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Islamic art exhibition: A peek into the lost world of our calligraphic art


By Hirra Azmat

Srinagar, Jun 10: The stair case bedecked with flowers and posters leads to “Sheerin Qalam”, an Islamic art exhibition organized by Jammu and Kashmir Cultural Academy, where Qur’an scripted in various calligraphic styles and inscribed in different eras is on display.


As one walks through the history of last few centuries, the 100 rare manuscripts covered with transparent sheets reveal many startling details.

While some of them are dexterously hand-written on the parchment paper, many of them have intricate patterns inscribed on the supple deer skin.

Several manuscripts having stylistic appearance are engraved on the smooth Samarkand silk paper. The indigenous calligraphic scripts prove to be an example of Kashmiri calligraphy in its truest sense.

Mohammad Ashraf Kak, In-charge J&K Culture of Academy and Arts, said, the initiative is aimed at introducing visitors to the large number of objects, which are not in general display and to focus on the dying art of calligraphy.

“This exhibition explains the emergence and proliferation of various styles of calligraphy and scripts from different eras.  The exhibition is unique in the sense that not many people know how culturally rich we have been,” Kak said.

While showing around an array of displays, Kak halts near a Qur’anic manuscript from a Mughal era. With a voice soaked with emotions, he describes it as a classic example of “Kashmiriyat”.

“A limited number of colors are usually used in Qur’anic texts but this particular copy has many vibrant colors used in the border. You will be surprised to know the interesting patterns are done by Hindus and text written by Muslims,” said Kak.

The next Qur’anic text corresponding to 1594 AD on the same table leaves every visitor gasping. With its intricate calligraphy and visually pleasing golden colours, the admiration becomes the only choice.

“Holy Quran written with ink blending gold with saffron. This is the only manuscript in the world calligraphed in saffron ink,” reads the description beneath it.

The exhibition also has an eye-catching collection of calligraphic paintings. They equally cast charm as the rare manuscripts. The Islamic calligraphy of Surah Al-Ikhlas, Surah Al-Fatiha and Ayat-Al-Kursi reflect a contemporary touch by converting it into a painting.

“These are done by our contemporary artists. In the uniquely developed contemporary style of calligraphy paintings, the script dons a new look altogether,” Kak said.

Mohammad Saleem Beigh, convener at INTACH, while lauding the initiative also has a sorry tale to tell: “We want to promote our age old art and culture through such events. However, not many people are able to connect with exhibitions of this kind. This is evident from the less number of young people that I see here,” he said.

Beigh believes that the reason the younger generation are not able to develop a connection with these art forms is a mainly because of the flawed educational policy.

“It has to be a part of the school curriculum. Unless they don’t teach you there is something called ‘manuscript’, ‘painting’ and ‘calligraphy’ the youth can never relate to it,” said Beigh

Echoing similar views, Kak said, “The posterity should come to know that there is a value attached to a document dating 100 or 200 years back. If they fail to build these narratives in schools,  then we shouldn’t be upset when they are unappreciative of such art forms,” he said.