Exploring The Diminishing Folk Art of Ganjappa from Odisha



“Vidya jaise kabhi khatam nahi hoti, vaise hi kala kabhi khatam nahi hota. Dhan khatam ho jayega lekin man nahi khatam hoga, tumhe jo sikhne ka man hoga tum sikh loge.”– words of Pramod Das, an artist who knows the art Ganjappa. ‘Ganjifa’, an art form believed to be introduced by the Mughals with its mention in ‘Babarnama’ is a card game which was quite prevalent in the past. In Odisha this art is known as ‘Ganjappa’, the name came from its popularity in Ganjam districts. The game is slowly getting lost as the players are very rare to find. There are also a very few people in Raghurajpur who know how to make these cards and play it.

Ganjappa, An ancient Card Game

Jaydev Maharana, 95-year-old artist and one of the remaining people in Raghurajpur, who know how to play the game. This game used to be a sort of addiction like bhang. Hearing stories about the game that it could sometimes last for days with people being so much engaged that they even left their work or forgot to eat and drink.

The game is played by 4 players representative of the four main pillars of Odiya Culture Jagannatha, Bala Bhadra, Subhadra and Sudarshan. It is believed that Ganjappa is a kaliyug game because of the gambling involved in the game which is not much praised of. The cards have an ornamental back and a front face demarcating as face cards or pip cards. The game is played as a trick-game like flash. Traditionally the cards are made of 4,8,10,12 rangi decks as well as personalized.

Present State of Ganjappa Art 

The art form is in a form where it seems to be lost which is due to various reasons. Reflecting on the changes that have come in craft, artists nowadays are more interested in business and plagiarism is more prevalent. Within the business perspective there has been a significant rise of middleman, who buy these cards at a cheaper rate and deprive the artists of proper rates. Sridhar Maharana, a ganjappa artist expressed his concerns about the middleman who does not allow them proper exposure to the market of buyers and sell them at higher prices.

Craftsmen switching to other art forms due to the hard work that is required to be put in behind the formation of colours and the ones going for natural colours which are in readymade form are often inferior in quality and do not last. Naturally the colours are made like white is made from the powdered conch shells, red from a stone called Hingulal and black from lamp soot. This process requires time and as well as perseverance which the artists nowadays lack in.

Craftsmanship of Ganjappa Cards

The cards take a period of 30 long days to make. They are crafted upon a canvas, made of old sarees, painted using natural colors and then finished with layers of gum. The decks were made from wood, palm leaf, leather, sandalwood, treated cloth and other material. It started for 96 cards and 8 suits Mughal Ganjappa and now is at the popular 8 to 12 suit Dashavatar based on the incarnations of Vishnu.

The artist Pramod das, believes that leaning a craft not only requires a skill but also knowledge. Another thing that keeps the artists away from the craft is the involvement of money. An artist doing pattachitra can earn nearly twenty thousand from one piece where a single set of Ganjappa sells for only seven thousand or sometimes even less depending on the type.

The originality and exclusivity of the art form is posing a great threat as many of the artists focus on contemporizing the subject matter with illustrations for attracting the modern audiences. For an artist to truly draw a character he must know the character in and out, the connections and the reason of it having that property. Ganjappa cards are less apt as compared to the card games of Western Culture. The ones that still illustrate traditional themes are working on a very superficial level. Very few artists bother to research or read about the subject matters they illustrate which often compromises on the details and depth of storytelling for their work.


Ganjappa, an ancient card game originating from Odisha, India, encompasses not only a game but also a rich tradition of intricate artistry. However, in recent times, the popularity of Ganjappa has waned, and its exquisite art form is gradually fading into obscurity. The unique cards, adorned with vibrant colors and detailed illustrations, once captivated players and art enthusiasts alike. Yet, as modern forms of entertainment take precedence, Ganjappa struggles to maintain its relevance in contemporary society.

In a world increasingly dominated by rapid technological advancements and changing social dynamics, the preservation of Ganjappa serves as a poignant reminder of the importance of honoring and safeguarding our cultural heritage. As guardians of this ancient tradition, we must strive to ensure that the legacy of Ganjappa endures, transcending time and leaving an indelible mark on the tapestry of human history.

Suggested Reads:
The Ganjifa Cards: Lost Art of the Mysore Royalty Getting Revived
Ganjifa – A Royal Deck of Artestic Cards (Sawantwadi)

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  1. Hope State Govt. patronises it with prizes. Them the game will have new learners and obviously will help the art form to survive.


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