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 Navagraha The Nine Planets

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An ancient mystical maxim says that men and the universe are related: "Whatever is here (in man) is there (in the universe); and whatever is there is here" (Katha Upanishad). This relationship is pictorially depicted by showing the cosmos in the form of the divine Lord Vishnu. Another visual form of the entire universal order is that of Shishumara, half crocodile, half man. He is shaped like a crocodile from waist down because he symbolizes time as the devourer. The crocodile being an ambitious animal also represents the dual nature of man - physical and psychical. The upper human half of Shishumara's body resembles Lord Vishnu with four arms symbolizing the third possibility latent in man - that of transcendence into the divine. To Shishumara's tail is attached the Pole star, Dhruva. "As the Pole star revolves, it causes the sun, moon and planets to turn around also. The lunar asterisms follow this circular path because all celestial luminaries are bound to the Pole star by aerial cords" (Vishnu Purana).

Raja, Vazier and Seven of the Sun Suit.
From a hand painted 108 card Navagraha Ganjifa.


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All celestial events have their parallel in man. This concept is visually represented as the planetary man, Graha Purusha, the zodiacal man, Rashi Purusha and the asterisms man, Nakshatra Purusha.

In the image of planetary man Mars rules the forehead, Venus the face, Mercury the shoulders, the Moon the chest, the Sun the abdomen, Jupiter the genitals, Saturn the thighs, Rahu the shins and ankles and Ketu the feet.

The planets known to Indian astrology are the Sun, Ravi or Surya; the Moon, Chandra; Mars, Mangala; Mercury, Budha; Jupiter, Guru ar Brihaspati; Venus, Sukra and Saturn, Shani. To this list are added the Dragon's Head, Rahu and the Dragon's Tail Ketu.

Surya, the brightest and largest luminary was worshipped all over ancient India. He was represented in innumerable forms, the earliest of which were symbolic rather than anthropomorphic. On early coins the Sun is variously portrayed as a wheel, a golden disc or a fully opened lotus. Gradually Surya acquired a human form.

The Sun is represented as a handsome man "with a high nose, forehead and cheeks, well formed with slightly fleshy thighs and chest... He must hold a lotus flower by its stalk in each hand" (Brihat Samhita).

In most common icons of the Sun, he is shown riding a one wheeled chariot drawn by either four or seven horses. His charioteer, Arjuna, sits in front of him shading the earth from the Sun's full fury. Two female companions, Pratyusha (Twilight) and Usha (Dawn), are shown shooting arrows to dispel the darkness of the night.

The Moon shines with borrowed light from the Sun. It also appears smaller and less awesome. Therefore, sculpted and painted representations of the Moon usually resemble those of the Sun.

"The Moon is a handsome, fair youth with four hands each holding a lotus bud. On his right stands his wife, Kanti (Luster). On his left is his beloved Shabha (Elegance). He rides a silver chariot drawn by 10 horses which are steered by his charioteer, Ambara (Sky)" (Vishnudharmottara Purana).


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In many paintings that take their iconography from popular folk sources rather than Sanskrit texts, the Moon is frequently shown riding a deer or a chariot pulled by a deer. In the traditional order the Sun and Moon are follewed by Mars, the ruling spirit of which is always associated with violence and war. Therefore, Mars is frequently identified with Kumara Kartikeya, the adolescent God of war and the Commander of God's armies.

As a deity, Mars is represented as a man with red skin, riding a buffalo or a goat. He has two or four hands which hold the weapons of war. In some icons he makes the gesture of giving Vara Mudra with one hand to stress that if astrologically well placed, Mars can influence family harmony.

Mercury is the planet of intellect and wisdom. His images generally show him dressed as a king riding a lion or the mythical beast, Yali, which has a lion's body and an elephant's trunk.

Moon, Mars and Mercury.
From a hand painted 108 card Navagraha Ganjifa.


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Jupiter is a scholar, High Priest of the Gods. He is shown as a distinguished looking bearded man holding a book, a pen, a rosary and a pot filled with ambrosia. He rides either an elephant or a goose or he sits in a golden chariot.

Venus is the God of Desire and the High Priest of the Asuras (Anti-Gods). He rides a silver chariot or a horse. He holds a variety of symbolic objects: a rosary for spirituality, a vase for plenty, a spear for power and a noose for discipline.

Saturn is the son of Surya (Sun) by his second wife, Chaya (Shadow). Consequently Saturn is depicted as a black skinned man riding a chariot drawn by horses, eagles or crows, depending on the local traditions. In his hands he holds a bow and an arrow.

Jupiter, Venus and Saturn.
From a hand painted 108 card Navagraha Ganjifa.


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Rahu is represented as a fierce head rising in a chariot drawn by a lion. Ketu is the severed body of Rahu and is shown as a headless torso with two hands, one holding a sword and the other a lamp. Frequently, Ketu has a long fishlike tail to symbolize has association with comets and meteors.

Besides anthropomorphic forms, the planets have symbolic yantric forms as well. According to one tradition, the Sun is a round disc, the Moon a silver crescent, Mars a red triangle, Mercury a green arrow, Jupiter a golden rectangle, Venus a silver pentagon, Saturn a black arrow, Rahu a winnowing fan and Ketu a flag.

The idea behind making images and yantras of planets and constellations was to summon the essence of the original and attract their favourable influence. Astrologers in India believe the planets influence human destiny, that each have a separate path and the power of individual action, karma. Therefore, the many splendid icons, paintings and yantras of astral deities are not works of art for arts sake. These are primarily charms and diagrams of magical and religious concepts.

One Mr. Shankar Sakharam Hendre, a staunch worshipper of "Nava Graha" or "Nine Planets" invented a nine suit by twelve card Ganjifa Card game with the nine planets presiding over the suits at the beginning of the 20th century.

The aim of inventing this game of Navagraha Ganjifa was to play with it and to keep the names of the planets in memory. It was the inventor's firm belief that those who would worship by means of this game of Navagraha Ganjifa with all of their attention would find that God would remove all their obstacles and problems and that all of their desires would be fulfilled.


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The main and basic motive behind all this work about Navagraha Ganjifa cards and the game was that a temple dedicated to the nine planets was to be built in the city of Bombay. Though there were numerous temples of other Gods in Bombay in the early 20th century there was not a single temple dedicated to the nine planets. No one had taken up the work of building a Navagraha temple seriously till then. It was Mr. Hendre's hope and faith that his effort would be blessed with fulfillment by the grace of the Nine Planets. Hence, he presented this project of the Navagraha Ganjifa before the people with great personal expense to himself. He had great hopes that bearing the above truth in mind, everyone would heed his request. He requested people and their friends to oblige and to send in help according to their capacities as early as possible. He did not know how much finance was required for this project as it was difficult to gauge at that time. A lot of money was required to get a good place in Bombay and this was very difficult. Money was also required for the establishment of the images and statues. Having considered all these points, he requested and hoped that worshippers would help this religious cause.

Selected cards from a hand painted 108 card Navagraha Ganjifa.


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He had the original set of 108 Navagraha Cards printed in Pune around 1911. These cards, along with a 31 page booklet of rules, are now in the Raja Dinkar Kelkar Museum in Pune. It is not known whether any other sets of these original cards exist. The venture to raise money for the construction of a Navagraha temple in Bombay proved unsuccessful.

On seeing first a copy of some of the cards printed on the pages of an earlier MARG magazine from Bombay and then seeing the original Navagraha Ganjifa cards in Dr. Kelkar's Museum in Pune, I thought of ordering a facsimile of this set hand painted by Indian artists in the original tradition. My first few sets were painted by artists from Sawantwadi, Maharashtra.

It will be noticed that not all, but most of the description pertaining to the Nine Planet Gods, their dress, colour, vehicles, weapons etc. as found in various Puranas and other early manuscripts detailed above will be seen on the Raja and Pradhan or Mantri cards of this Navagraha Ganjifa set.

The size of these cards is between 3" and 3.2" in diameter. The back is painted orange and lacquered. The painting is done on medium thick card stock and each planet or Graha God and its suit is painted on the following background colour.

Table of the planets and their signs and colours.

  Planet Sign colour
1 Surya Sun Yellow
2 Chandra Moon Green
3 Mangal Mars Red
4 Budha Mercury Orange
5 Guru Jupiter Brownish red
6 Shukra Venus Ivory, creamish white
7 Shani Saturn Blue
8 Rahu Dragon's Head Purple
9 Ketu Dragon's Tail Violet


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At a later date, a Navagraha Ganjifa set was also painted by artists from Chikiti and Parlakhemundi, Orissa. Shri Appana Mahapatro of Chikiti has painted a special Navagraha set with the three additional planets Pluto, Neptune and Uranus to make a beautiful 12 suit 144 card Ganjifa.

The rules to play the 108 card Navagraha Ganjifa are similar to the Dashavatara and Moghul Ganjifa but are rather more complicated. The Aftab or player who leads the play is determined as follows.

In the Navagraha Ganjifa, the planets rule the days of the week. Hence the Rajas (Kings) of the various suits are the Aftab on their respective days, while the Rajas of Rahu (ascending node) and Ketu (descending node) lead on the full moon day and new moon night respectively.

There are still people who play, though rarely, Dashavatara and Moghul Ganjifa games in Orissa, Maharashtra and perhaps in Bishnupur and Naqsh. Gambling games are played in Orissa and north India (Delhi side). I have my doubts if anyone knows and has played the game with the Navagraha Ganjifa although the game is worth an attempt to play.