Though gambling is largely considered a vice, women do not mind shuffling cards, placing bets and even losing some money when playing with the family while celebrating the festival that marks Lord Krishna's birth. The exact history of the tradition of women playing cards during this festival is not known but sociologists in the city say the custom may have begun in the joint-family system as a pass-time for women, who observe a fast throughout the night.
Women eat food a day before Janamashthami and fast on the night when, as per mythology, Krishna was born.
Premlata Shah 54, a housewife in a joint family, says she cannot imagine celebrating Janamashthami without playing cards with the family and placing a few bets.
"Judgement, Poker, Teen Patti, Rummy, Grim, Satiyo, Jhabbo are some of the games that we women play with the family. Of course, no serious betting takes place but a little bit of money changing hands is okay," says the housewife who also makes elaborate arrangements for food two days earlier to ensure a non-stop card playing session.
The housewife said initially women in Ahmedabad used to play card games like Judgement and Satiyo but the influence of Mumbai introduced Teen Patti, Flash and Rummy.
Simran Patel, 28, also married to a joint family in the city, says her family used to follow the tradition when she was a child and she has tried to keep it alive in her husband's house too.
"As a child, I have seen how women involve themselves in card playing and how it keeps the family together. On Janamashthami, women also decorate Lord Krishna's idol and await the time of his birth by playing cards and having fun," said Simran.
While most famililes confine their celebrations to within their houses, many families also head for clubs, farm houses or any secluded getaway where they can play with family and friends. However, even the police in Gujarat ensure that innocent people playing cards without wagers are not harrassed.
A senior police official said, "Women playing cards with the family has been an age-old custom during Janamashthami, at least in Gujarat. The police do not harrass anybody playing with the family but keep an eye for those indulging in serious gambling".
Swami Jasumatinandan Das, the head of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness in Ahmedabad, says playing cards and gambling is not the right way to usher the appearance of Lord Krishna.
Regarding the link between playing cards and Janamashtami, he said, "Playing cards or gambling is not part of our tradition at all. I don't know how it came into practice but it must be very recent. It has no reference in the Hindu scriptures".
"Janmashthami is all about the appearance of Lord Krishna and on that day the right way to celebrate is to chant his name.," he said.