The picture above that’s been displayed looks like a painting, but in reality it is one of the leaves from ‘playing cards’, used by ancient Indians to play the game of cards, also called as ‘kridapatram’. According to the Aphilomath Journal, this game of cards originated in ancient India, where the cards were made of cloths and the motifs depicted the Ramayana and Mahabharatha.
Cards having Ramayana and Mahabharata motifs
The playing cards were called as ‘ganjifa cards’, in medieval India, and is believed to be played by the royals. It’s been recorded that the Ganjifa was played in areas of Rajputana, Kashyapa Meru (Kashmir), Utkala (Orissa), the Deccan and even in Nepal. Each area had their own version of making cards and motifs depended on the culture and history of the place.
Cards depicting the Dash avatar from West Bengal
Later the Mughals took the game of cards further and According to Abul Fazal’s (Author of the Ain-e-Akbari ), he describes the cards used by the mughals, where the first set of cards depicted which is the ‘lord of horses’. The which was ranked the highest card in the pack, represented the picture of the king on a horseback. The second represented a General on a horseback. After this card came ten other cards with pictures of horses from one to ten. Another set of cards had the (lord of elephants) which represented the king whose power lay in the number of elephants. The other eleven cards in this pack represented the and ten others with a soldier astride an elephant. Another pack had the a king whose power lies in his infantry. The other cards were known as the the lord of treasures, the lord of the squadron, the lord of the navy, the lord of divinities, the lord of genii, the king of the forest, the lord of snakes and so on. (Excerpt from the Aphilomath Journal)
A mughal set of playing cards.
The cards were all hand made, by pasting layers of clothes traditionally handcrafted and hand painted. The the cards were made according to the likes of the king. It’s been a habit of making the cards circular, with oval and rectangular cards being seen now and then. This art of making cards has been existent for over hundred years and died slowly by the advent of the Europeans who took over in the 17th – 18th century, where they started producing cards made of paper.
This blog will be followed by attitudes about play during the other periods of Medieval India, which will be a perfect closure to the history of Indian play.
Picture sources are from Google images and Pinterest.
By Dr Srividya K.
Play, a word, that is synonymous with letting the mind run wild, creating a whole new world using imagination. The word play, brings in thoughts and feelings of lots of fun, fun and fun.
The study conducted by Meera Oka et al, mentioned in the earlier blog, has led us to understand how play was perceived in the Indian perspective. The best way to look at it was through the civilisations that the country has witnessed across ages. The Indus valley civilisation is the first among the civilisations and a look at the previous blogs throws light upon the fact that play for children was given importance. The importance given to play has been understood only through the play materials that were found in the excavations, but no literature is available regarding the thoughts of people or any philosophers, during that civilisation about play.
Therefore, I have tried to understand and pen down the importance given to play in the ancient times, with the help of literature available on the games that were played by adults. With the support of articles written by Lakhveer Kaur & Rajesh Chander and Keshav Lahane on Ancient Indian sports, let’s delve into the matter.
The Indus valley civilisation is followed by the Vedic period (2500 BC – 600 BC), named so because it was marked by the development of vedas. The Ramayana and Mahabharatha also are a part of this vedic period. It’s very clear from the scriptures that the adults involved in sports like chariot racing, archery, military games, swimming, wrestling and hunting. A historic analysis done by the authors mentioned above reveals that people involved in ball games and courtyard games like “hide and seek” and “run and catch” were prevalent. Games involving dices were very popular.
Education to children followed a method called the ‘gurukul’ system, where the children had to leave their homes and stay in gurukuls. There the gurus would teach them the way of life. The gurukul system was not just for learning to read and write, but also learning to live life independently.
The games like archery, racing, swimming were not just adult games, but was imbibed in the adults when they were young by their gurus, which proves that play was given importance. History also reveals that music and dance gained a lot of importance, and women were treated with lot of respect. Music and dance can also considered as forms of play.
There are instances in the scriptures which reveals that Lord Krishna played ‘iti danda or ‘gullidanda’ along the banks of Yamuna river. The most popular game of cards was also played by the ancient Indians, locally knows as ‘kridapatram’.
The history of ‘kridapatram’ itself is very interesting, which if explained with pictures, will make it more interesting and that will be something to look forward in the next blog.
By Dr Srividya K
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