Sunday, May 01, 2011

The Art of Calligraphy

The Hindu,
Friday Review
Friday, Aug 17, 2007

The flower-like letter

Imagine a style of writing being compared to the glistening hair of the bride. Such evocative images can emerge only from the grand art of calligraphy. Sadly, it is withering away for lack of patronage RISHIKESH BAHADUR DESAI

FADING CITADEL Mohammad Quaza demonstrates his art. With no takers left, he leads his life painting posters
“Let me enjoy the aroma of flowers around here,” says the epitaph of Sultan Mehmood Shah Bahmani the third, who once ruled Bidar. The Arabic and Farsi letters are arranged in such an artistic manner on the tomb stone, that they look like flowers in blossom.

Islamic Calligraphy, called Fun –E- Khattat is present on almost all the historic buildings in Bidar. It adds to the beauty of these 100 or so tombs, Masjids and Dargahs in and around the historic city.

Calligraphy is also defined as the art of giving form to signs. Islamic calligraphy is said to have evolved nearly 100 years after the death of the Prophet Mohammad. The Islamic belief that only the Almighty can create beauteous forms, led some artistes to create beautiful forms using letters, says Anees Hashmi, Islamic scholar and calligrapher.

The pioneer of calligraphy is believed to be the fourth Calipha Hazrat Ali who used various handwriting styles to document the verses of the Quran and sayings of the Prophet Mohammad. The Quran is in Arabic script and the art of calligraphy spread wherever Arabic began to be used as an influence of Islam.

The various styles of calligraphy are Khat-e-Qufi, popular in Iraq, Khat-e-Sulas that is popular in Iran and India, and Khat-e-Nasq, and Khat-e-Nastaliq, used by many Urdu newspapers today. Most of the structures in Bidar are in the Sulas style, indicating its century old connections with Iran.

Various forms of calligraphy developed over the years. They are Gulzar or the garden, Tawoos or the peacock, Zulf-e-Aroos, or the bride’s hair, Manshoor or the triangle, Badr-e-Kamal or the crescent moon, Vilayat or the exotic, Ummul Khubus or the Gestalt style, Mahi or the fish, Nakhoon or nails, Gauhar or pearls, and Toghra, that uses letters to produce various forms of landscapes and designs.

Calligraphy was an essential part of the education of Kings. Babar, Humayun, Akbar and Jehangir were all great calligraphers, says Mohammad Quaza, one of the senior calligraphers in Bidar.

The reign of Qutb-Ud-Din-Aibak is known as the golden era of calligraphy. Aurangazeb Alamgir was a great calligrapher and used liquid gold to make copies of the Quran. He used money thus earned on his personal expenses. Some such copies of the Holy Book are preserved in many museums across the country.

There were many women calligraphers like Shehzadi Gulbadan Begum, Jahan Ara Begum and Zebunnisa Begum. It is saidHumayun weighed Shehzadi Begum in pearls after she wrote a verse from the Quran on a poppy seed. There have been Hindus who excelled in calligraphy. Suraj Bhan and Chandra Bhan of Delhi were great Arabic calligraphers during Shah Jahan’s time.

Poet Mohammad Iqbal translated Bhratahari’s Neeti Shataka into Urdu and wrote it using calligraphy. Many of Dr. Iqbal’s poems written in calligraphic styles are used as wall hangings in many homes, explains Mr. Hashmi.

In Bidar, the fort, the Mohammad Gawan Madrassa, the tomb of Ahmed Shah Wali in Ashtur, the tomb of Qualilullah Kirmani in Choukhandi, tomb of Abul Faiz, the tombs of Barid Shahi Kings Ali Barid and Quasim Barid, and others have beautiful pieces of calligraphy on the walls and ceiling. Iranian artist Mughees Shiraz is said to have carried out the carvings inside the Bidar fort. “Bidar has a great heritage of calligraphy. At one time, being a Urdu journalist meant being a calligrapher. The situation has changed only after computers began to be used in newspaper offices,” says Quazi Alioddin, a senior journalist with the Hindi daily, Bidar Ki Awaaz.

There are many calligraphers in Bidar now. However, not all of them are leading a comfortable life. Senior calligrapher Mohammad Quaza was trained in the Nastaliq style in Arabic and Urdu. He is also equally skilled in English, Hindi and Kannada calligraphy. Sadly, he now lives his life painting film posters.

Retired teacher Abdul Raheem, mastered the art of writing mirror images of Arabic and Urdu letters, as it was necessary for screen printing. Asifa Rahi still paints portraits and writes film posters. He also paints signboards.

Mohammad Zafar Ulla Khan produced handwritten books. This is how Bidar’s famed poet Rashid Ahmed Rashid’s books were first published. Moin Yaar Khan who was a great hockey player, developed fast writing method in calligraphy. Former MLC Mohsin Kamal brought out Gawan, a calligraphic daily newspaper.

Abdul Wahab and Ameen Ud Din Nawaaz are credited with reviving the art in Bidar. Mr. Nawaaz is keeping the tradition alive by teaching students calligraphy. Over 100 students attend his lessons. “This shows that the art is not dead,” he says.

Mr. Wahab who retired as a teacher, is considered a calligrapher of international standards. He visits the nearly 90 mosques in the district at least once every month. He writes verses from the Quran and other holy scriptures along with their meanings on the black boards there. His visits are so popular that people look forward to them. In many Masjids, the practice of keeping black boards started after he began writing.

Other calligraphers like Qaisar Rehman, Anees Hashmi, Syed Quadri, Javed Mohammad, Akbar Ali, Abdul Sattar Adib and Gaffar Jaffar, Sheikh Ismail, Mohsin Kamal, Quaisar Rehman, Anees Hashmi have brought laurels to Bidar with their artistic writing.

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