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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.

Selected cards from a 36 card Navin Rama Chad


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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.

Selected cards from a 36 card Navin Rama Chad


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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".

Selected cards from a 72 card Krishnaraj Chad


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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.

Selected cards from a 72 card Krishnaraj Chad


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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.

Selected cards from a 72 card Krishnaraj Chad

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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.

Chamundeshwari Chad
A set of 320 cards. It consists of an assembly of the South Indian Pantheon. The cards are made of layers of paper, lacquered and painted by hand
Jagad Mohan Chad
Means "conqueror of the world" and is a name given to Vishnu the Preserver. This Chad set is the largest listed known. An almost complete set of round, beautifully painted cards as well as Chamundeshwar Chad in their wooden boxes are in the Leinfelden Museum, Germany.
Navin Dashavatara
Navin Dashavatara or the ten new incarnations is a set consisting of 240 cards in 12 suits of 18 cards each plus extra cards. Leinfelden has a Chad set but it is a mixed up lot. The discription of this Chad in the "Kautuk Nidhi" differs somewhat from the actual composition of the above set. This Chad is an interesting one as two of its suits of 12 cards feature only female divinities. The first shows Apsaras (Divine Mistresses in charming poses with birds and trees) and the second shows various poses of Devi or Durga, possibly the Seven Matrikas and five honours.
Nav Grah
Means "nine stars" which signifies the planets. A complete set is in the Leinfelden Museum, Germany. The Chad has 216 cards in a pack. The twelve suits are three supreme divine powers: Durga, Shiva and Vishnu plus the nine planets.
Panch Pandava Chad
The name signifies the five Pandavas, heroes of the epic Mahabharata. An incomplete set of this Chad is in the Leinfelden Museum, Germany and in the Jagad Mohan Palace in Mysore city in Karnataka, southern India.
Devi Dasavatari Chad
The ten incarnations of Devi with 10 suits of 18 cards each. No specimen known.
Dikpala Chad
The name designates the guardians of the eight regions of the world or compass. This Chad is supposed to have ten suits of sixteen cards each or 160 in all. There are two Dikpala sets from the Deccan but they may not necessarily be from Mysore. A modern 8 suited 96 card - round Ashta-Dikapala Ganjifa - painted by a traditional artist from Bangalore around 1995 is in the author's collection. It bears testimony of superb workmanship by a modern artist.
Manohar Chad
Captivator of the mind (Krishna). No traces found.
Sarva Mangala Chad
Bringer of universal bliss (Durga). No traces found.
Nav Ratna Chad
The nine jewels. No traces found.
Sadye Jyatadi Chad
The meaning of this has not been understood.
Krishnaraj Chad
Named after the royal inventor. This handy game of 72 cards in four suits must have enjoyed great popularity in and outside the palace. It was a game of the quartet type. This Chad is considered the most beautiful of all the Mysore Chads. Existance of one complete set and three incomplete sets and stray cards of five further packs are known. These are in various shapes and sizes indicating manufacture at different centres. The Krishnaraj Chad in the author's collection is by a modern Bangalore artist.
Navin Chad
This is an Indian adaptation of the four suited piquet pack with numerals from 6 to 10 and a king, queen, knave and ace. This must have been popular among certain classes of South Indians who were at the time strongly influenced by the French. The author has a beautifully executed set made by a Bangalore artist.

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