin Billet (2002:188)
  37. ^ Yale University, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Cary Playing Cards Database. Record ID: 1064 Catalog Number: IND2. Maker: Ravi-Varma F.A.L. Works, Malavli-Lonavla; Karamchand Ambalal & Co., Bangri Bazar, Bombay 3. Date of Manufacture: 1935(circa). Title: ZENITH 515 BRIDGE PLAYING CARDS
  38. ^ Autenboer & Cremers, page 26
  39. ^ For more information and images refer to pattern sheet 67 of the International Playing Card Society (website: Link to pattern sheet viewed 16/11/2014:
  40. ^ Shirazi & Rabbani (1965:668-684)
  41. ^ Refer to IPCS pattern sheet 66 for examples from Sawantwadi: ; sheet 69 for examples from Nossam: ; or sheet 82 for examples from Kurnol: (links viewed 16/11/2014).
  42. ^ Description based on booklet supplied with a set of cards from Sawantwadi Lacquerwares, The Palace, Sawantwadi 416510 Maharashtra, India.
  43. ^ Orissa Review, January 2010. Retrieved 30/1/2015.
  44. ^ Described by Krishna Chaitanya (1994: 58). Link to Google books version, retrieved 30/1/2015:
  45. ^ Refer to articles by Mr. Kishor N. Gordhandas, such as 'Cards of Honour', in the Mysore based Deccan Herald newspaper, Sunday 6/4/2008, online version Archived 2015-01-03 at (retrieved 02/01/2015); 'Playing cards of Mysore' Archived 2016-03-04 at the Wayback Machine (retrieved 25/3/2015); also 'Mysore Palace Playing cards', (retrieved 02/01/2015).
  46. ^ Abu'l-Fazl ibn Mubarak (1873: 306). Google book:
  47. ^ Refer to IPCS pattern sheet 68. Link viewed 16/11/2014:
  48. ^ Crestin Billet shows examples taken from the collection of the Musée Français de la Carte à Jouer, in the Paris region (2002: 185, 188-9).
  49. ^ A variant is possible where the 'lead suit' as described below is the trump suit.
  50. ^ This feature of a reversed order in the number cards of half the suits can be found in some European games, notably Ombre, Maw, and most games played with Tarot cards. For the game of Ombre see the rules given by Peter Arnold, for example (2010:88), and Chatto points out this similarity between the rules of Ganjifa and those of Ombre (1848:45). An Italian account explains how this feature of Ombre also applied to the game played with the Minchiate tarot cards (Brunetti 1747:16)(direct link ). The suits of cups (coppe) and coins (denari) are those with the reversed order of the number cards. In France this inverted order did feature for a time in the game of French tarot, at least in some regions, although it has now disappeared from the modern standard rules. The book 'Tarot, Jeu et Magie' points to two literary sources that mention this feature, from the 18th and 19th centuries (1984:122-124)(link, text in French, ).
  51. ^ These are the rules given by Shrikrisna Maudranalay, and also those in the account by Chatto (1848: 42)
  52. ^ Hukm (or Hokm) is the name of a card game played in modern Iran. It is of the same general family of games as the ganjifa trick taking game. Play is to the right (counterclockwise), cards are dealt in batches, and as in ganjifa, the player that leads the game is one that receives a high card (in the case of Hokm, an ace). Refer to
  53. ^ Online post by John McLeod (webmaster of card game rules site on the newsgroup on March 25, 1997, in reply to a thread entitled "Ganjifa, Classic Indian card game", started by James Kilfiger on March 22, 1997. The newsgroup can be browsed for example via google:!forum/ . Direct weblink to post, retrieved February 8, 2015:!searchin/ . For comparison, other accounts can be found, such as Sally Wilkins (2002: 194-195); the booklet given with sets of cards by Sawandwadi Lacquerwares, written by Maudranalay; Chatto (1848:41-43), who quotes from an article from the 'Calcutta Magazine' (1815); and an article by Kishor Gordhandas, retrieved on Feb. 8, 2015: Archived 2015-02-08 at the Wayback Machine
  54. ^ Noted by Wilkins (2002: 195). Compare also the definition given by Maudranalay, page 16.
  55. ^ a b c d Wilkins (2002:195)
  56. ^ Chatto (1848:43)
  57. ^ See Chatto (1848:43)
  58. ^ Maudranalay, page 16.
  59. ^ Shurreef (1999:336).
  60. ^ See IPCS paper 'Ganjifa - the traditional playing cards of India', by Jeff Hopewell, p63. The name 'Dugi' is used in Digapahandi (Orissa)
  61. ^ Online post by John McLeod (webmaster of card game rules site on the newsgroup on March 25, 1997, in reply to a thread entitled "Ganjifa, Classic Indian card game", started by James Kilfiger on March 22, 1997. The newsgroup can be browsed for example via google:!forum/ . Direct weblink to post, retrieved February 8, 2015:!searchin/
  62. ^ Based on article by Mr. Kishor Gordhandas: retrieved 3/1/2015.
  63. ^ British museum catalogue numbers for notable items: 1880,0.2241.1-41 ; As1972,Q.1986 ; 1978,1009,0.8.1-95; 2000.7-31.01/1-96 ; As1927,0510.20.a-cr ; Asia OA 1998.10.5.1
  64. ^ National Trust Inventory Numbers 1180679.1 to 1180679.88. Reference for the box: CLIVE.I.89
  65. ^ "The Statesman SECTION-2 epaper dated Thu, 17 Aug 17". Retrieved 2018-04-21.
  66. ^ Cards can be seen on website, link retrieved 30/6/2015: image gallery
  67. ^ Link retrieved 30/6/2015: Archived 2015-09-24 at the Wayback Machine - database number 1886.1.8, website notes that cards are thought to have been collected by George Barnes, presumably George Barnes (priest)(1782-1847), connected to both Oxford and India.
  68. ^ Cited for example in The Hindu, online newspaper, 25/3/2003, as part of a book review of 'MANJUSHA- An Art Genre: Choodamani Nandagopal. Retrieved 30/1/2015 from
  69. ^ Retrieved from on 19/4/2015.


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