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Suit System:Dasavatara
Recommended Name:  Sawantwadi Dasavatara pattern.


Sawantwadi is a former principality in the state of Maharashtra, India. Cards have been painted here since the eighteenth century but by the middle of the twentieth century the craft had almost died out before being revived by the late Lt. Col. S S Bhonsle in his palace workshops.

The cards are brightly coloured, quite thin and flexible. They are found in a simple bazaar style and also in an elaborate durbar (court) style, with many shades of quality inbetween, ranging in size from 55mm to 112mm. The largest cards often have a small figure in the centre of every numeral card, known as 'darchitri' format. An indication of date is that prior to around 1875 the lid of the card box has a tongue, thereafter the lid is square. At about the same time a high-domed crown is substituted for the stepped crown found on some of the earlier court cards.


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 signDescription of raja
MatsyaredfishVishnu emerging from fish.
KurmaredturtleVishnu emerging from turtle.
VarahayellowboarVishnu with boar's head, running.
NarasimhagreenlionVishnu with lion’s head, enthroned.
Vamanagreenwater potVishnu as Brahmin dwarf stands before King Bali.
ParashuramabrownaxeVishnu with axe fighting Kartavirya.
Ramayellowbow and arrow, or monkeyVishnu as Rama aims bow and arrow at Ravanna.
Krishnabrownquoit or cowVishnu as Krishna pursuing King Kamsa.
Buddhablackconch shellVishnu as Buddha, enthroned.
Kalkinblacksword or horseVishnu with his white horse.

The larger the diameter of the cards, the more subsidiary figures appear on the raja cards. Also the scene depicted may change, especially in the Krishna suit, where he may be shown standing with Radha beneath a tree, enthroned with her and being worshipped by Garuda, or squirting maidens with coloured water as at the festival of Holi. All the mantri cards show one or two riders, sometimes with footmen or hunting wild animals . The lower segment of each court card is filled with decoration. The alternative suit signs are found only on durbar packs. Boxes are cubic and show figures on a red background.


Most cards are anonymous, but some have been recorded from the three workshops which flourished late in the nineteenth century and early in the twentieth. The initials of painters may also be found on some modern packs.

Some References

HOPEWELL, Jeff, The playing-card workshops of Sawantwadi, The Playing Card, vol XXIV, no 5, March/April 1996

LEYDEN, Rudolf von, Indische Spielkarten, Deutsches Spielkarten-Museum, 1977

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

LEYDEN, Rudolf von, Ganjifa, the playing cards of India, Victoria & Albert Museum, 1982

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

Sawantwadi Dasavatara Pattern

Illustration of Sawantwadi Dasavatara pattern (gif 600 x 869)

Raja and Mantri of Varaha suit and Four of Kalkin from a durbar pack of around 1880 (diameter 102mm) and a bazaar pack of around 1860 (diameter 75mm).

The International Playing-Card Society 8/1998 JH

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