Iqbal Ahmad

Calligraphy a forgotten art

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In ancient times, when paper was not available to the literate class, they used to produce their writings in engraved form, on rocks, stones, coins etc. Later on when paper was invented, doors were left open for calligraphists to meet their needs and exhibit their artistic skill.  After centuries together, writing appeared on paper. Initially it was in a simple form just to reduce things in writing but gradually the paper writing developed a beautiful style that later on came to be known as calligraphy. It is a decorative art of writing. Since Islam did not allow figures of living things and human beings to be made by the artists, the painters and sculptors adopted the calligraphy that was the stylish art of writing.

This art like other arts traveled from central Asian states to Kashmir in the reign of Sultan Zainul- Abiden (popularly known as Budshah). He invited several masters of this art and appointed them in his darbar. He also gave large lands to them and opened several institutions here. Kashmiri students were imparted this technical education.  A university was also established at Naushara, Srinagar. Sultan began with a number of copies of Kashshaf of AllamaZamashari and adopted it in his University. Many students of Kashmir were sent to the universities of Bukhara, Samarkand, Heerat. The calligraphists achieved a remarkable status in Kashmir. The art flourished during Mughal period.

Mohammad Hussain Kashmiri, reputed calligraphists who served in Akbar’s court  washonoured with the title Zarin-Qalam (golden pen). Mohammad Hussain Kashmiri, writes AbulFazil, surprised his master Maulana Abdul Aziz by his handsome pen. Ali Chaman, was another noted court calligraphist of Akbar. Mohammad Murad Kashmiri was given the title “Shirin Qalam” by his master, Shah Jahan. Several Kashmiri artists got patronage in Durrani courts. BawaniDassKatchro was the court calligrapher in Durranidarbar.

From Shahidarbars the art flourished towards towns and rural areas. Certain families adopted it as their main profession and promoted it further. Kashmir possesses a rich repository of manuscripts in various calligraphy styles. We have a number of manuscripts in various official and non-official collections in Nastaliq and Nask styles.

To preserve this art, the academy of art, culture and languages had  been conducting calligraphy learning classes for the last several years. Beside the Academy, research libraries, archives, and other institutions have been taking care of hundreds of manuscripts. However, a number of manuscripts are still scattered in unprofessional hands; their proper collection and protection is required. This needs proper documentation and cataloguing so that the future generations may not get deprived of this wealth.

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