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Sawantwadi Crafts

In the district of Sandurg in Maharashtra lies a taluka known as the Sawantwadi. The major reason for its popularity is its exceptional lacquer ware, which is popularly known as the Sawantwadi craft. Somewhere around the 17th century, the people of Sawantwadi were introduced to this exuberating form of art. As time passed on, the acceptability and the popularity of this art form grew and later several schools were set up in the late 18th and the early 19th century which focused its teaching of the Sawantwadi Art.

With the increase of demands for these products, locals were also called in and readily accepted artisans who had come to practice this art to Sawantwadi from Goa. Sawantwadi lacquer ware has managed to increase its horizon to several other things like board games, chess sets, candlesticks, small dolls etc. Having said that, a majority of the artist community still thrive by working and crafting the light fittings and lacquered furniture.

There is also a fascination for the crafted round playing cards, which are called ganjifa. This product and its creation have recently been revived after a dull period of almost forty years. Shri Pudnalik Govind Chitari was the only craftsman who knew this art. After his death, there was a huge lull which was broken by some student of his who had learnt the art from their master.

History of Sawantwadi Craft

The tradition of ganjifa in Sawantwadi dates back to almost 300 years from now. It is also believed that the art of these round playing cards is not of Sawantwadi itself, instead scholars assert that this game was initially played the Bhishnupur’s Malla Kings back in the 8th Century. Orissa, Cuddappa and Jaipur also had similar games. Everywhere, these cards were crafted by the locals. Although the size and the number were different from the ones that you get in Sawantwad but they are still believed to have originated from there. Yet, today, it is the only place of Sawantwadi that has preserved this traditional art.

Rudy Von Leyden, a scholar from Austria, during his stay in Mumbai has maintained a fabulous collection of such cards. In an article written by the same person in Marg(Vol. III - No 4) in 1949, he asserted and stressed upon the fact which is quoted as "there were still a dozen families eight or ten years ago in Sawantwadi which were engaged in painting Dashavatara ganjifas with surprising vitality of design". The authorities of the Palace in Sawantwadi assert of beholding a letter in their office which is attributed to the Peshwa’s Prime Minister (Nana Phadanvis) who had sent his appreciation and applaud for the brilliance of their playing cards.

Designing of Sawantwadi Craft

The Ganjifas of Sawantwadi base themselves on the concept of Dashavtars - which are ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu in Hindu Mythology. These incarnations are identified as: Matsya, Kurma, Varaha, Narasimhas, Wamana, Parshurama, Rama, Krishna, Balarama and Kalaki.

There are a total of 120 cards in the set of Ganjifas which are about the Dashavtarams. There are a total of 10 suits in the pack all of which house a total of 12 cards. The cards are also always stored in a box which is specially made for storing these cards. These packets or boxes as one may call them are also designed creatively with motifs and other layers of craftsmanship which makes them a totally creative and fantastic box.

Providentially, this art that Sawantwadi boasts of still continues to survive and thrive. Although, there was a lull in the initial period, the art has been majorly revived without many issues. There are still communities of the people in Sawantwadi who continue to serves in the making of these classical works that includes ganjifas which continue to be the jewel in the crown of Maharashtra’s creativity. Midway during the 70s decade, the work from Sawantwadi and its creative genius has been even sent to the city of Glasgow for an exhibition which brought praises for the work internationally. It is extremely lifting to realize the fact that this art of Sawantwadi continues to bring fame and glory to the state of Maharashtra.

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