Notes on Antique Textiles, Folk Art & Timeless Traditions – Jaina Mishra
And took my sleep away!
Why are these little artworks so attractive?
A complete set consisting of 120 cards is very very rare!
The odd card is seen here and there … but the ones that surface are usually single cards or at best, a handful.
And so when in a stroke of good luck I come across an antique complete set, I lost my sleep. Justifiably.
It must have been wonderful living in the ’70s when all this was within reach – when plenty of each of these now-elusive items were abundantly available and not many really cared for old things.
(But then they did not have the internet … and so even a dealer in a small town in a small province in a faraway country is ‘within reach’ today …so I do not know whether the ’70s were truly better!)
Featured here are these tiny beauties – painted sometime in the 1800s and used for several decades thereafter.
In current-day poker cards we have 4 suits – Spaded, Diamonds, Hearts & Clubs.
In this set there are 10 suits – made up of the 10 incarnations of Vishnu. And hence it is called the Dashavatar Ganjifa set. [Das = 10, Avatar = incarnation]
[The association between name and card is my guesswork … not sure though. Any inputs?]
In place of the King and Queen in current-day cards we have two ‘court scene cards’ in each suit. The highest card, has an image of Vishnu Avatar, and the second highest card, has the Pradhan or Mantri and the General on steeds.
Each suit also has 10 pip cards just like the cards numbering from 1 to 10 in current-day poker cards. Each suit is identified by the object such as axe or trident that is unique to the set of 12 cards. But instead of painting the numeral ‘5’, the number is represented by the count of the objects associated with that Avatar’s suit.
Dashavatara Ganjifa is played by three persons with 120 cards, mainly in Sawantwadi in Maharashtra, India.
The signs of wear tell me of the fun that these cards must have delivered to the players. Who were the players? Men? Women?
Sawantwadi is just two hours away from Goa. If I go looking, will I find the family of the original owners? Or the painters?
The high quality and perfection in the paintings tell us that these cards are precious and must have belonged to someone of substantial means. So the subset of possibilities is substantially smaller than all the families in that town.
Maybe I should go… to find the history of someone’s precious memories that are imprinted onto these!