In the early 19th century,the traditional art of calligraphy,which is still seen on the walls of mosques and palaces and in various religious texts,seemed in danger. The printing press had come and people had started using shortcuts. The Nawabs,who used the fine skill of calligraphy in their courts,suffered due to breaking up of the princely states during the colonial times. In addition,empires like Aurangzebs court required only masters in this art,which led those who were not experts to resort to the printing press, says Mehdi Khajeh Piri,curator and director of the Noor Microfilm Center,Iran Culture House. Going back to the traditional method of handwritten Quran,which was widespread in Turkey,Iran and India,Noor Microfilm Centre has in collaboration with National Archives of India compiled 60 contemporary calligraphic works depicting verses of Quran in poetic styles such as Tughra,Kufic and Arabic. The works are being displayed in an exhibition titled Art of Calligraphy and the Holy Quran at Delhis National Archives.
Twenty Delhi-based calligraphers were chosen for the purpose of reviving the tradition. This art is not practised so much in India but,over 20 years,we have identified some calligraphers and employed them for their handwriting. We are teaching them how to do decoration writings. We are reviving the art, says Piri. The exhibition has inscriptions of verses from the Quran,using materials such as ink on paper,wood boxes and ceramic. These are written in numerous styles,including the 14th-15th century Naskh and Thulth script,Persian style of Nastaliq,in which each letter in a word is suspended from the previous one.
Interestingly,12 out of the same set of artisans are also working on creating a large-sized handwritten Quran,which measures 4×3 metres. Started four months back,the work is still in progress. Ten of them have also been assigned to decorate and fill colours on parchments. We are not trying to create any record. We are going back to our heritage and recreating it. There is a fusion of sorts, says Piri. Incidently,the worlds largest Quran was recorded to be 2.28 x 1.55 metres. Created in Russias Tatarstan region last month,it was declared to be the largest Quran by the Afghan ministry of Haj and Religious Affairs.
The exhibition is on at National Archives of India till March 23. Entry is free.