Text: Dr. Akbar Naqvi
Potography: Taimoor Khan Mumtaz
The concept of an ocean in a bubble, or a particle containing the cosmic order, is of very old lineage in the religions and philosophies of the East. After all, ancient Bharat rishis invented the concept of bindu or zero and Arabs took it over to invent mathematics. To this day English numbers are called Arabic numbers. It is also reported from Hazrat Ali that he said that, ‘The essence of the Quran is in Surai Hamd or Fateha, the essence of the Sura is in Bismillah. The essence of Bismillah is in the letter ba with which Bismillah begins, and the essence of ba is in the nuqtah hanging under it’. Nasir-ud-din Mahmud Chiragh Dehlvi (1274-1356) knew all of the above when he wrote in one of his couplet in Persian in which the phrase above occurred. It was the title of a recent exhibition of classical calligraphy at the Koel Gallery recently. All calligraphers believed that Hazrat Ali to be the first master of calligraphy who developed Kufi script in which the top of alif was twin horned. He was also said to have decorated the script with leaves and creepers.
In terms of experiential knowledge of the self and Self, and the distant and intimate relationship between the two, let me begin Ahmed Ali Bhutta’s work scripted in naskh. The ornamentation within the text and hashia or border was done by Murad Khan Mumtaz (Fig.1). The importance of the particle was such in our traditional culture that one’s response on being noticed or greeted the response was aap ki zarra nawazi— appreciation of a mote of dust in light and air.
Hu – He (Allah) Calligraphy: Ustad Khursheed Alam Gohar Qalam in Mirrored Thluth script Medium: Black ink and tea-wash on paper: 10.5”x 20.5” The ancient and medieval mystics and thinkers knew the power of the particle and the cosmos. Unlike modern physics they were not separated so that Hawkins is still searching to unify the science of particle with the science of cosmology
According to Ghalib’s holistic view on the subject, Qatre mein dajla dekhai na de aur juv mein kul Khel larkon ka hua, didai bina na hua. Only the wise can see the whole in parts and vice versa rather than playful children. In this most of us are children. According to a Tradition, purity of writing was purity of the soul. Allah ‘taught man with the Pen’ and the inkpot was necessary for writing with pen. The Mighty Lord was called the Eternal Calligrapher. In our traditional culture good penmanship was a matter of commendable manner or etiquette. All calligraphers believed that Hazrat Ali to be the first master of calligraphy who developed Kufi script in which the top of alif was twin horned. He was also said to have decorated the script with leaves and creepers.
Ibn Muqla (d.940) taught the rules of cursive writing which was already in use with Kufi. He is believed to be the inventor of sitta, the six forms of writing like thuluth, naskh, rihan, muhaqqiq, tauqui and riqa. Calligraphers regarded tuluth as the mother of all scripts. The former slave of the last Abbasid caliph, Yaqut al-Mustasami (d.1298) trimmed the reed pen and clipped its nib to add beauty and refinement to cursive writing. Later on, Persians developed taliq from riqua and tauqui and by joining naskh with talique came up with nastalique. Altogether there are said to be twenty nine scripts developed over the Muslim world, including al- Hind. The ilm of khattati is vast and complex. Here is given the briefest of historical perspective of traditional calligraphy, even though the maghribi calligraphy of North Africa and its variations is not included. I may add that the word nastalique was also used for a person of fashion and courtesy.
The Koel exhibition was a beautiful experience of khattati even if we may not have known one style from another. Those who exhibited were masters from Lahore. Koel succeeded in giving viewers a different kind of experience of Kinetic art from its modern incarnation in the twentieth century. The Koel exibition displayed nastalique, naskh, thulth and muhaqqiq. Ahmed Ali Bhutta calligraphed a poem of Hazrat Ali called Thou on the subject of the double meaning of the word as insane and Allah and the covenant between them. The urge to know oneself under the gaze of Allah is written in muhaqqiq and Murad Khan Mumtaz illuminated it with dim light suited perhaps to modern taste (Fig.2).
I would like to remind again that Hazrat Ali wrote in Kufi. Three lines of the mystic of Spanish origin like Ibn Arabi, Shushtari uttered his variation on the eternal subject of I-Thou relationship and its mysteries in these words ‘And Who Am I, O I, But I!’ It was scripted by Abdur Rehman Abduhu and illuminated by Farah Jabin with suppressed joyousness like Kamil Khan Mumtaz (Fig.3). A lot more cheerful was Ibn Arabi’s He/Not-He which applies to everyone and the Only One. Ahmed Ali Bhutta wrote the relatively longish sayings of Ibn Arabi and Ayesha Tahir illuminated the work (Fig.4). Among other calligraphers whose works were shown was Ustad Khurshid Alam Gohar Qalam. His khattati called Khanjar-e-Taslim, a metaphor of deep meaning from the tradition of Haqq – The Truth Calligraphy: Ustad Khursheed Alam Gohar Qalam in Mirrored Thluth script Medium: Black ink and tea-wash on paper; 10.5”x 20.5” ishq or love in Muslim culture was illuminated by Farah Jabeen (Fig.5). The Ustad’s work was distinctive for another reason. Vertically he had written a whirlwind of letters which could be seen by the eyes as metaphoric whirlwind or whirlpool. It is not necessary to read it but give oneself to its passion for fina or extinction. Here is the essence of khattati on which I shall comment in the next paragraph. Apart from history and beauty of the cursive khattati its inherent dynamic movement,its kinesis, makes it distinctive from other writings. To put it simply, cursive calligraphy is a constant, restless movement on the tablet of space. This can be experienced if one reads only with the eyes and senses affected by sight. Additionally, it also dawns upon one that cursive writing was derived from flowering and fruiting creepers. After all, nature and the cosmos were called the Silent Quran! No matter how abstract, khattati or objects of Muslim craft/art were never far from the organic dynamism of nature as well as the wheeling of the heavens. In fact restless movement and spatial blanks were intertwined with khattati for the eye to rest and then plunge again into its restless passion. This is why the motion of cursive writing was compared with murghe bismil, the metaphor of a lover in Persian and Urdu poetry suffering pangs of life and death. Khattati encompassed both the sciences of particles and cosmology so early conceptualized as the true vision of Allah’screation with which scientists are strugglingtoday. The Koel exhibition was a beautiful experience of khattati even if we may not have known one style from another. Those who exhibited were masters from Lahore. Koel succeeded in giving viewers a different kind of experience of Kinetic art from its modern incarnation in the twentieth century. The traditional forms of Khattati, apart from celebrating the dynamism of creation, also benefited from Allah’s light described in Surai Noor. It was the light of a ‘glass lamp in a niche’ fuelled by olive oil, neither of the East, West, North or South. The light did not burn but soothed and showed how to conduct ourselves. Man crafted the ceramics and beautiful colored lamps which were lighted with candles and were made in Persia and other Muslim countries. To experience of man made light also meant to win the pleasure of Allah. The light, opaque but brilliantly colorful anticipated the brilliant light and color of miniature painting and its hashiya. Artists/craftsmen hoped to bathe in the transcendent light which was also full of movement. To end, one must compliment the curator of the exhibition for supplying viewers with very informative handouts on traditional khattati. It was not confined to books but other objects of art/craft including maimary or architecture. For all its bewildering variety and diversity, traditional art was not de-centered. It knew its nuqtah and also the circle stood the Alif as aggregation of large, small and minute dots from the reed pen. The Alif was the measure of writing. arithmatic, geometry and ishq went into khattati.