Games played with Ganjifa (Indian circular cards)

These cards may previously have been more widespread, but nowadays are used only in a few places.

The packs consist of suits of 12 cards. Each suit contains two picture cards - the king and minister - and pip cards from 1 to 10, each showing the appropriate number of suit symbols. Packs generally have 8, 10 or 12 suits, for a total of 96, 120 or 144 cards. The cards are usually hand painted and lacquered. There are various designs - some examples are shown on the IPCS pattern sheet pages (patterns 66, 67 and 69).

I have limited information about Ganjifa games. The two best documented games are Hamrang and Ekrang, both of which are trick taking games without trumps. These games also have strong restrictions on the cards that can be led or played to a trick. To follow these rules it is necessary to know at all times what are the highest outstanding cards in each suit. Because of the large number of cards in the pack, an excellent memory is needed to play these games well.

For Hamrang and Ekrang, the suits are divided into two groups. The king and minister are always the highest cards, but in one group of suits the pip cards rank from the 10 (below the minister) down to the 1 (lowest), while in the other group they rank in the reverse direction from the 1 (below the minister) down to the 10 (lowest). It is interesting that this feature is also found in some early European trick taking games such as Tarot, Hombre and Maw, and also in Ma Diao, an old Chinese trick-taking game with money cards. This is a strong indication that these games and cards have a common ancestor.

An article by Kaushal Gupta: "Gambling Game of Naqsh and Ganjifa Cards" (Journal of the International Playing-Card Society, Vol VIII, No 2, 1979, pp29-39) describes the game Naqsh, which seems to be more popular than the trick-taking games described above. Naqsh is a banking game in which the aim is to have cards adding up to 17 or 21, or various other special combinations. For purpose the picture cards count 12 and 11 and the pip cards have their face value.

Some extracts from Vasudha Joshi's Ganjifa exhibition (Kolkata, 2004 and 2005) can be seen on the Trust for the Revival of Indian Play blog. Vasudha Joshi can be contacted at .