Make your own free website on
Ashta Dikapala Ganjifa.

Page 1 of 12     

The DIKAPALA - the Eight Guardians of the regions readily lend themselves to a Hindu adaptation of the eight-suited 96-card Moghul Ganjifa. The Ashta Dikapala is a very traditional kind of Ganjifa of which only two earlier known incomplete sets are said to exist. These are in the collection of:

1. The late Dewan Bahadur Radha Krishna Jalan, Qila House, Patna; a rectangular set from Mysore, South India, carved on Ivory, and

2. The Cary Collection in the Yale University Library; a set with round cards (51 mm diameter) - 90/96 cards made in the Deccani style belonging to Cuddapah circa 1810.

Around the year 1990, with the intention of getting a facsimile of Ashta Dikapala Ganjifa, I approached the curator of the Cary Collection, in New Haven, USA and requested them to send me colour pictures of the Dikapala Ganjifa in their collection. The curator very kindly sent me the colour pictures of the above 90 Ganjifa cards, as requested. I also obtained pictures of the colour painting of "WORSHIP OF EIGHT DIRECTIONS" belonging to HIS HOLINESS LAKSHMISEN BHATTARAKA at Digambara Jain Matha, Kolhapur, wherein are shown each of the eight Gods seated along with their respective spouses. From the above slides and some important details gathered about the Eight Deities from our Hindu Mythology, I requested my special traditional artist, the late Appana Mahapatro of Chikiti, Orissa to paint for me, initially two different sets of Dikapala Ganjifa:

1. one with weapons and attributes as suit symbols of the God cards, and

2. the other with animal vähanas (vehicles) of the Gods as their suit symbols. The result of the second set was a nice hand-painted Dikapala Ganjifa card set with the eight Deities seated along with their wives on their various vähanas on the eight Raja cards; the eight Dikapalas sitting on their various vehicles with their weapons in their hands on all the Pradhan cards and their respective animal vehicles on the eighty numeral cards, one animal for one numeral, seven animal vehicles for the seven number and so on. The backs are coloured brown and lacquered. The drawing and painting work involved in this Dikapala set is notable for the fact that there are a total of 456 animal vehicles painted in colour apart from the number of human figures of the Gods and their wives! These first two sets were sent to the Deutsches Spielkarten Museum, Leinfelden, Germany, which were very much appreciated. Recently, around 1995, another very beautiful Ashta Dikapala Ganjifa set of 96 cards, of 80 mm diameter, was painted by Smt Sudha Venkatesh, an award winning traditional artist from Bangalore. This set has animal vehicles as suit symbols in the Mysore style. (It is to be noted that the seventh Mysore CHAD mentioned in the "Shritattwanidhi" by Krishna Raj III Wodeyar is the Dikapala Chad - which has in all 160 cards in 10 suits of 16 cards each).

Page 2 of 12       

Details of Ashta Dikapalas in general in relation to the 8 suited Moghul Ganjifa.

The eight sectors or regions are protected by eight deities cumulatively known as Dikapalas (protectors of the regions) or Lokapalas (protectors of the world). Bhurloka is the realm in which human-kind lives, at the center of the cosmic egg. Jambudvipa is the central continent, surrounded concentrically by six other circular lands separated by seven seas of different liquids. The Holy Mountain Meru rises in the center of Jambudvipa, shaped like the calyx of the Lotus Flower, which is the Earth. Four lesser mountains support Meru from the four Cardinal directions; Mandara from the East, Gandhamandara from the South, Vipula from the West and Suparswa from the North. A goodly city sits on the top of Meru where Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva dwell, worshiped by mortals and the lesser Gods. On the sides of the Great Mountain in the four major and four intermediate directions lie the cities of the lesser Gods, most of whom are of Vedic origin. Here will be the most convenient place in which to put the following table, chiefly taken from Dubois' DESCRIPTION OF THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, 1817, giving a synoptical view of the Eight Vedic Gods, who, according to the later mythology, preside over the four Cardinal and four intermediate points of the compass.

Page 3 of 12 

Table of the REGENTS OF THE EIGHT QUARTERS of the World.

  Names of the Gods Points which they guard Their Vehicles Attributes Colour of Clothing
1 INDRA EAST White Elephant Vajra Red
2 AGNI SOUTH EAST Blue Ram or He Goat Spear Violet
3 YAMA SOUTH Blue Buffalo Danda (Club) Yellow/Orange
4 NIRRITI SOUTH WEST Armed Man Khadga Yellow
5 VARUNA WEST The Makara (Crocodile) Pasa White
6 VAYU NORTH WEST White Antelope Dwaja Blue
7 KUBERA NORTH White horse Sword Rose
8 ISHANA NORTH EAST White bull Trident White

EAST: On the eminent Mountain Meru, to the East lies the beautiful city of Sakara, named Amravati. Crowds of Apsaras and Gandharvas bent upon song, worship INDRA of a thousand eyes.

SOUTH EAST: Here lies a city of immeasurably splendid fire, named Tejovati. There dwells the God of Fire, AGNI, shining with his own flame. This city is the refuge of those who make burnt offerings.

SOUTH: Here lies the great city named Samyamani. Here dwells YAMA. It is inhabited by Siddhas and Gandharvas.

SOUTH WEST: Here lies the city of the great soul NIRRITI, named Raksovati. It is completely inhabited by Rakshasas who worship the God NIRRITI.

WEST: On the great western mountain site lies the grand city of VARUNA, named Sudhavati, filled with desirable riches. VARUNA, the Lord of Immortals, is served here by troops of Apsaras and Siddhas.

NORTH WEST: The great city of VAYU is here. This city is named Gandhavati. Here lives the Storm God who is attended by Gandharvas and Apsaras.

NORTH: Here lies the great city of KUBERA, the demon's God, also called the King of Yakshas - savage beings, who, the moment they were born, said, "Let us eat."

NORTH EAST: The great city of Sankara, called Yasovati, lies here, and is the most difficult for anyone to attain. Here is the magnificent palace of ISHANA, who is composed of the bodies of Rudra, Vishnu and the Lord of Ganas, who surround him.

Page 4 of 12 

In a verse from the Ramayana Epic, Shri Rama mentions the names of the principal four guardians of the world as follows:

May he, whose hands the thunder wield (INDRA),
Be in the East thy guard and shield,
May YAMA's love the South befriend,
And VARUNA's arm the West defend,
And let KUBERA, the Lord of gold,
The North with firm protection hold.

The details of each of the eight above mentioned deities with respect to clothing, vehicles (or bearers), weapons, etc., for the purpose of the Ashta DIKAPALA set of Ganjifa Cards in general are as follows:

Page 5 of 12 

INDRA: Chief of the DIKAPALAS and Lord of the Deities

During the Vedic period, INDRA was the first among the deities and the prime receiver of rituals. He was the Lord of Rain, Storm and Dew. As a form of the Sun, he has a golden-orange body. In pictures, he is often represented as a white man. The robust god leads the heavenly warriors in battle, armed with the thunderbolt (VAJRA) in his right hand, and riding on a white elephant named AIRAVAT who was produced at the time of churning of the ocean. The painter put in Indra's hands an elephant goad (ANKUSH) and two short swords (KHADGA). His wife is INDRANI.

Ace, Pradhan and Raja of Indra

Indra suit

Page 6 of 12 

AGNI: God of Fire

The south eastern part of the world is under the protection of AGNI - god of fire. Agni is worshiped all over India for three days from the full moon of the month of Magha, when danger from fire is considerable. He is represented as a ruddy handsome young man with golden hair, riding on a blue ram, or a blue he-goat. In his right hand, he holds a spear, while his left rests by his side. He wears a Brahmanical zenner or sacred cord and a necklace of the seeds of Eloevcarpus Ganitrus. The two flaming heads of Agni belong to the sacrificial fire and the domestic one. As a friend of the householder, the guardian of the house and its people, Agni plays the role of a witness present during all the ceremonies of marriage.

Ace, Pradhan and Raja of Agni

Agni suit

Page 7 of 12

YAMA: King of Law and God of Death

To the south lies the region of ancestors ruled by Yama. Yama was the first human being and the first deceased. After his own death, he undertook the function of judge and king of all those who had left the earth. He is held in great awe by Hindus and is represented as an enormous and dark person (of the gloomy shade of green or blue - the colour of destruction and disintegration). He has big, goggle eyes resembling wells, a thick moustache and sharp fangs protruding from his tightly drawn lips. He is clothed in yellow or red and seated on a blue or black buffalo, Mahisha. In his underground kingdom, Yama sits on the throne, wielding in his hand the sceptre (Danda) and a noose. Beside him stand his ministers, Anger and Fear and a retinue of Illnesses.

Ace, Pradhan and Raja of Yama

Yama suit

Page 8 of 12 

NIRRITI (Nairriti): Guardian deity of South East

The south-western direction is as inauspicious as the southern and its guardians' features are as frightening as Yama's. The name means both - enjoyment and calamity. Nirriti, one of the Rudras, a personification of Death, is a dark blue God with a moustache, beard and a Shaiva mark on the forehead, robed in deep yellow. He holds a yellow sceptre in his raised hand and is carried by an armed man. Worshiped by thieves and robbers, Nirriti is sometimes considered a demon or a king of demons. He causes calamities and degeneration. All vices and evils (gambling, loose women, dreams predicting unhappiness, poverty, illness and troubles of all kinds) belong to him.

Ace, Pradhan and Raja of Nirriti

Nirriti suit

Page 9 of 12 


Varuna looks after the western part of the world and was God of Water in the Puranic mythology. His image is rarely seen. His sign is the Fish and vehicle is the Crocodile (Makara). In paintings, he is represented as a white man seated on the sea monster - Makara and holding in one hand a Pasa symbolical of the sea which girdles the earth, and in the other an umbrella - impervious to water, formed of the Cobra's head. Varuna's crystal palace was built at the bottom of the ocean. In his palace of pure gold and jewels, he reclines under a canopy from which flow refreshing streams.

Ace, Pradhan and Raja of Varuna

Varuna suit

Page 10 of 12 

VAYU: God of Wind

The north western part of the earth is under the protection of Vayu, the Wind God and the embodiment of movement and freedom. He is strong and handsome, always young and pleasant, cool and aromatic and flies faster than any other deity. He is represented as a white man, clothed in blue and riding on a swift antelope. He bears an arrow in one hand and a flag in the other. His image is never seen, but he is often painted with his son Hanuman in his arms.

Ace, Pradhan and Raja of Vayu

Yayu suit

Page 11 of 12

KUBERA: Divine Protector of Wealth

Kubera is the regent of the north and of all the treasures of the earth. The northern mountains abound in precious stones and ores, which are guarded by the misshapen pot bellied and hunch backed Kubera. This divine hunchback has a golden body and a big belly full of food. He is represented as a white man with deformed legs, either seated on the self-moving aerial chariot called Pushpaka, which was given to him by Brahma, or is riding on a white horse. It is also said that the green horse of Kubera is a part of the symbolism that grows around wealth and its potency. His wife is Kauveri.

Ace, Pradhan and Raja of Kubera

Kubera suit

Page 12 of 12 

ISHANA: Guardian of the North East

Ishana, or the Ruler, is a name that once belonged to Shiva; and from Shiva, he received his name and attributes. Like Shiva, he has a fair complexion and a third eye in the center of the forehead. He holds an axe (Parashu) in his hands and there is an antelope standing beside him. Like Shiva, he also rides a white bull.

Ace, Pradhan and Raja of Ishana

Ishana suit

It is hoped that the introductory details of the Ashta Dikapala given along with the details of the Ashta Dikapala Ganjifa will make an interesting reading and help in the understanding of the DIKAPALAS or eight regents of the sectors of the world.

A similar article by Mr. Gordhandas was published in May, 1992, in Vol. XX No. 4 of "The Playing-Card", Journal of the

International Playing-Card Society.      (     )