World Calligraphy Day: From Pindi to Kashmir, a story of seven calligraphers
Today on 12th of August, the World Calligraphy Day, Omer Farooq writes a special report on the online platform 'Takhliqee'. Launched in 2017, the group has so far taught different art courses mostly Kufic Calligraphy to 500+ Kashmiri students.
Srinagar, August 12: Seven calligraphers have joined to promote dying art of calligraphy online in the Indian subcontinent for which they are getting positive support from the people.
Soudha Sultana, 24, a fine arts graduate from Rawalpindi Pakistan, teaches Kufic Calligraphy, fine arts, Islamic art courses and Mandala Art along with her six Kashmiri artists through their online platform ‘Takhliqee’.
Takhliqee was founded by Soudha along with her former students in 2017. The group teaches Kufic calligraphy and Mandala Art to females only.
Soudha teaches students especially from Kashmir free of cost and so far approximately 1000 Kashmiri students have learned calligraphy and other courses from her group through online mode. She along with her group members completed Project 500 under which about five hundred students were trained.
After completing her Bachelor’s in Political Science and Fine Arts, she was interested in learning the art and keep her updated.
“We started it online in 2017 under the banner of Takhliqee. Initially, and it was free of cost for both Pakistanis as well as Kashmiris. After that we realized many of the students do not put in interest in it so we charged except Kashmiris and underprivileged ones”, Soudha said.
Having her ancestors from Kashmir, Soudha was emotionally attached to Kashmiris right from her childhood. She thinks that it through art, she can contribute to the people of Kashmir.
“My Abu used to say ‘If you love anyone then prove it no matter if the other person returns it back or not’,” Soudha said.
She started her journey way back by teaching in September 2017 and has trained about 500 Kashmiri students in different courses. She used to teach them different courses including poster color painting, water painting, sketching, Kufi calligraphy, mandala art, and Islamic geometry.
“When I die there should be some people who would write the name of Allah so that Allah will be merciful upon me when I would be in the dark grave,” She said adding that it was one of the reasons to teach this art.
Soudha believes that the circle of learning would continue and her students would teach further. She says that she had already established a chain of five generations.
She learned the Kufic calligraphy from her elder sister Summiyah Sultana who had learned it from her ‘Ustadh’ Dr. Moid Fazil, an Iraqi calligrapher who has 25 years of experience.
As per her, she had a good experience with Kashmiri students and believes that they are more talented as compared to the people.
“Sometimes I get surprised by the work of students from the valley and it has inspired thousands of people across the globe,” Soudha said.
About Kashmir, she said it has a good history of Islamic art since the arrival of Islam. However, due to the absence of professional institutions that could not boost the art in the valley.
“Takhliqee is an initiative started by us with online mode as well to fill the void? Our key element to learning the art is passion. Those who are passionate can learn easily and I have seen those people who did not know how to hold a pencil became later good artists,” She said.
Soudha has learned many domains of fine arts which include sculpture, oil paint, water paint, mughal art, western art, Samarian art, Indus art, etc. However she is more interested in Islamic art.
“Kufi Calligraphy is one of the parts of Islamic art, even The Qur’an was first written in Kufic calligraphy during the period of Hadrat Usman (RA),” She said.
She says mandala art used in Indo-Pak and it was practiced by both Muslims as well as Hindus.
After getting a good response from the students, Soudha along with her former students formed an online platform Takhliqee.
In the core team of Kashmir Valley, she was accompanied by six Kashmiri artists including Nusrat Kar, Nida Fatima, Syedah Munataha Andrabi, Iqra Yousuf, Mehreen Muzaffar, and Ifrah Hamid.
All of them have different reasons behind their inclination to art. For Nusrat Kar, it is the art in itself which attracts her toward the platform. While for Nida Fatima, it is a spiritual inclination that solaces her heart by writing the name of her creator.
Similarly, for Munataha and Ifra, it was the love of the Arabic language that convinced them to pursue the dream of calligraphy. The duo had also attended drawing classes during their school days which persuaded interest in them to go for it.
A historical account of Kufic calligraphy and Mandala in Kashmir
Kashmir has a rich history of arts and crafts which include paper machie, calligraphy, woodwork, carpet making, shawl making, etc.
All these arts surfaced here with the Muslim rule in the 14th century. Most of the arts and crafts have their roots in middle-east countries where they flourished during Muslim rule. Wherever Islam spread these arts create their space. Kashmir was no exception.
Dr. Rameez Padder, who had done research on Arts and Crafts in Kashmir from Aligarh Muslim University said most of the arts and crafts including calligraphy was introduced by Sultan Zain ul Abideen.
Padder said that the Sultan had spent eight years in Central Asia from where he brought calligraphists. With the time Kashmir produced fine artists who later on were employed even by Mughals.
“In Kashmir calligraphy ranked before sculpture, architecture, and painting. Some of the most excellent penmen whose products are classics are Kashmiris,” he said.
Dr. Rameez also believes that the art of calligraphy did not enjoy such a status in later period of history. “There is no extension because the old got damaged”.
“However later on, during British rule in India, exhibitions were held which are being held even today,” he said.
“In Kashmir calligraphy ranked before sculpture, architecture, and painting. Some of the most excellent penmen whose products are classics are Kashmiris. Sultan Zain ul Abidin conferred jagirs on his court calligraphists. Muhammad Hussain, titled Zarrin Qalam of the golden pen, of Kashmir was the court calligraphist of Akbar. Ali Chaman Kashmiri was also in Akbar’s court. Muhammad Murad Kashmiri, shereen qalam (a sweet pen) in Shah Jahan court. Mulla baqir Kashmiri, in Shah Jahan court. (Kashir Volume 2, G M D Sofi, Page 59)
Dr. Rameez says, “no calligraphy of Kufic style but only Nastaliq style was prominent here.”
Nida Fatima, an instructor at Takhliqee, also pursuing a doctorate in Molecular Microbiology at the University of Kashmir, says that Islamic calligraphy has a wonderful history in our Kashmir. It was introduced here with the spread of Islam and calligraphers used to enjoy a royal status for a long period.
“As time passed, akin to other arts and crafts in Kashmir, this also began to fade away. Over a period of time when the people showed no interest in the art, while some developed interest but could not pursue it as their career,” Nusrat said.
Another instructor, Nusrat Kar has a peculiar attitude towards art. She is also a jewelry artist and crochet designer. After her intermediate, she was inclined towards fashion designing but could not pursue her family.
“After graduation, I will either learn fashion designing or would pursue post-graduation through correspondence, so that I can dedicate more time to the art,” She said.
Similarly another young artist Iqra Yousuf, a humanities graduate says no one guided her or counseled her to pursue graduation in the fine arts.
“However, Kufic calligraphy and Mandala art is not a mainstream art in Kashmir and there is a need for more to promote the subject at the university level,” She said.
Nusrat Kar, who is among the instructors of Mandala says she had learned on YouTube, and her father fully supported her.
“I have learned it while seeing my father but Kufic Calligraphy is not prominent here. Credit goes to Soudha Sultana who introduced it in Kashmir,” Kar said.
Mr. Iftikhar Jaffar, who is Head of Department (HOD) Applied Arts, University of Kashmir said that Mandala art was used by the Pandith community.
“In Chagreshwari Temple near Badamwaer, Srinagar is a rock on which it is inscribed. People say it is natural. So it is religious art. G R Santosh has worked on it because he used to make tantric art,” Jaffar said.
He says that since the art came from Persia while Kufic is Arabic one which carries no signs (zayr zabar, etc.), hence not understandable by the people here.
“There may be very few pieces of Kufic artwork made by some artists individually but overall we had a tradition of Nastaliq. Even I use it occasionally in my paintings.” Jaffar added,
As per Jaffar, the reason calligraphy or Kufic one did not develop here is unlike Arabian or the Middle East, low quality of calligraphy work here because of no market. There in Mid East people prefer calligraphy over portrait or other artwork, he says.
Soudha Sultana believes that in the Indian subcontinent, this art was later adopted by Muslims as well. She said, “We have mosques like Badshahi Masjid in Lahore where it is inscribed below mehrab.”
“From the inscriptions of the reins of Zain ul Abidin and Hasan Shah, it appears that only the Naskh style was cultivated during that period, but under the later Shahmirs and the Chak sultans, it was Nastaliq style that came into vogue. “ (Kashmir Under Sultans, Muhib ul Hasan, 265 p)
Abdul Salam Kausari used to teach calligraphy at Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages (JKAACL) until 2017. It was the only institute where calligraphy was taught.
He says pieces of Kufic are very rare. “We used to teach Khat e Nastiliq only. The other tragedy is our artwork is not preserved.”
“The artists are hopeful that in the near future they may train a good number of students in Kufic and Mandala,” Kausari said.
As per Mehreen, who is also an instructor claim that Takhliqee is bringing a change now.
“It is free of cost for time being that is acting as a catalyst. Furthermore, if more people are involved, and if workshops are organized, it would grow exponentially,” She said.
As per Abdul Salam Kausari, who was teaching at JKAACL, says he would give his blood for this art but still people don’t endorse it.
“One of the biggest tragedies which happened was the suspension of the course in the academy. In 2017, the academy winded up the course which was the only institute where the calligraphy was taught in JK,” he said.
However, since the initiative of Takhliqee is dependent on the internet so it often leads to delay in projects and assignments due to blockade of internet and 2G internet services.
However, Ifra is more committed and states that it did not affect her work, while Mehreen says, “It is the major reason for not reaching the maximum audience.”
Inherently, Ifra Hamid has summed up key learning points in just three P’s i.e. Patience, Practice, and Passion. “Right intent, determination, hard work, perseverance, and belief”, she added.
For Nusrat, internet connectivity is the main obstacle as one is not able to send their assignments. ‘One 2G internet, it is time consuming and boring process. “Till the assignment reaches students, they get confused and distracted,” She said.
Following the abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019, after which communication lines were snapped, Takhliqee members were also finding their own ways and were not in touch with each other.
Though most of the instructors have this as their part-time profession but does this art has any scope for generating income in a place like Kashmir.
However, Nusrat, who plans to pursue a career in fashion designing, is very hopeful.
“There was a time when one could not have made money out of his work. But now the time has changed and it is emerging as a trend.” She said adding that now there is wall calligraphy, even in restaurants, hotels, and other places also.
As per Nida, she knew a few fine calligraphers who actually find it difficult to make ends meet. My friend’s father had to opt for other sources as he could not make enough of it. In Kashmir, you cannot rely on the internet even for the smallest of things
Munataha believes this art if taken to the next level would definitely make money. “If we go to get homes decorated by Islamic arts, rather than modern fashion designs,” she says.
She believes that one needs peace of mind to work more efficiently and beautifully. About working in Kashmir, Munataha said art is will develop despite facing all odd situations due to ongoing turmoil. “However the biggest advantage with this work is it can be taught from home subject to availability of internet,” She said.
Like Muntaha and her colleagues are going to introduce Kufic calligraphy offline after the Covid19 lockdown is over. “We are looking forward to starting an exhibition cum sale, Insha Allah”, she said.