Thursday, 17 January 2013

The King who loved a game of cards

He not only was the longest reigning monarch of  his dynasty, but he himself was a writer and poet in Kannada and Sanskrit. He was also directly responsible for the revival of Yakshagana and several other forms of art.
A patron of art, he was called the Kannada Bhoja Raja. He also loved cards and he contributed immensely to the Ganjifa form of playing cards, which became a rage of the State he ruled.
This King is none other than Krishna Raja Wodeyar, the third, also called as Mummadi Krishna Raja Wodeyar, the first Ruler of Mysore after the death of Tipu Sultan in Srirangapatna on May 4, 1799.
During his period, all forms of art and literature flourished and the King himself was a scholar of Sanskrit and Kannada. He is the author of 50 books.
One of the everlasting contribution of this King was to the Ganjifa form of  paining. He also wrote a book on playing cards called Sritattwanidhi  or “The Illustrious Treasure of Realities”.
The Ganjifa is a unique style of painting peculiar to Mysore. It is very similar to the miniature painting of other schools but here it is  generally circular and only sometimes rectangular in shape.
These paintings were hand drawn on playing cards that were widely used during the period of Krishnaraja Wodeyar III (1799 to 1868).
Such playing cards was known as Chadd (God’s play). The cards made for the Mysore royals were generally inlaid with precious stones and were made of ivory, mother-of-pearl and wafers of lac. The cards had miniature paintings related to Hindu mythology, like Dashavathara (10 incarnations of Vishnu) and of other Gods and Goddesses.
The intricate hand work involved and the painstaking detail has made Ganjifa known more for the art work than the game itself. The King became one of the finest players Ganjifa. He personally invented several variations of the card games. His painted cards came to be known as Mysore Chada Ganjifa. Chada means leaf or a card in Kannada.
There are 13 chadas in the Mysore school and they are considered some of the best form of Ganjifa cards in India. There is even a game dedicated to Goddess Chamundeswhari, comprising of  320 cards. A complete set of this game is preserved in the Leinfelden Museum in Germany.
The game invented by the king was called Krishnaraja Chada. The painted cards in this game show Krishna, Shiva, Brahma and Indra with their wives-Radha, Parvathi, Saraswathi and Sachi Devi respectively.
The first written reference to Ganjifa is by the Mughal Emperor Babur. His grandson, Akbar, too loved the game of cards and invented a set of games called the Mughal Ganjifa. The details of this game can be found in Ain-I-Akbari of  Abul Fazl.
Playing cards is nothing new in India. It has been the favourite pastime of Indian royalty since ancient times. During Vedic age, it was known as Kridapatra. Later, it came to be known as Ganjifa.
The Mysore King was really a sport, Not only did he popularoise Ganjifa but he also invented newer games. His fame has spread so far and wide that the Smithsonian Institute and Museum has organised special exhibitions featuring his games.

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