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Suit System:Moghul
Recommended Name:  Sawantwadi Moghul 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 it 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.


Eight suits of twelve cards, each suit based on an aspect of Moghul court life. An upper court card (Mir), a lower court card (Wazir) and ten numerals in each suit.


SuitBackgroundSuit sign
Tajyellowred shape with green plumes, looks like flower
Safedblackwhite disc with red rim
Ghulamredservant or swordsman
Changbrown"harp", that looks like a dagger
Surkhgreenyellow disc with red rim
Baratgreenyellow oblong with red stripe
Qimashyellowred oval with green band

The Mir, or king, is usually seated with an attendant, except for the Ghulam suit when he is depicted on an elephant, and in the Surkh suit a sun face peers from behind one or two tigers. The Wazir, or vizier, is on horseback, except for the Ghulam suit when he is riding an ox, and the Chang suit when she is on a camel (the figures in this suit are always female). In better quality packs there may be two riders. The servants of the Ghulam suit are usually shown as half-figures in a grid, though they sometimes appear in a circular pattern.

The very fine example in the British Museum, London (no. 1880-407) is in darchitri format and shows all the Mirs in chariots. It has swordsmen rather than servants for the Ghulam suit.

Modern cards follow the old bazaar pattern, but show the influence of the British Museum pack in using swordsmen for servants and depicting the Mir of Safed in a chariot. An innovation is that the Wazir of Surkh rides a tiger, rather than a horse.

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 workshop of Narayan Ramcandra Kelkar, 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

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 Moghul Pattern

Illustration of Sawantwadi Moghul pattern (gif 600 x 785)

Mir of Safed, Wazir of Surkh and Five of Ghulam from a modern pack (1995, diameter 82mm) and from a bazaar pack of around 1860 (diameter 63mm). Wazir of Chang and Mir of Ghulam from the same bazaar pack.

The International Playing-Card Society 8/1998 JH

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Last updated 15th January 2011