Srinagar: There was a time when one would only come across black banners during the Muharram month in the Kashmir valley. Now, Muharram banners are breathing new life into Islamic calligraphy in the Valley.
Apart from calligraphy in different colors, a few banners have also sent out a message of Shia-Sunni unity.
Iliyas Rizvi, an oral historian, and craft researcher who has been documenting religious ceremonies and events related to Muharram for a decade said more Valley-based artists were now experimenting with new calligraphic designs.
“Earlier, we would see only limited black banners in the city during Muharram. However, over the last few years due to open access to world arts through the web, artists in Kashmir are now experiencing new designs. Banners are a source of expression as well. If we travel across the city and beyond, one gets a feeling of Muharram through these banners,” Rizvi told The Kashmir Monitor.
He said new calligraphic designs were also visible in flags and headbands. “In Kashmir, Muharram is one of the few platforms where calligraphy, which is considered a dying form, gets artists to make different styles in the form of banners, flags, and headbands. Now, one can also see red and white colors besides black,” he said.
“Though fabric has been used for a long to write messages of Karbala through different calligraphic styles, this has now emerged as a genre of art. At the same time, other banners also carry a message of unity. One among them can be seen at the Residency Road these days that states: “SHIA SUNNI UNITY – Karbala is not about being Shia or Sunni, Karbala is about being Hussain or Yazid!” he added.
Calligrapher Shujat Ali Gazi from the Alamgari Bazar area of the city said he drew inspiration from others and if a banner impressed him, he would try to do better.
“If I see a banner that I like, I tell myself I have to do better. However, calligraphy requires patience and an artist gets a lot of encouragement when his work gets appreciated. While we try to do something new, lots of people come to my house to check out the new banners I make. My gallery is busy with guests, who come to commission art pieces on fabric in the form of flags and banners. At times, visitors come from areas like Budgam and Anantnag and Uri as well,” Gazi told The Kashmir Monitor.
He said preparations for making the Muharram banners started after Eid-ul-Fitr only.
“Another unique characteristic of the Muharram banners is that the preparation starts as early as Ramadhan and by Eid-ul-Azha, most banners are ready,” he said.