The International Playing-Card Society

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


Suit System:Dasavatara
Recommended Name:  Nossam Dasavatara pattern.


Nossam is a town near Cuddapah in the south of the state of Andhra Pradesh, India and was noted as a centre of painting, leather and lacquer work. This style of card was attributed to the town even before a pack was discovered with 'Nossam' helpfully painted on the lid of the box. Apart from a pack of Dikapala ganjifa in the Cary collection only Dasavatara cards have been recorded from Nossam. Production seems to have ended early in the twentieth century.


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


SuitBackgroundSuit sign Description of mantri
Matsyablackgold fishVishnu with lower body of fish riding a horse.
Kurmaolive greengold turtleVishnu with lower body of turtle riding a horse.
Varahayellowgold boarVishnu with boar's head riding a horse.
Narasimhadeep redwhite lionVishnu with lion's head riding a lion.
Vamanabright redgold water potVishnu with water pot and parasol riding a swan.
Parashuramagreengold axeVishnu holding an axe riding a horse.
Ramabright greengold monkey or bowVishnu riding on the monkey god, Hanuman.
Balaramalight browngold ploughVishnu holding a plough riding a horse.
Krishnagoldblue childVishnu riding an elephant.
Kalkindark redwhite horseVishnu with horse's head riding a horse.

The background to each suit may vary in shade and occasionally in colour. The numeral cards often have the value painted on them in Arabic or Telugu numerals and the lower values often have a fern-like decoration. The court cards are inscribed in Telugu with the name of the suit and the value, 'raju' (king) or 'mantri' (vizier). The diameter of the cards is around 5cm. Apart from an eighteenth century pack in the British Museum (1935-2-28-01) the background is covered with tiny gold crosses or stars. The mantris usually have one attendant and the rajas, which are enthroned underneath a canopy, have two. Boxes normally show the incarnations around the sides. Krishna dancing on the snake Kaliya is often painted on the lid, though the sun god, Surya, in his chariot, and a lady under a tree have also been recorded.


No painters' names have been recorded.

Some References

LEYDEN, Rudolf von, Die Welt der Indischen Spielkarten, Wilhelm Braumüller, 1981.

MANN, Sylvia, All Cards on the Table, Jonas Verlag, 1990.

Nossam Dasavatara Pattern

Illustration of Nossam Dasavatara pattern (gif 650 x 600)

Upper two rows: Raja and Ten of Kalkin, Mantri and Ten of Rama, Mantri and Ten of Matsya; bottom row: Mantri of Vamana, Mantri of Parashurama and Raja of Narasimha. Late nineteenth century (diameter 50mm).

The International Playing-Card Society 8/1998 JH

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