Discovery of the declining folk art of Odisha’s Ganjappa

“Just as knowledge never ends, blackness never ends. Money will run out but your mind will not run out, you will learn whatever you feel like learning.”– Words of artist Pramod Das, knowledgeable in Ganjappa art. ,Ganjifa’It is an art form that is believed to have been introduced by the Mughals.‘Baburnama’ There is a card game which was quite popular earlier. In Odisha this art is known as ‘Ganjappa’, a name derived from its popularity in the Ganjam districts. The game is slowly disappearing as players are found very rarely. Even in Raghurajpur there are very few people who know how to make and play these cards.

Ganjappa, an ancient card game

Jaidev Maharana, 95, artist and one of the few survivors from Raghurajpur who knows how to play the game. This game was a kind of intoxicant like cannabis. I have heard stories about this game that it can sometimes go on for days and people get so busy that they even leave their work or forget to eat and drink.

The game is played by 4 players representing the four main pillars of Oriya culture Jagannath, Bala Bhadra, Subhadra And Sudarshan, It is believed that Ganjappa is a Kaliyugi game as gambling is not much appreciated in this game. The cards have a decorated back and a front face demarcated as a face card or pip card. The game is played as a trick-game like Flash. Traditionally cards are made in 4,8,10,12 colored decks as well as personalized ones.

Current status of Ganjappa art

Due to various reasons the art form seems to be disappearing. Considering the changes in the craft, artists nowadays are more interested in business and plagiarism is more prevalent. From a business perspective, there has been a significant increase in the number of middlemen who buy these cards at cheaper rates and deprive artists of fair rates. Ganjappa artist Sridhar Maharana expressed his concern about the middleman who does not allow them proper exposure in the buyers’ market and sells them at high prices.

Due to the hard work that goes behind the creation of colors, craftsmen are turning to other art forms and choosing natural colors, which are in ready-made form, which are often inferior in quality and do not last. Colors are made naturally like white color is made from conch shell powder, red color is made from a stone called Hingulal And black with lamp soot. This process requires time as well as perseverance which artists lack nowadays.

Ganjappa card craftsmanship

It takes a long time of 30 days to make the card. These are prepared on canvas, made from old sarees, painted using natural colors and then finished with layers of glue. The decks were made from wood, palm leaves, leather, sandalwood, treated cloth and other materials. It started with Mughal Ganjappa with 96 cards and 8 suits and now it is on to the popular 8 to 12 suits dashavatar Based on the incarnations of Vishnu.

Artist Pramod Das believes that learning any art requires not only skill but also knowledge. Another thing that keeps artists away from the craft is the involvement of money. An artist making Pattachitra can earn around twenty thousand from a piece, while a set of Ganjappa sells for only seven thousand or sometimes even less, depending on the type.

The originality and uniqueness of the art form is posing a major threat as many artists focus on contemporizing the subject matter with paintings to attract modern audiences. For an artist to truly portray a character he must know the ins and outs of the character, the connections and the reason for that property. Ganjappa cards are less appropriate than card games of Western culture. Those who still paint traditional subjects are working at a very superficial level. Very few artists bother to research or read about the subjects they depict, which often compromises the detail and depth of storytelling in their work.


Ganjappa, an ancient card game originating from Odisha, India, is not only a game but also a rich tradition of intricate artistry. However, in recent times, the popularity of Ganjappa has declined, and its exquisite art is gradually slipping into oblivion. Unique cards adorned with vibrant colors and detailed illustrations once mesmerized players and art lovers alike. Nevertheless, as modern forms of entertainment are gaining preference, Ganjappa is struggling to maintain his relevance in contemporary society.

In a world dominated by rapid technological advancements and changing social dynamics, the preservation of Ganjappa is a poignant reminder of the importance of respecting and protecting our cultural heritage. As custodians of this ancient tradition, we must strive to ensure that Ganjappa’s legacy endures, transcends time and leaves an indelible mark on the tapestry of human history.

Suggested Books:
The Ganjifa Cards: The lost art of Mysore royalty is being revived
Ganjifa – a royal deck of artistic cards (Savantwadi)

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