Mysore Palace Playing Cards

Craft, Handloom, Art, Micro-history, Art History

Mysore Palace Playing Cards

Gordhandas, Kishor N.


The standard Playing Cards of India, – Ganjifa – fall under two categories; the 96 card Moghul Ganjifa of 12 cards into eight suits, and 120 or 144 cards of the Dashavatara Ganjifa of 12 cards into ten or twelve suits. Made for Kings, noble men and the common people from a great variety of material such as ivory, tortoise shell, mother-of -pearl, leather, palm leaf, starched cotton fabric, patta, paper, etc.

Ganjifa Cards are still being made in several centers for collectors, Museums, for play and display, including Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Bishnupur (West Bengal), and Sawantwadi (Maharashtra). There are stray examples of Ganjifa Cards being made recently in Karnataka in the Mysore Style. These Ganjifa are always hand made, hand painted and lacquered. There have also been a few printed Dashavatara Ganjifa of 120 cards and Moghul Ganjifa of 96 cards being the facsimile of the earlier Ganjifa cards, the original of these are now lying in private collections as well as in the collection of a couple of Playing Card Museums abroad.


Mysore Chads are a group of Indian Card Games, which are known as “Chads”. Chad meaning a leaf or a card but a term also used to mean Playing Cards and card games. Under Chad one would find an entirely different group of Playing Cards and card games that originated in Mysore during the first half of the nineteenth century in a seemingly unending variety. In their general conception, the Moghul and Dashavatara Ganjifa cards of Mysore are influenced by the cards of the Deccan, while in style they are related to Nayak Idioms of Madurai. Figures and Suit signs typically fill the card face completely. The Mysore playing cards and card games are distinct due to their complicated structure using numerous suits of up to six court cards and a number of loose cards comparable to the Tarot and Jokers in European Games.

Most of the Mysore Chads are also distinguished by very fine and laborious execution and are obviously the creation of a school of painters and artisans of the Palace.

There are thirteen different types of Chads, described in the ninth chapter of ‘Kautuknidhi’ of a work called “Sritatwanidhi”, compiled under the patronage of the third Raja of Mysore, Krishnaraj Odeyar (Also spelled Wadiyar or Wodeyar), who lived from 1794 to 1868. The work is written in Kannada language. The title of the book is difficult to translate because of the multiple meanings of the word ‘Tatwa’ and is perhaps best rendered by “Noble Treasure of Philosophy”. The chapter on cards ‘Kautuknidhi’ can best be translated as the ‘Treasure Book of Sport and Pastime’. The Maharaja describes a number of complex card games. Some of these have six court cards, up to twelve numeral cards and eighteen suits as well as a number of loose or suit less cards (Chakravartis), giving rise to a grand total of 360 cards in the set of ‘Jagad Mohan’. The smallest set, Navin Rama has only 36 cards and is rectangular in shape. The suits are presided over by the numerous divinities of the South Indian Pantheon, led by Chamundeswari, the tutelary Goddess of the Mysore Dynasty. Krishnaraj employed numerous artists to paint the cards of these Chadas, which were probably played mainly inside the palace; only a few of them enjoyed popularity among the common people. The cards themselves rank among the most beautiful Indian Playing Cards.


After the defeat of Tipu Sultan by the British in 1799, the territory of Mysore was restored to the old ruling family of Odeyars. Krishnaraj III was then 5 years old and the administration lay in the hands of the able Brahmin Minister Purnaiya until the Prince took over in 1811. Later, his alleged misrule resulted in an uprising in 1831 and led to the ‘resumption’ of the administration by the British Power which was returned to an adopted heir, Chama Rajendra, as late as 1881, thirteen years after Krishnaraj’s death.

Krishnaraj continued to live in Mysore after his suppression and apparently became somewhat peculiar and disturbed. He was a man given to religious and astrological speculation, occupied himself with religious, mystical and philosophical studies. He compiled the encyclopedic work, “Shritattwanidhi” mentioned earlier, tried every devise and game of fortune, ‘known or invented’ to calculate his chance of regaining the kingdom.

He designed an endless series of dice, card and board games, some of which were painted on the walls of the upper storey of Jag Mohan Palace in Mysore. His card painters also produced beautifully designed playing cards for him of the Moghul and Dashavatara Ganjifa style as well as innumerable Chad Games presumably invented by him. Some of the Card Games are up to 360 round cards in a pack, e. g., Jagad Mohan and 320 cards in Chamundeswari pack. Krishnaraj had many chests full of various card games made for himself and members of his household.

The largest collection of Chad sets outside of India lies in the Deutsche Spielkarten Museum in Leinfelden, Germany. A beautifully painted Chamundeswari set in the collection of Miss Sylvia Mann, England, was auctioned after her death in the year 1995. Most of the rest of these splendid sets of playing cards have been dispersed by the Antique dealers.


The structure of all these Chads is derived from the standard Ganjifa with its suits consisting of Court cards and numeral cards. Most of these games are built on religious or astrological themes but the significance of some of the iconographical systems is not easily understood as is for example that of the Dashavatara. While normal Moghul and Dashavatara Games in India have only two court cards namely the King/Mir and the Minister/Pradhan or Vazir, in most of the Mysore Chads, there are six court cards with their own names in the following order:

‘Raja’ on Throne or Elephant:
‘Rajni’ in a palanquin.
‘Amatya’ or ‘Mantri’ in a Ratha – Carriage.
‘Senani’ (General) on Horse back.
‘Padathi’ or ‘Sevaka’ (Foot-soldier. Warrior) and
‘Dwaja’ (Flag or Banner).
These six honor cards clearly reflect a military order (Elephant, Infantry, Forts, and Flag).

The number of suits in Chad varies from four to eighteen. A suit has from nine to eighteen cards of which, (with the exception of Chad Number 12- ‘Krishnaraj Chad’ and Number 13- ‘Navin Rama’), – ten to twelve are numerals of the twelve signs of Zodiac and six court cards.

Apart from the above cards some packs have so called Chakravartis (rulers of the world) (Gods and Goddesses) distinguished in design and execution from the rest of the pack and a kind of Joker or tribute cards featuring birds and animals – peacocks, parrots, swans.
The following details show at a glance all the 13 Mysore Chads as mentioned earlier and appearing in Shritatwanidhi.

  1. Chamundeswari, with a total of 320 cards from 16 suits;
  2. Jagad Mohan, with 360 cards from 18 suits;
  3. Navin Dashavatara, with 240 cards from 12 suits;
  4. Naw Graha, with 216 cards from 12 suits;
  5. Panch Pandava, with 216 cards from 12 suits;
  6. Devi Dashavatari, with 180 cards from 10 suits;
  7. Dikapala, with 160 cards from 10 suits;
  8. Manohar, with 160 cards from 9 suits;
  9. Sarva Mangala, with 160 cards from 8 suits;
  10. Naw Ratna, with 160 cards from 9 suits;
  11. Sadye Jyatadi, with 72 cards from 6 suits;
  12. Krishnaraj Chad, with 72 cards from 4 suits; and
  13. Navin Rama, with 36 cards from 4 suits.
CHAD No. 12.


Named after the Royal Inventor himself, this handy game of 72 cards in four suits must have enjoyed great popularity in and outside the palace. Existence of one complete set and three incomplete sets and stray cards of further five packs are known. These are in various shapes and sizes, indicating manufacture at different centers. Whether this game entered the palace from the Bazaar or left the Palace for the open road is difficult to say. Its pictorial constellation is very much Mysorean which may be the reason for its popularity apart from the obvious advantage of its manageable size. It was a game of the quartet type. Krishnaraj Chad, incidentally, is considered to be the most beautiful of all the Mysore Chads!

There are two Krishnaraj Chads in my collection by a modern artist from Bangalore and painted in typical Mysorean style as per the 19th century cards. One is painted on thicker round shaped cards and the other one has rectangular shape. The cards are hand made as per Mysore style.
It should be noted that the card processing for the Ganjifa making purpose, differs from state to state. This set has four suits under the presiding deities as follows:

Vishnu-Krishna Suit with a red background colour; the Shiva Suit with a yellow background; Brahma Suit with a green background and finally the Indra Suit with a black background.

Each of the four suits consists of Five Court cards:-

Raja, Rajni, Senani, Padathi and Dwaja. The latter has the following animal vehicles painted inside the banners:

Garuda for Vishnu-Krishna Suit; the Bull for the Shiva Suit; the Swan (Hamsa) for the Brahma Suit; and the Elephant (Airawat) for the Indra Suit.

Then follow the following four cards from the entourage of Shri Vishnu: (On all the four suits) – Garuda: Birdman; Hanuman: Monkey God; Chakra: Vishnu’s Qoint; and Shankh: Vishnu’s Conch.

These are followed by nine cards with Animals or Birds: one on each card without numeral marking.

Ganda-Bherunda: -Double-headed Eagle (Heraldic Sign of the Wodeyar Dynasty); Jalayus: -Vulture; Makara: -Crocodile; Gaja Virala: -Lion-gryph; Hathi: -Elephant; Ashwa: -Horse; Simha: -Lion; Varaha: -Boar; and Matsya: -Fish.

In the rectangular set of Krishnaraj Chad, three more animals have been painted apart form the Vulture for Brahma Suit. These are MOHRU for Vishnu-Krishna Suit, TIGER for Shiva Suit and SNAKE for Indra Suit.

Ganda-Bherunda is the Heralding Sign of the Wodeyar Dynasty and is carried as silvered brass effigy on poles during the annual Dussehra Procession in Mysore City together with similar effigies of Lion, Boar, Gaja -Virala, Crocodile, Fish, Vulture, Conch and Chakra. They also appear on banners flanking the professional route as seen in frescoes in the “Rang Mahal” of the Jagan Mohan Palace and Mysore Palace in the city. The design of the above effigies corresponds exactly to that of the cards. A specially caparisoned live horse and an elephant feature prominently in the procession- Hence the local significance of the Krishnaraj Chad is quite apparent.

The Kautuknidhi states that the games were usually played after the Moghul fashion, which should mean that the elaborate Chads were not seriously played, while the Moghul Ganjifa and Dashavatara Ganjifa games were popular. An exception was perhaps the “Krishnaraj Chad” because of its local colour.

According to Kautuknidhi, an ordinary trick taking Game (after the Moghul Ganjifa fashion) could be played with this 72- cards Chada, or a game called ‘Varaha’, which may have been a kind of Rummy in which combinations of Cards and sequences have point values.

The best sets were made by artists with a high degree of graphic skill and quality making, some cards into minor works of art. This fact emphasizes the court environment. The main period of manufacture of these Chads was probably between 1830 and 1860 with continuity on a lower more popular level in later decades. There is no evidence that the Mysore Chads were ever printed by the Lithographic Process like other playing cards in India.


Your views


Access 70,000+ practitioners in 2100+ crafts across India.


10,000+ listings on arts, crafts, design, heritage, culture etc.


Rich and often unfamiliar vocabulary of crafts and textiles.

SHOP at India inCH

Needs to be written.


High End Craft

McComb, Jessie F.

Book Review

Tyabji, Laila