• A Mode(rni)st Beginning:

Ganjifa art is a game whose ‘rules’ are fast fading and is an art form whose ‘play’ is yet to begin. Art before Authorship/Signature and Modernism was not so sectionalized, between the aesthetic and the mundane functions inherent within. For instance, the manuscript illustrations, even miniatures, temple architecture etc. arguably, are now considered as artistic forms, but not necessarily accepted as ‘Art’, owing to the existing nature and definitions of art. Ganjifa artistic practice has been one such evolving pre-modern representational visual language, which has been subject to such colonization of the past by the present. Next to the manuscript illustrations, hieroglyphic scripts and calligraphy, Ganjifa calls for a claim for autonomy—to facilitate in order to make them speak on their own terms. It is not a mere coincidence to recall Gayatri Spivak’s argument in her phrase roughly meaning “The Subaltern has already spoken”.   

The Ganjifa Workshop and Camp visualized and conducted by/at Karnataka Chitrakala Parishath, both held in the academic year 2018-19, gained relevance due to the way it intended this practice to address representation in the backdrop of Indian nationalist context. The camp and the workshop, that took place at a difference of a few months in 2018-19, was an apology to the strained relation that representation had with the notion of the ‘past’. One important intention of the camp was to appropriate Ganjifa art, to be in par with the leather puppetry and Mysore traditional painting in its discursive ability, in the cultural addressal specific to Parishath. 

While the first camp invited the actual practitioners of Ganjifa from the various places of its origin, the Ganjifa community was exposed to the strict urban artistic and aesthetic reception. Ganjifa workshop intended to bring in a cultural discourse between the urban and the un-urban and towards this, the appearance of the final products complemented the work process of it, demonstrated by the actual practitioners, live. Certain interventions proved as shocking vertical invaders (art historian John Berger’s terminology) to the actual-makers: often, the connoisseurs, critics, art lovers and the related personalities intervened half way through, to purchase the cards at various stages of the making. What the actual-practitioners presumed as a process was interrupted and re-defined as an end product in itself. The notion of the ‘process’ and the ‘product’ were pitched against each other, implying that a look into the past representational politics, through Ganjifa, proves the making and made as the mutually similar, tangentially endorsing the art teaching at the Parishath: finding endorsement in the very magic of making. 

The chief intention of the Parishath Ganjifa camp was to come to terms with the visual language of this specific art form, possibly as it is, as it is understood, as it is available today along with its inherent ability to gel with the complementary artistic forms; and the sophistication that the overall process leads to, its interactive ability with the contemporary language of art, mainly with modernist and traditional artists who directly practice this form alongside the others. There were a few modern art students who practiced this form as well.  

The second part of appropriating Ganjifa art by the Parishath was an attempt to invest in the dichotomy between various visual factors, that have sustained the onslaught of time, despite being categorically termed as ‘dying art form’. The actual-practitioners of Ganjifa art in and around Karnataka as well as from important centers of India (Sawanthwadi Ganjifa and the like), along with contemporary artistic practitioners, even if remotely connected to Ganjifa art, were invited to create art as well as a dialogue around it, in the background of the renewed enthusiasm in surveying the impact of Ganjifa art. The periodic collection of Ganjifa cards by Parishath was in the backdrop of this attempt. It now required a curatorial algorithm, a kind of self-introspection, in the form of these two workshops. Two artistic and critical co-ordinators, Suresh Jayaram and Surekha were invited to interact and intervene into the ongoing procedures of the workshop. These two were supposed to take survey/note of how Ganjifa can be visualized, today, as in the background of its known branding as ‘dying art form’. The experience of being active as contemporary curators and artists, alongside possessing first-hand experiences in the white-cube/black-box/alternative practices made these two as the qualifiers for such a sojourn into the past. Hence the workshop was not only to comprehend with the what, how and why inherent in the making of Ganjifa art form but also to practically witness this through the eyes of two contemporary practitioners of art-definers. Never before was a traditional/folksy art form subject to such curatorial specification of current artistic practices, in the history of the camps/workshops held at the Parishath.

Students from various art schools of Karnataka, mostly from the relatively rural areas of the State, were invited to witness, adopt and create, in the workshop. This was the pre-requirement of the workshop in order to further subject the practice of a past artform in the current, contemporary interventionist pedagogic definitions and expectations of artistic curation and public interactivity. The participants in the camp were divided–to unify in a discourse—between the actual practitioners, the contemporary definers of art and those who were receiving artistic education, wherein, arguably, Ganjifa was not part of their compulsive pedagogy.   

There are few socio-political representations that balanced artistry as well as functional elements. To give a drastic comparison, Duchamp’s Urinal and Ganjifa art form as a whole share a common element: both their functions are artistically arrested. The experiential anxiety between the ‘functional’ and ‘artistic’ dimensions of objects has been illustrated like never before between the two. The Modernists’ romance with such oriental forms of expression, perhaps, is because of the latter’s ability to yield to the 20th century practice of image as a free floating agent, to be attached with the futuristic arrival of meanings, methods and intervention of representational process. A urinal or a Ganjifa card mutually inculcates the functional and aesthetic aspects of a given object, even when one of them is silenced for a while. In fact Ganjifa and/or its characteristics that has spilled over to the neighboring artistic representations, in this sense, made the European Modernists function around nostalgia in the pre-Raphaelite mode of European desire for  Oriental-like multifacetedness, inherent between the creation and repetition of one and the same object. In other words, an oriental art object, created and completed, began the process of being consumed as raw material for modernity. 

The workshop at Ganjifa, with so many stake-holders: students, Ganjifa artists who believed in a classical phase of Ganjifa, modernist and contemporary professional artists who were invited to explore Ganjifa and curator-co-coordinators who were supposed to build bridges in between through interactions, was a landmine of differences as well as similarities. The historicity of Ganjifa, its regional variations and such varieties together became a school of representation called ‘Ganjifa art’ (depending on which side of the theoretic card you are playing) and this was the central theme around which the visual representational exercises revolved in the workshop. 

  • Ganjifa: Contemporary Intervention:

The works created were an attempt to note how Ganjifa disproved a certain prejudice about its appearance: unlike the art forms of leather puppetry and Mysuru traditional painting, Ganjifa, in the workshop, altogether had an unusual compositional commonality inherent within. It was presumed to be the art of circular formats. The circular format, the trade mark of Ganjifa art in the populist imagination, was also the same visuality that acted as the GI (geographic indicator) for Ganjifa art, to such an extent that most of the participants exaggerated the scale yet retained the shape. It is the representation of humans, usage of the palette and the ‘formal appearance’ that was the easiest premise upon which Ganjifa could be contemporized—was the essence of the workshop’s result.    

The artworks created in the workshop, temporarily displayed on the last day, revealed an interventionist ability to inherit the ‘stylistic fluidity’ evident within Ganjifa art form. There is a simple litmus test to my claim, an achievement of this camp/workshop: one can’t remember the appearance of Ganjifa cards since it doesn’t fit into one known, codified style of visualization; and possess mutually complementary as well as contradictory styles, to cater to the ambiguity of remembrance or semblance. Ganjifa’s ability to appropriate vision by presenting multiple visual possibilities about itself was the creative hint that was effectively allowed to occur at the camp. Suresh Jayaram and Surekha initiated a dialogue around the general understanding of this art form through their formal talk/presentation which they delivered, to empower student-participants’ attention, at the beginning of the workshop. The art faculty of the College of Fine Arts as well as the invited artists, along with the curators/resource people of this camp, was all from the contemporary camp. They were from the outside art community of the closely guarded Ganjifa world, yet were the qualifiers who endorsed the current day fate of Ganjifa.

Parishath’s intention was to define, plan and execute a representational-ambience for the survival of the till now presumed ‘dying art form’ called Ganjifa. However, Ganjifa was not a dying form before its historical addressal, or till when its historicity was pointed out to be so (like, for instance, patriarchy was not bracketed before feminism took over as a prime theoretic intervention). However, there are different methodologies through which different dying art forms are pointed out to be so. For instance, Mysore traditional painting is visible but exists as visible colour pattern of decorative mode. Ganjifa, owing to its permanent ambiguity in scale, shape and a cover-image of a set of performative rules for playing, is remembered as an art of circular shape, not a pattern. Sudha Venkatesh, Vinutha and their team operated on a more ‘formal’ ground in the workshop, as if they were contesting in a jugal-bandhi with the modernists amidst the workshop artists. The relation between the gender and Ganjifa was another remarkable aspect that was revealed in the camp. Ganjifa, arguably was not a patriarchal tradition like the Mysore traditional painting nor iconographic; and this explains the reason behind the presence of women artists in more numbers. 

  • Scholarly interventions:

In an overview, the conscious and conscientious adaptation of Ganjifa art form in Indian art has its head in the premodern fervor for independence movement and its tail still wags in the postmodernist curatorial interventions. The uniqueness of Ganjifa’s presence in 20th century Indian art lies in its impeccable absence. It is not there as a form, not as a function, but is there as an element ever ready for theoretic interventions. The critical art historical texts immediately on either side of the decades of Indian independence movement were formalist in nature. This is where Ganjifa art, like an abstraction, makes its mark without a presence and has a presence without leaving a mark. The interpretational-genealogy from wherein Ganjifa paintings become ‘art’, by and large, has a marginal place for it, amongst the critics. The relevance of the workshop by the Parishath should be considered in this background, because the time-tested imagination of the past was played differently in this workshop. It seems, in certain Ganjifa card plays, the players find an excuse to scold the Gods of their opponents. The smartness of the game is to win over God’s leela itself, by becoming a part of the very leela.

The influence of ‘Ganjifa art form’ upon the mainstream art goes beyond its ‘forms’. Like many other Indian traditions of art making, this form was pictorially adopted, as a device of anti-colonial representational apparatus. The nationalist project to propose the idea of Indian art, in a dialogue with what the West thought was ‘Indian art’, had a lot to do with the adaptation of Ganjifa art form into the modernist and contemporary artistic adaptation.   

The elements of Ganjifa art, as and when they are adopted by modern and contemporary artists, were more in the form of the essence and not formal. This, by default, also implies that the modern (onwards) art which refers to Ganjifa art is in itself served incomplete, because it felt compulsive to adopt from outside its own self. Ironically, the essence of each Ganjifa card also lies in its incompleteness as well. Hence, Ganjifa as a pictorial representational device, in essence, yielded only to that which behaved like it, be it modernist adaptation process or otherwise.

In the workshop, there were works that by and large expressed belief in the circular format, by sticking close to that. Often the size was enhanced (in the works of Krishnamurthy). The extreme liberty was taken up by artists like Adwithi Emmi who created a set of shadow-puppet-like images, initiating a dialogue between puppetry and Ganjifa. Some even ventured into square formats which were more of a deviation from being circular rather than becoming squares. 

The students from varying and various art schools created images, based on their general understanding as well as the orientation-dialogue that the two curators constantly had with them throughout the workshop. The resultant works had the following nuances and were showcased for a day in the very premise wherein they were created: The students’ works, owing to the background of the modernist education they have been receiving, withheld a gamut of linguistic exchanges: the images almost seem to emerge without a shape and took various abstract shapes without becoming fully fledged imagery. The fact that the essence of Ganjifa as an art form, through this workshop, comforted the students to do so is in itself testimony to the liberal visual-linguistic-structure inherent in the Ganjifa practice. The students’ images touched contemporary themes, mutually deviant styles, colour schemes and figurative interaction—all within the presumed standard format of Ganjifa. As Derrida would put forth, this was a discursive dialogue between the prescribed shape and the fluid-language that makes Ganjifa, what it is. Historically, each Ganjifa card in a set, except the first and the last one, like in a comic strip, is a continuation of the previous and the successive strips, in both form and essence. Hence each of them is an incomplete fragment, while seeming to be fully fledged image. The first and the last card, indicate a forward and a backward direction in essence, respectively. The students’ works, mostly single and independent, arrested and erased this narrative continuity and made each piece as a resistant entity of the chain of fragmentary images in succession. This theoretic brake in the narrative continuity was an attempt to convert a graphic novel into an easel painting, so to say.

 The specific modern art pieces, series or body of works that relied on this and similar traditions of playing cards, in this camp or in those presumed body of works based on Ganjifa cards, tend to have what we call as the characteristic of graphic narration in it. Ganjifa stands out from other surrounding art form of the ‘contemporized past’ in its ability to serve each of its pieces as a continuation and hence a fragment of its surrounding piecesSequence contests appearance herein. The works of K.G. Subramanyan’s terracotta about Gandhi (New Delhi), the glass etchings of Laxma Goud, Madhvi Parekh’s works, for instance, contain this specific sense of adoptive narratives. This comparison of semblance is beyond similarity of mere appearances

  • Modernist Adaptation, Absence and Abstration:

The tradition of representational adaptation from the past, a colonial project to diffuse the Orientalists’ overwhelming alienating presence and influence through art in India, was by and large, ironically, an integral part of the nationalistic project. The history of India’s national anthem is an analogy to this. It was not resolved with the political independence, but it assigned with an alternative responsibility. The possible hierarchy and hegemony inherent in between artistic genres outside the market forces, Ganjifa included, were treated as goodies for bringing sensibilities into modernity and then to the contemporary. In the duly process, however, Ganjifa did not gain that priority that the Mughal and Rajasthani miniatures or traditional art forms were accoladed, amongst the modernist. In this sense Ganjifa was not abandoned but camouflaged as an influence when it became inevitable as an influence in the genres of 20th century Indian art. The works in the camp evokes such and other historic aspects, through the dialogue between the faculty, students and professional practitioners. The fact that the personalized expressions of these art practitioners found solace in the fluid styleless-style of Ganjifa was the means and the goal that was evident in the outcome of this camp. Raza’s circular Bindi still might not serve as a reminder of Ganjifa’s essence—its circular format. Unlike Mysore and Tanjore traditional paintings, Ganjifa’s influence on contemporary art surpasses the visual, at least that is wherein lies its potential—an influence beyond visuality. Initially Ganjifa cards were created mostly to be functional, to be played. Now it is the time wherein, as it happened in this workshop, they might not have a functional purpose. It’s a renewed game played by the effort to contemporize Ganjifa. It implies that there is a populist intent and shape for it, beyond its actuality.

Ganjifa art, the casual term for an art form that evolved over seven hundred years, cannot be etymologically or essentially ‘framed’ or pinned as a visual-specification, like say, a modernist work or even a Mysore or Tanjore traditional painting, Worli or Madhubani art form. All of them lack the ability to be visible beyond stylistic compromise while Ganjifa evokes the magic of no memory because it doesn’t possess a style or a peak period of maturity or the golden age as such. Arguably, it is a subaltern visual challenge to the mainstream definition of tradition, folksy and tribal, in art. Since the arrival of Modernity via Abstraction and Cubism, presence-without-appearance has been an accepted mode of representation, visual discourse and as an acceptance. The way the absence is accepted as a presence, in Ganjifa form(less)at is the current artistic ambience which can be an exciting story. It is sure to be an eventless story of a consistent visually absence. Before that, one needs to take stock of as to how Ganjifa gets defined today.

Ganjifa, as we have epistemologically presumed it, historically has a circular geographical movement from central Asia to Mediterranean back to India through Persia. It is analogous to the popular shape in which Ganjifa cards are imagined—circular. However, the one impeccable element that is unique to this form is that its visuals, several in varying time and history, are always constantly challenged and altered. Ambiguity in terms of appearance, style, rules is its permanent character. Impermanence reigns, pitching the very practice of Ganjifa card inversely proportionate to the modern museum cultures which offers rituals of visual behavior, owing to its aristocratic palatial origin. A survey of its evolution, if that is the right term, proves that Ganjifa is a playing card, in various shapes varying between square, rectangular to circular, upon which images of gods, kings and slaves do co-exist. Images of Arabic and Islamic beliefs shift over into the Hindu belief, often facilitating a co-existence of either and both of them on the same pictorial surface. Often linguistic errors lead way to comical situations, wherein images are lost in verbal translations and vice versa (barat and baaraat, for instance). The surface of an ideal Ganjifa card seems to be the most democratic space that not only accumulates eclectic range of themes, beliefs, rituals and practices but also refutes the dominance of one over the other (God is no better than a slave, in such a case) at any given time. Often, when Akbar would play a certain kind of ivory cards, the Portugese sailors would be playing another one of a cheaper variety, in the same palace at different places. Cards played in a kingdom by the emperor and slave would differ and perhaps serve undecipherable between the two. Even an emperor cannot impose a rule of game upon his own slave, in his own kingdom, on a small piece of Ganjifa card! Interestingly, the current workshop had mythical and historic figures pitched next to domestic themes.

One need to constantly contemplate on the point that the twentieth century addressal of Ganjifa artistic tradition is a part of a whole called as revival of tradition, which is/was a nationalistic project, integral to Colonial and Postcolonial discourses. The art of Ganjifa, an expertise in refuting specifications in the name of definition, refutes this as well, owing to its multiple-origin and its proposal for refuting imagery, definedness being at its core (the claim or the multiple-origin of Ganjifa is a case in point). Consider the works of the artistic groups like Bengal School Revivalists, art produced at Cholamandalam or individual productions like that of Jamini Roy, K.G. Subramanyan, G.R. Santosh and Madhvi Parekh among others wherein the mode of appearance and adaptations might vary. The collective and individual artistic productions that have creative response to art of the past (named as traditional, folk, tribal-adaptations) did so with a political intent of being nationalist during colonial politics. They were time bound craving for nationalistic identities. The ‘past’ was nurtured as a huge investment of the then present times, to evoke a spirited and spiritual personality to the Eastern part of the globe and Asia in general and India in particular. The so called ‘South Asian Identity’ was the larger canvas upon which the pictorial space of Ganjifa got positioned, like a brick or a tile in a large wall. However, this particular brick or tile is a transparent one, which doesn’t reveal anything of its own aesthetic pictorial excellence but only reflects what one expects out of it. The artworks produced in the workshop, operated mainly from this holistic premise. The curatorial discourse as well as the seminar papers presented, linked the historicity of the birth, origin, metamorphosis as well as the yielding ability of Ganjifa for contemporary adaptations; and were together summarized as a vulnerable tradition, since it was both in the hands of the aristocracy as well as the general public. The patronage of the Ganjifa art form, as proved by that facilitated by Chitrakala Parishath, is a contemporary case in point which continues this tradition of revaluation in a different time and outlook.

Hence, Chitrakala Parishath workshop on Ganjifa, altogether, addressed the modes in which Ganjifa can be understood more or less as a ‘still format of visual representation’ since most participants were unfamiliar to the tradition of how it was/is/will be played (“not many are alive who could play”; Leyden). The relation that Ganjifa art form gains with the modernist Chitrakala museum cluster also clarifies it. The ‘popular imagination’ of its circular format played much in the visualisers’ psychology, while the thematic liberty that the artists/curators took was the most varied ones, owing to the leniency that this formless form availed. For instance the range of liberty taken with Ganjifa was to the maximum, if one considers the outcome of the overall set of workhshops/camps about other miniature-format folksy and traditional art forms of picture-making held at the Parishath.  

Ganjifa paintings are visions without stylistic bindings and comprehensively rejoice from all such experiences that a styleless-appearance in representations undergo. They are remembered as sights without styles, unlike say Mysore and Tanjore traditional paintings. That is the first essence not of blindness but of ‘resistance of memory’ or to a concern formulating a golden period. There was no pinnacle period of Ganjifa like they say (“while the king was playing with different cards in the palace, the soldiers were playing with cheaper and deviant versions in the courtyard premise of the same palace”, Leyden). In this sense, Ganjifa draws analogy with other pre-modern artistic traditions (Classical Chinese landscape scrolls) as well as the display culture in contemporary times (Biennales and Art Fares) as far as today’s definition of comprehensiveness of display and discourse is concerned. What is seen is not remembered because they are not represented or displayed so as to be framed by thorough total recalling. In this sense it surpasses the limitations of modernity, which forms the last classic case of stylistic-binding in India or elsewhere. Ganjifa pierces the notion of pictures as “a single moment, a single shot” representational aspect. It was, as K.G.Subramanyan says, “not meant for mere aesthetic or experiential purpose, but essentially functional”. “Form follows function” is the dictum of architecture as well as Ganjifa, but with a difference. The function of gaming seems to have arrived at its logic end orphaning form, to be on its own. It is not an attempt to highlight the uniqueness of this art form but to unleash as to how this performative playing card is an action-‘packed’ entity wherein the essence of the means is put to stake by its intended goal, which is a conscious act. While in leather puppetry, the rendered still-imageries are employed to perform and are hence performative, the painted imagery in Ganjifa serves as the act of ‘counting’. They are turned into counted images and/or pictures to serve numerical. This allows the mantle of appearance in order to be counted, literally (as numbers), more importantly not be seen in essence. Gods, kings, wazirs, slaves and servants, irrespective of their hierarchy, relish the role of playing the reverse of reality: the player controls even the Gods and Ganjifa happily facilitates it!

 In other words, the Ganjifa pictures’ willingness to sacrifice visuality in order to metamorphose as numerical ruptures the set hierarchy between the divine and the wreathed beings, since all of them are born out of sacred words and not numerical. This is not a myth as much as it is a reality check about the history of myths. It is the first step through which vision is made absent in Ganjifa images—into numerological transformations. While the mundane act of seeing images in numerical becomes a non-profitable preoccupation, Ganjifa’s quality to count the profit of image is a possibility (like Douglas Adam’s novel “Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy”, a trilogy in four parts that treats enlightenment as not any acts of perseverance or kindness, not verbal descriptions as most religious texts claim in human history but as “(number) 42”).

Ganjifa, today, is an old classified but hidden lesson for contemporary meandering of the divide between visuals and words through numerical. The etymological misadventures that are endorsed over a period of time, as well as encouraged within the changing linguistic premise and sites only adds up to this. ‘Gulam’ suit becomes ‘Gulab’. (in Hindi language) and the pictures change, alter and are recreated accordingly. Mistakes are considered as serious interventions, thus defeating to the age old notion of mistakes as crimes, thanks to Ganjifa, which is generally considered as art. The change is a constant herein (‘that which is still perishes while that which moves, prevails’; Basavanna).  This non-confirmative visual of numerical kind, or the mathematics of visual kind adds on; and its ‘game’ is the second instance where Ganjifa wills to empty its appearance from its representation. Nobody sees a number; very few count visuals according to and only because of Ganjifa. 

  • Postscript: Ganjifa as a Playful Lesson:

Through the two workshops about Ganjifa art in the academic year of 2018-19, Chitrakala Parishath attempted at evolving methods of addressal of the past as/through representation via Ganjifa art. The sophistication involved in it was evident in the institution’s willingness to yield to the methodology that got entwined with a trial and error method. This is true even when compared to the relatively routine-like workshops held earlier, about the representations of the past, reimagination of the past and many such visual epistemological nuances. The overall attempt seems to suggest a yearning for a meaningful and artistic parallel to the enhanced socio-political demands of the nation — to unearth and endorse an ideal past. Such attempts are no coincidences. Earlier attempts by writers like Pratapaditya Paul (speaking about Marcel Duchamp, he writes that, “Duchamp gave up art to play cards, the chess cards, card players and the card play”) to link Modernity with card plays, present Ganjifa in newer light. An article like “Ganjifa: India’s contribution to the world of playing cards” by Jeff Hopewell, in the background of innumerable writings by non-Indian writers about Indian art, specifically those of the pre-modern era, obviously not only draw attention to the current notion of the imagination of the ‘orient-in-representation’. Since most sensible current day artists are aware of this, the workshop evoked such and similar issues, while creating art with the excuse of Ganjifa. The talk, words and debate around the creation of the cards at the workshop inevitably drew the attention to the question of ‘origin’ and ‘nation’ around this art form. Strange and stray facts like, the earliest dated Ganjifa in India is dated to 1580Babur mentions it in his diary (1527), that it was banned in countries of Persia by Shah Abbas II (1642-67), the stigma attached to it were unearthed and subject to what contribution can such and other factual excavation avail to our interventions into Ganjifa. An important aspect discussed about Ganjifa’s history in the workshop involved the genuineness inherent in the usage of sign for each suit, for each Godly incarnation, which is also the appropriate symbol of avatar. In fact the makers of these playing cards were mimicking the game of God’s Leelaitself, with utmost freedom. Ganjifa makers treated Gods-on-Ganjifa-cards as comrades, which lead to the historic positioning the role of artist in the societal structure. An unusual observation of the curatorial exercise in the workshop led to contemplate on the three prominent roles that Ganjifa play: they freize time (portray), unleash an idealistic time, time and again (narrate) and illustrate how the whole play is bound to/by time (depict incidents). This facilitates Ganjifa to take the liberties that artforms like Folk and Tribal alone might be risking and not the traditional ones, despite Ganjifa itself occupying grayer areas between the mundane, traditional and the populistic artforms. The works by the students and professional artists in the camp was testimony to this. The curatorial debate further lead to a discourse that, arguably, facilitated this.

The debate seemed ever-lasting in the camp, while drawing unusual parallels between art student’s habit to listen to the Bluetooth music and the older customary chats between artists while painting. Often, during such times, the classical Ganjifa artists of the past were even liberal enough to add on extra personalities like Shiva, Brahma, Yama and Indra alongside the various specified avataars of God himself. This was as though the artists alleged their need for companionship upon gods: avatars also required the vedic and environmental gods for company! This play, this mundane and domestic Leela is what Ganjifa workshop recovered for its practitioners, as if to compensate the existential angst that Ganjifa artist have gone through due to their societal and economic positioning. Interestingly, often the painted cards on ivory had no ‘popular’ appeal, the suits were rows and columns of imageries that reassembled a single-view existence of wall paintings and murals and their semblance to temple murals and manuscript illustrations is no coincidence. The debate and representations in the workshop was hence a brief contemplation on the humanization of the divine, rather than the other way round. It was a fact that Mummadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar (1794-1868), king of Mysore between 1799-1830, invented games, that did not expand beyond the palace compounds. The contemplative compilation of his verbal and visual reflections around this very subject in ‘Shritatvanidhi’ is now quiet popular, ironically. The interesting observation was that these cards which are so spontaneously painted in Bishnupur, Sawanthwadi, Parlakhemundi, Raghurajpur, Sonepur etc on newsprint papers, were also once depicted in costly ivory, mother of pearl and tortoise shell. The amazing time-bound vulnerability that this art form has displayed between the transition from the feudalistic to democratic and digital, made the participant students and artists to rejoice the dimensions of a freedom to meander through this form while retaining their own individual identities. Even earlier, the Portugal dragon would be replaced by Indian makara, just like that, to Indianize it. Perhaps the reverse of this has also take place, since the origin and evolution of this art form went in geographic circles.  

Some cards, while being played, are engaged in an unusual anti-clockwise direction. Rules like a player’s compulsion to play the highest card that she posseses in a suit and lose out on that if not used, the challenge to remember the cards that are to be played — are a few facts that can twist and turn the philosophical contemplations about Ganjifa cards. However, the art, due to the above described and debated flexible nature, might and will survive at least as collectors’ items, but their use for play is bound to cease in the not too distant future. Yet Ganjifa art forms game, in the background of the digital gaming world, is like an android-human, it refutes to cease existing unless someone wants to deliberately terminate it. and this workshop was anything other than that.  

In the end, I would like to conclude the article about the outcome of the workshop on Ganjifa art in an art school from within the premise of an art complex, whose overall agenda was and is to practically inculcate innumerable activities that might initially seem to be only remotely connected to art pedagogy, yet make a lot of sense in redefining art education itself. The eclectic attitude, styles, outlook, thematic commixtures that are inherent in Ganjifa art is proportionate to its flexibility. Hence it refutes to belong to the classical, the traditional, the folk and tribal; and further, its play is evident in evading a specific vision since Ganjifa becomes art when the cards are moved and not framed, by those hands which are not that of the trained curators but of anyobody and everybody, irrespective of all human classifications. In certain cards, there is no place for Indian temple but a Zorastrian Persian temple exists with two ascetics who are distinctly Indians seated in yogasana posture. At the same, one should also remember what Abhanindranath Tagore wrote, when he said, “I have cautioned Nandalal (Bose), that edging towards Ajanta, or Greece or Japan or China is no more than toeing other people’s trails; why should I coast my boat on someone else’s dock?” The future artistic fate of Ganjifa lies between the Indian yogi in a Zorastrian temple as a theme and Abhanindranath’s warning, as the cautious words of an art teacher. The very structuring of the workshop at the Parishath alone could shuffle the art historical methodological cards, to address this form appropriately, by facilitating such contemporaneous interventionist depictions./// 

External Links:

(1) https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/game-with-ganjifa-cards/article29962309.ece

(2) http://artanddeal.in/cms/?p=6718