Playing Cards of Mysore.
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The standard playing cards of India fall under two categories: Moghul Ganjifa (96 card set) and Dashavatara Ganjifa (120 card set). They were made for kings, noblemen and for the common people from a great variety of materials such as ivory, tortoise shell, mother-of-pearl, silver, leather, wood, palm leaf, starched cotton fabric, paper, sandalwood etc. Ganjifa cards are still being made in several centres for collectors and for play, in Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Bishnupur (West Bengal), and Sawantwadi (Maharashtra). These are handmade, hand painted and lacquered.
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There is also an entirely different group of playing cards and card games which originated in Mysore in southern India during the first part of the nineteenth century called Chad. The cards are distinct by their complicated structure using numerous suits, up to six court cards and a number of loose cards comparable to Tarot cards and jokers in European games. Figures and suit signs completely fill the card face.
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Thirteen different kinds of Chad are described in a book, Shritattwanidhi compiled under the patronage of Krishnaraj III Wodeyar, the third Raja of Mysore who lived from 1794 to 1868. The book is written in the Kannada language. The title of the book means "Noble Treasury of Philosophy" and the chapter on cards, Kautuk Nidhi, can be translated as the "Treasure Book of Sports and Pastimes".
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After the defeat of Tipu Sultan by the British in 1729, the territory of Mysore was restored to the old ruling family of the Wodeyars. Krishnaraj was five years old when he was installed as ruler under the regency of a Brahmin Minister. Later his alleged misrule resulted in an uprising in 1830 and led to the "resumption" of the administration by the British. Thirteen years after Krishnaraj's death it was returned to an adopted heir, Cham Rajendra, in 1881.
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Krishnaraj was a man given to religious and astrological speculation. He tried every device and game of fortune, known or invented, to calculate his chances of regaining his kingdom. In the great audience hall of the Jag Mohan Palace of Mysore, the walls are covered with paintings of astrological charts and tables and endless series of board, dice and card games. The court artists produced beautifully designed playing cards for him including the numerous Chad cards for the games he must have invented. Some of his card games required packs of 320 or 360 cards populated by the South Indian Pantheon. The Chad games were probably played mainly inside the palace.
The structure of Chad cards is derived from the normal Ganjifa with its suits consisting of court cards and numeral cards. These games are mainly built on religious or astrological themes.
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Most Chads have six court cards. The number of suits varies from four to eighteen. A suit has nine to eighteen cards of which, with the exception cards number 12 and 13, the rest are numerics of the twelve signs of the zodiac and six court cards. Some packs have Chakravartis (rulers of the world, Gods or Goddesses) distinguished in design and execution from the rest of the pack and also a joker or tribute cards featuring birds and animals - peacocks, parrots and swans. There is no evidence that these Mysore Chads were ever printed by the lithographic process like other cards in India.
The largest collection of Chad sets lies it the Deutsche Spielkarten Museum in Leinfelden, Germany. A beautifully painted Chamundeshwari set in the collection of Miss Sylvia Mann, England, was auctioned after her death in 1995. Most of the rest of these splendid sets of playing cards have been dispersed by antique dealers.
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List of the Thirteen Chads of Mysore.
Some Mysore Chads may be found in the following Collections:
Carved ivory playing card set in the collection of Devan Bahadur, Radhakrishna Jalan at Patna.
Cary Collection, Yale University Library, New Haven CT, USA