Naqsh Card Game, Goddess Lakshmidevi and Diwali

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

Naqsh Card Game, Goddess Lakshmidevi and Diwali

Gordhandas, Kishor N.


The normal Indian Ganjifa game is a trick making game without trumps, in which the number of cards won and not their values count towards victory. The earliest literary evidence about the prevalence of Ganjifa Game indicates it to be a game of chance. There are verses on the cards of Ganjifa composed by Muhammed Ahli Shirazi. It is evident that the Ganjifa Cards were used for a game of gambling much patronized by Shah Ismail, the first ruler of Safavid Dynasty in Persia. In a valuable manuscript dated 1514 – 1515 A.D., the poet has written a Portion named Rubaiyat-e-Ganjifa, which contains 96 Rubai or four-liner for 96 cards which Ali Shirazi wrote in Manzuma-i-Ganjifa for each card of an eight-suited pack of Ganjifa. The suits’ names in the poem are Ghulam/slave, Taj/crown, Shamsher/sword, Ashrafi/gold coin, Chang/harp, Barat/document; bill- of- exchange, Tanka/silver coin and Qomash/Cloth; bales of material.

Rectangular Naqsh

The learned man Mirza Sadeq who lived and died in India (1609 – 1651) wrote a chapter on card games in a Persian Encyclopaedia. Mirza Sadeq makes short and vague remarks on other native or foreign, four or more suited packs to be played, with or without trumps by 2 or 3 or 4 or more players.

Gambling games have been popular in India from times immemorial, first with dice and later with cards, as was demonstrated by the ladies of Humayun’s Court. In ‘Babarnama’, there is a mention of just the word “Ganjifa” but in ‘Humayunnama’ cards are said to have been used for a game played with stakes. One of the gambling games played with the cards is called Naqsh. Naqsh means design, pattern, shape, painting, map etc. There is another meaning of the word naqsh given in ‘Ghias-Ul-Luhgat’ i.e. ‘a lucky throw at dice.’ The word Naqsh with reference to the game of cards, would mean – the pattern of cards which is winning. Naqsh-e-amad is used even in modern Persian with reference to the “income from games with stakes”.

One Suit of Naqsh

The Naqsh is very much like the western Baccarat or Vingte-et-Un card games wherein the combination of cards in one’s hands must come to a total of 17 or 21 in order to win the stakes. There are also other winning combinations in Naqsh such as, pairs and triplets plus aces and so on. Pairs of the top four cards can also be the winning Naqsh. The winner of the Naqsh gets money according to the stakes from each player.

The number of cards used for the Naqsh game has varied in different parts of India. Naqsh can be played with any standard Indian or European pack consisting of 96, 84, 80, 60, 48, 40 or 36 cards. In Odisha, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, special Naqsh packs comprising 3, 4, 5 or 8 equal series of 12 cards are used. Each series in turn consists of a Mir/King) and a Ghodi/Mare with the figure of a horseman like the conventional Vazier and ten numeral cards, all of the same colour and suit marks – normally those of the Safed/silver and Surkh/Gold suits. In Odisha, such packs are called Ekrang or Hamrang – Ham in Persian means, similar, equal and rang means colour: hence Hamrang means having a similar colour.

Box of Naqsh Cards


The Score is calculated as follows:

  • Twelve Points for a Mir.
  • Eleven Points for a Ghodi.
  • The number cards have the points according to their values: Ten for a Ten, Nine for a Nine and so on.

There can be five to seven players for the game of Naqsh but the proper number is six. From a normal Moghul Ganjifa set of 96 cards, usually the suit of Shamsher i.e. the Swords as Suit symbols, is taken out, since the number of swords on a card can easily be mistaken, and then the game is played with 84 cards. Persons who do not own the Ganjifa cards still can play the Naqsh Game with the Standard French-suited printed pack of 52 playing cards with prior removal of four jacks. Thus the game will have 48 cards to play with.

Box of Naqsh Cards

The aim is to make Naqsh which is made with a total of seventeen or twenty-one points. For making a Naqsh of 17 points, there is no limit to the number of cards to be taken, but the Naqsh with 21 points must be declared with two cards only. These are a Mir and a Nine and another pair of a Ghodi and a Ten. This is how G. J. O’Donnell observed the game, using French suited cards, in the Purniah District of Bihar in 1877.

“Nakshumar is a very simple game. The four Knaves are taken out from the pack, and then all the cards are thoroughly shuffled and placed in the centre of a circle of players. Each player takes one from the top and counts the pips. In this the King/Mir counts as Twelve, the Queen/Ghodi Eleven and the Ace as One. Whosoever in two draws gets 17 pips, or the nearest number below that number, wins the stakes, unless some of those who have drawn minor numbers wish to try their chance in a third or fourth draw. This game is almost entirely used for the gambling purposes and is much played during holidays, such as the Holi Festival in March in Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh”.

Pradhan and 10 -Part of a 48 pack Naqsh set, Bishnupur, West Bengal


Raja and 9  – Part of a 48 pack Naqsh Seth, Bishnupur, West Bengal
Hamrang or Ekrang – Painting variation of the the 60 card game.
Parlakhemudi, Gajapati District, Odisha


Naqsh pack of Bishnupur in West Bengal consists of 48 cards of four equal suits of twelve cards each with a Mir on an Elephant, called Sahib, the Wazir on Horseback, called significantly Bibi/Lady, which may point to a foreign origin for the game; and ten numerals taken from Bishnupur Moghul and Dashavatara Ganjifa cards. Size of the round cards is normally is 112 cms to 115 cms round diameter. These cards also come in rectangular shape, if required. Presently artists of Bishnupur Fauzdar families painting these cards make the same in 2.00” round diameter with nice miniature like workmanship and with the matching painted box.

The Ten Numeral cards of Bishnupuri Naqsh 48 cards and their suits are:

  • Pori / Girl under tree
  • Pahalwan/ Wrestlers
  • Phul/ Lotus
  • Shankha/ Conch shells
  • Phul/Fruit or flower
  • Phul/ Rectangles
  • Dawal/ Swords
  • Phul/ Lotus
  • Phul/ Circular Flowers
  • Phul/ White round flowers
Hamrang or Ekrang – 60 card game from Parlakemundi
Gajapati District, Odisha

Of all the Naqsh Cards, Bishnupur Naqsh is very much famous and sought after by playing cards collectors and playing cards museums, all over the world. Packs of cards comprising of four or more equal suits can be found in Nepal, in Japan (Kabu Karuta) in Portugal and elsewhere in Europe- (“Quittle” Cards made by Piatnik & Son, Austria for a Jewish gambling game to be played on certain feast days.

Gambling games like Naqsh are played especially during the festival season Dussehra and Diwali in October or November, under the auspices of Lakshmi Devi, the goddess of good fortune.

Until 45 years ago, Naqsh was very popular in most parts of India, namely, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Odisha, Bihar, Bengal and the Deccan. Naqsh was popular in Delhi till 35 years ago. Some Mathur families of Delhi, especially ladies, still are believed to play Naqsh with Ganjifa cards calling it “Ganchua”.

The season of Ganchua playing in Delhi at most lasted two lunar months between September and November but the normal season was about three weeks, i. e., from Dussehra to Diwali festivals. The women observe fast on Karvachauth (the fourth day of the dark fortnight of the month Kartik of the Lunar Calendar of the Hindus) for the well-being of their husbands. On this day, lots of presents are sent by the parents to their newly married daughters. The pack of Ganchua used to be one of the presents. The women observing fast on Karvachauth played Ganchua to pass time.

The Cards used for this game were those of Moghul Ganjifa, but the names used by them for all the eight suits do not conform to the usual names of Moghul Ganjifa. The whole pack is said to have eight “Tash” and not suits.

Taj is called Kishmishi tash after the colors of the background of the suits

Safed is called Black Tash
Shamsher is called Tash with lines

Ghulam is called Katha Putali /puppet

Chang is called Green Tash

Surkh is called Sun-faced Tash

Barat is called Tash with Bricks

Qimash is called Urad Ki Dal /Tash with black lentil

There is no distinction or division of the Suits determining the value of the cards. All the number cards have their values in the ascending order. These cards were manufactured near Jaipur, and were available in the toy shops of Delhi. The box of cards was further packed in a bag made of cloth with gold and silver thread embroidery on it. The bag was known as “Khaliti”. The Khaliti of Ganjifa cards belonging to Mirza Ghalib, the famous poet of Delhi can be seen even today in the Ghalib Museum in Delhi.

The Naqsh game was probably spread throughout South East Asia and the regions bordering the Indian Ocean by Portuguese sailors in the course of the sixteenth century and entered India at that time. Even today, 120 cards Dashavatara Ganjifa and 48 cards Naqsh Ganjifa are handmade and hand painted by a couple of Fouzdar families in Bishnupur in West Bengal with matching hand painted boxes.

Indian people should have knowledge about this little known gambling game – NAQSH -played with different sets of cards for gambling, which is other than the Teen Patti or FLUX Game played with three cards to each, especially during Janmashtmi Festival, and also during many holidays.


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