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Suit System:F
Recommended Name:  Sawantwadi French Suited pattern.


Sawantwadi is a former principality in the state of Maharashtra, India, lying on the western side, just north of Goa. 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.


Four suits of thirteen cards, King, Queen, Jack, numerals 1 to 10. Also known as a 32 card Piquet pack, omitting numerals 2 to 6.


As Indian card players and painters became used to imported English and French cards they adapted them to a more familiar style, taking over the composition and suit signs, though usually turning the Heart upside down. Although most packs are round, some are oblong.

In Sawantwadi each suit has a distinctive background colour, yellow for Hearts, red for Spades, green for Diamonds and black for Clubs. Occasionally brown may be used for either Diamonds or Clubs. The suit signs are usually red for Hearts and black for Spades, but yellow or white for the other two suits. On the simplest bazaar packs the Kings and Queens are seated and the Jack stands. Attendants appear on more elaborate packs and the Jack is on horseback. On durbar packs the Kings may be shown in a carriage, the Queens in a palanquin and the Jacks as two horsemen, with footsoldiers.

Boxes are painted red with a figure on the lid and, except for the cheapest bazaar packs, on the sides as well.


Most cards are anonymous, but some have been recorded from the workshops of Narayan Ramcandra Kelkar and Vishnu Kashishet Maphseker, 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

HARGRAVE, Catherine Perry, A History of Playing Cards, Dover Publications, 1966

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

KELLER, William B, A catalogue of the Cary Collection of Playing Cards in the Yale University Library, four vols. New Haven, 1981

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

Sawantwadi French suited Pattern

Illustration of Sawantwadi French suited pattern (gif 600 x 850)

King, Queen and Jack of Hearts from a durbar pack (diameter 95mm) and a bazaar pack (diameter 67mm), both late nineteenth century.

The International Playing-Card Society 8/1998 JH

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