Ganjifa cards are ancient Indian playing cards that feature hand painted pictures of 'Dashavatara' (ten incarnations of Vishnu), astrological planets and other mythology and folklore. The brightly painted cards are produced by applying layers of cloth together with tamarind seed paste, then coating the surface with chalk, before polishing it with a stone, to make a smooth base for painting with natural dyes. The back is stiffened with lacquer.

Raw Materials

Paper card sheet- Layers of imperial card paper bought in wholesale bulk from Mumbai or Bangalore.
Poster colors- Used for painting the cards
Powder colors- it is used mixed with water along with gum to create colors. 
Dink - Local edible gum used to mix the powder colors with water.
Resin- Used as a coat to add polish.
Wood- Pangara wood for packaging of the cards

Waste

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Tools & Technology

Compass- It is used to draw circular borders around individual cards. 
Coconut shells- It is used to hold and mix paints. These are sourced locally.
Brushes- It is made from goat hair. Nowadays, synthetic brushes are mostly used.

Rituals

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Process

A wooden circular stencil is used for drawing circles and cutting the ganjifa cards into uniform sized circular shapes. The stencil also has a central perforation that marks the center of the circle. This is where the compass is placed on the cards and is used to draw boundaries and borders. The artist then paints the background and borders with colors. For cards having background colors such as green, burnt sienna, black and red the border color is kept as yellow. Cards with yellow background color are painted with a green border. Only senior artists are allowed to paint figures on the cards and very fine brushes are used for it. The activity requires high levels of skill and expertise, as no rough sketches are made and outlines of the figures are directly painted using white paint. The outlines are filled with colors and details are added later. Decorative patterns are created on the borders using fine brushes. 

The 'Darchitri' style or the packs meant for the royals and the elite have borders which are very ornate. Once the cards are painted, detailed and dried, they are sent in bulk to the lacquering room. They are coated with lacquer which acts as a protective layer and prevents the chipping of color and dis-figuration of the cards.

The cards are then sorted and packaged into wooden boxes. These boxes are sent to the painting workshop where the backgrounds and the figures are painted. These boxes are also lacquered.

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