This is the deck I have been waiting for: Sunish Chabba's beautiful Bharata Playing Cards - Series 2, only recently available, and published in a limited print run of only 500 copies.
But before I show you this brand new deck, let's first run through a brief history of its pedigree, by introducing the Series 1 version of this deck, and learning a little about the style of folk art that it showcases on the court cards especially.
Bharata Playing Cards - Series 1
When Sunish Chabba, from the Guru Playing Card Company, produced his first edition of Bharata Playing Cards in 2017, it was very much geared toward collectors.
Bharata is the original name of India, and the Bharata playing cards are an ode to the childhood stories of kings and queens that have become part of the history of Indian culture. The deck features illustrations and artwork based on Indian folk art forms, and was put together in collaboration with Ishan Trivedi, as top Indian illustrator.
When a deck comes with gold gilded edges as standard, you know that it is designed to look pretty. And this wonderful deck did look amazingly pretty, with intricately designed and vibrantly coloured card backs, and faces inspired by Indian royalty of old.
But as beautiful as these decks were, not too many of them were ever going to see much usage on the card table or for card magic, due to their luxurious qualities.
Bharata Tarot Major Arcana
After the initial Bharata deck came a follow-up, a deck of Bharata Tarot Major Arcana. This had similar styled beautiful artwork, now occupying the full canvas of the cards, and again with hand gilded edges, this time with an antique gold look. Inspiration behind the images includes Kishangarh paintings and miniature paintings, and these really come to life when the borders are absent, and where all the attention is on the artwork.
And the card backs - wow - they were even more lovely than those of the original deck!
Once again Sunish Chabba had produced another stunning deck, but one that wasn't really intended for significant practical usage. While the cards were poker sized and had gorgeous full-sized art, it was designed as a tarot deck, and only had 26 cards in total (22 Major Arcana cards plus 4 extra cards)
Bharata Playing Cards - Series 2
In view of the above, it is welcome news that Sunish has now produced a Bharata Playing Cards - Series 2 deck, which is intended to be a workmanlike deck geared for normal use. I for one, applaud this new addition to the Bharata line-up, and welcome it with open arms!
That's not to say that Sunish has taken short cuts with quality. You only need to take a close look at the tuck case to see that this is a very stylish and sophisticated deck. It features some very vibrant and colourful patterns, reflecting the cultural heritage of the deck itself, but set on a black background which helps give it a more serious look. A silver foil border and silver lettering all adds to the look of real class, which is confirmed when our fingers rove over the box and notice embossing for that extra level of luxury. On the inside is full interior printing - again with a silver foil pattern that exudes sophistication and style, and looks especially regal with its black backdrop.
I absolutely love the card backs. This is the basic design that Sunish came up with for the Tarot version of this deck, and it looks spectacular. The white borders help ensure that it isn't over the top and remains functional, and there is simple circular design that is immediately memorable - a hallmark of good design. Yet within the simple shapes of the overall design there's incredible detail, including patterned flowers and swan-like figures. And the colours! Wow, I am just smitten by the rich combination of reds, blues and purples, which come together in a palette that feels warm and luxurious without being overpowering. Outstanding work!
The faces of the cards feature customization wherever you'd expect it - first of all with the Aces, which have giant pips that have ornate decorations inside them. The Ace of Spades is set apart with an especially lavish look, that includes the name of the deck and playing card company below it, and it employs a traditional look inspired by the Asoka Pillar.
Along with the delightful tuck case and attractive card backs, the court cards are my favourite part of this deck. Inside a lush oval border (which uses a different colour for each suit) are figures with a delightful and charming style of artwork that immediately sets this deck apart from a normal deck. The enchanting characters have been depicted as part of the Indian royalty, and look as if they have stepped straight from the pages of the classic Tales of the Arabian Nights. I may be confusing my cultures here, but no matter - I think you get my point about the exotic lands and people that these cards evoke!
Here's how Sunish describes the Kishangarh painting style which emerged in the middle of 18th century, and inspired the artwork of the characters depicted here:
"The chief characteristics of the Kishengarh paintings were the elongation of human faces, lavish use of green and depiction of panoramic landscapes. Portrayal of Radha and Krishna in elongated faces is a common subject of Kishangarh paintings. The elongated neck, the long stylised eyes with drooping eyelids, the thin lips and pointed chin of Radha standing in a graceful pose with her head covered with a muslin odhni, is undoubtedly the most striking creation of the Kishangarh school."
The court cards also have very clear, large, and functional pips and indices. The number cards feature similar customization, with very bold and plump pips, that make good use of the entire card space, being printed very close to the edges for a very rich and full look, that matches the overall style of the deck.
The Jokers feature two beautifully costumed characters with a one-way design. To round off the deck, there's two gaff cards: one a double backer, and the other a lovely borderless card with full art.
So what is the quality and handling like? Sunish has opted to have this deck printed in China by a company called WJPC. That's intriguing, because many of us haven't had positive experiences with decks produced in China. But Sunish is somewhat of a perfectionist, and he did carefully research his available options before deciding to go ahead with WJPC, confident of their quality. Other decks published by WJPC include Haere Mai, Hello Tiki, and Neo.
I'm quite impressed with how the cards handle. They have an embossed linen style finish, and fan and spread evenly and smoothly out of the box. One thing immediately noticeable is the super smooth edges, which I suspect might the result of a laser cut. This makes clean faros more difficult than normal, although there is some slight bevelling in the direction of a modern cut, so faros aren't impossible. But more importantly, all the cards are embossed and look like they will stand up to heavy usage at the card table. The stock feels pleasantly thick and sturdy, and yet the cards spring smoothly, while not feeling overly soft. I am noticing that over time there is evidence of some clumping, much like you'd typically experience with a MPC produced deck, and cardists will quickly notice that. The handling isn't identical to a USPCC deck, nor does it handle exactly the same as an MPC deck either, so WJPC obviously uses different factories. My initial impression is that it's slightly better than an MPC deck, and while I wouldn't give it an A grade like decks produced by USPCC or LPCC/EPCC, it's quite satisfactory for card games and the like.
I'm a sucker for decks that have luxurious looking tuck box and engaging and unique playing cards, and this deck meets all of those criteria. The card backs especially grabbed my attention, and when I saw the charming court cards with their folk art style, I knew already that this was something I would like. It has a unique Indian style that sets it apart from most other custom decks that are being produced today, while remaining very practical and usable. And if you really want to, you can add these cards to the Bharata Tarot Major Arcana (available separately) to create a full 78 card deck - they have the same card backs, although these aren't gilded like that deck is.
Sunish Chabba is not a stranger to the world of custom playing cards, having already successfully produced his Divine Art Playing Cards and of course the Series 1 version of Bharata Playing Cards, both under his label Guru Playing Card Company (GPCC). From the playing card forums I frequent, it's evident that Sunish is a contributor and designer who is well-respected by his peers, and is dedicated to quality. With this Series 2 version of his deck, he has produced a lovely deck suitable for general usage. It's certainly something that collectors who liked the look of the original Bharata deck (now out of print and unavailable), but missed out on getting it, will want to consider snapping up.
The printer used here is somewhat of an unknown quantity for most of us, especially if the bulk of the playing cards in our collections are produced by USPCC or by Taiwan-based publishers like LPCC or EPCC. But I do know that Sunish has done an incredible amount of leg work to find a suitable publisher, and has put a lot of time and research into his decision to go with WJPC. While the handling quality doesn't match that of industry leaders like USPCC, it's still decent, and satisfactory for a collectable deck. It won't meet the exacting standards demanded by cardistry, but it should prove more than adequate for playing card games, and appears to be quite durable.
If the artwork of this deck appeals to you, definitely take a closer look, and see if this unique and classy looking deck is something to add to your collection! But you may need to act quickly, since only 500 of these lovely decks were produced!
Want to learn more? Visit Guru Playing Cards, where you can get these decks directly from Sunish Chabba:
- Bharata Tarot Major Arcana
- Bharata Playing Cards - Series 2
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