The International Playing-Card Society

IPCS Home Page | IPCS Publications Page | Index of Pattern Sheets on the web


Suit System:Dasavatara
Recommended Name:  Kurnol Dasavatara pattern.


The Deccan is the high plateau of the Southern Indian peninsula between the Western and Eastern Ghats and south of the Vindhya mountains. Some of the earliest datable playing-cards come from the Deccan and it is very probable that Dasavatara patterns were developed here. Writers of the 19th century inform us that "... palm leaf fans, papier-mâché panels, trays and playing cards are made at Kurnol and Cuddapah."


Ten suits of twelve cards, each suit based on one of the ten incarnations of Vishnu. An upper court card (Raja) and a lower court card (Pradhan) and ten numerals in each suit.


The cards are made from layers of waste paper, with the surface coated with a layer of tagaram (tin amalgam) and endowed with a fine metallic sheen. The diameter is between 43 and 55 mm. The backs of the cards are differently coloured. The Rajas sit on asanas (thrones) with wide platforms supported by narrow-waisted pedestals. A morchhal (fan) bearer is found on the right, and a worshipper on the left of the Raja cards. One or two curtains are draped across the top of the Raja card. The Pradhans ride white horses and are accompanied by a morchhal bearer and a guard carrying a spear. The ninth incarnation is sometimes shown with a white body and sometimes blue. The former represents Buddha and the latter is probably intended to be Krishna. Sometimes the numeral cards have in the centre the respective avatara figure seated on a smaller asana surrounded by the number of suit symbols representing the value of the cards. There may be variations in the background colour and/or in the suit signs. There are also examples with the background of all suits in a mottled brown to imitate tortoiseshell.

SuitBackgroundSuit sign
Matsyaredwhite fish
Narasimhadark greenlion
Vamanaolive green (or brown)umbrella
Parashuramared brownaxe
Ramaolive green (or red)monkey (or bow)
Balaramaolive green (or crimson or brown)white cow (or plough)
Buddha (or Krishna)olive brown (or red)crowned head
Kalkinblackwhite horse

The cards normally come in a lidded box, with a frieze of the ten avataras running around it.


No makers' names have been recorded.

Some References

GORDHANDAS, Kishor N.: A nineteenth century Kurnol Dasavatara Ganjifa Pack. In: The Playing Card, Vol. XXVIII, No. 6, May/June 2002

LEYDEN, Rudolf von: Indische Spielkarten. Deutsches Spielkarten-Museum, Leinfelden-Echterdingen, 1977

LEYDEN, Rudolf von: Die Welt der indischen Spielkarten, Vienna, 1981

LEYDEN, Rudolf von: The playing-cards of India. Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1982

Kurnol Dasavatara Pattern

Illustration of Kurnol Dasavatara pattern (jpg 970 x 1121)
Top row: Kurma Pradhan, Varaha Raja, Balarama 9, from a pack from c.1850; private collection.
Second row: Narasimha 1, Parashurama Raja, Rama 9, from a pack from c.1860, with the background painted in imitation of tortoiseshell; private collection.
Bottom two rows: Kalkin 10, Kalkin Pradhan, Matsya 9, Buddha 4, Rama Raja, Buddha Raja, from a pack from c.1840; from the collection of Kishor N. Gordhandas.

The International Playing-Card Society 8/2004 KG

For comments please contact the Pattern Sheet Editor: Kay Stolzenburg (

IPCS Home Page | IPCS Publications Page | Index of Pattern Sheets on the web

This page is maintained by John McLeod ( and Kay Stolzenburg(
Last updated 9th September 2010