Ganjifa cards are of historical importance besides holding aesthetic and artistic value. They serve a social purpose by bringing people together, providing entertainment and by popularising socio-cultural themes. Ganjifa cards are also used as souvenirs.
This unique fine art form, Ganjifa art intermingles the delicate art of painting and craft. At the same time, as a game, it grew in popularity during the 18th and 19th centuries among a cross-section of people. It was quite common to find people playing a game of Ganjifa in temple court-yards, homes, market places and within the precincts of the royal court. Ganjifa art served as a form of entertainment and created an atmosphere of devotion, as the players chanted the names of their favourite deities while dealing the cards.
The production of ganjifa cards has never been on a mass scale but made exclusively on commission. Unfortunately, the arrival of modern printed playing cards affected the market of these indigenous hand-painted ganjifa cards. But even with a decline in demand, a few artists continued the practice of painting the traditional themes and at times incorporated the traditional theme to suit the structure of the modern pack of 52 cards. This transformed in the art form of Ganjifa. In course of time the number of practitioners decreased mainly due to lack of regular patronage and sustainable income. The legacy, however, continues in the hands of a few artists whose families have pursued the ancient practice of ganjifa painting.
The themes portrayed in the ganjifa packs range from the social to religious ones. The choice of subjects has always reflected the socio-religious trend in society. The Ganjifa Art Gallery that the Hasta Shilpa Trust has set up in its Heritage Village presents a complete range of Ganjifa art themes and style in practice and are descriptive of both entity and regional stylistic variations that are representative of Sawantwadi, Sonepur, Chikiti, Puri, Raghurajpur, Bishnupur of West Bengal, Nirmal and Mysore.