Amid the political chaos in the Kashmir Valley, a group of curators and artists from different organizations have come together to hold an exhibition titled Sheerin Qalam, displaying some rare Quranic manuscripts, Islamic art objects and calligraphy specimen at the main gallery in Tourist Reception Center of Srinagar.

The exhibition has been organized by Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Language in collaboration with Directorates of Tourism, Libraries, Archives, Archeology and Museum, The Indian National Trust for Art and Culture Heritage (INTACH) Kashmir Chapter and Shashvat Art Gallery, Jammu.

Besides Quranic manuscripts and other Islamic art objects, the exhibition also upheld Khawaja Azam’s manuscript on Botany. Some Nikkah-Nama manuscripts also shared the table.

Saleem Baig, who is a member of the INTACH says that people in Kashmir had a tradition of recording and preserving things, it was a profession at some point of time but now things are taking an ugly-turn. INTACH came to the state in 1984 with a mandate to protect and conserve natural, built and cultural heritage.

But the start of militancy in the Valley during the late 1980s, the focus shifted from heritage, art and cultural studies, to the intense bloodshed. It was termed as the first visible sign of political stress in the Valley.

Baig says that these organizations – the organizers of the exhibition, have been trying to find ways by which these things can be brought up and trigger a thought among people. He thinks that people have no idea what we have, all they know is that we have a lot of stuff available but what kind of stuff that is they don’t know.

Calligraphy and Manuscripts

According to one of the exhibition coordinator, there are about 40 calligraphies brought from the Dogra Royal collection which is now a part of Shashvat Art Gallery in Jammu.

Contemporary forms like using techniques of paper machie on boards and paintings that have been started by young artists lately are not a part of daily life but were also displayed in the exhibition. Besides some rare art objects on which calligraphy is done, along with calligraphies and handwritten Qurans were also a part of this cultural exhibition.

Taha Mughal, an exhibition coordinator and part of INTACH Kashmir, who has curated the exhibition, said that some of the manuscripts displayed in the event are complete big scores and as old as 1800 years. “There are a lot of calligraphies which have been done in Gold and vilum- it’s a dear skin, a part between skin and muscles,” said Mughal.

Some personal artists who are in connection with these organizations also contributed to the exhibition. Talking about the event planned for the month of Ramadan, Mughal added that planning it in Ramadan had a symbolic reference.

“I may give the reference of ‘Khus Khat’ exhibition last year,” he said. “It was a calligraphy exhibition that targeted around 13000 people, statically recorded. It was an Islamic Calligraphy Exhibition that entirely started to revive the art of calligraphy in Kashmir, which was on a downfall. This is in response to the last year’s event and also a religious significance attached to the event made it important in Ramadan.”

A calligraphy student displays a work of calligraphy at the exhibition. Photograph by Sanjana Reddy

Collection of Cultural Academy

The State Cultural academy has around 650 manuscripts, twenty of which were displayed in the exhibition.

Ashraf Tak, the Chief editor of the Cultural Academy and in charge of this exhibition, told The Kashmir Walla that the proper collection of the academy is more than 800 years old. He said that all over the world only a few ‘Nuskas’ are left like Khati-Deewani, Khati-Sulf, Khati-Rihani, Khati-Gubar, Khati-Nastali, Khati-Bahari and more that are on display.

Khati-Nask is a precious style of Calligraphy, he says. It was mostly used in Central Asia.

Tak believes that the most significant thing for the younger generation is that the paper on which the calligraphy is done is Kashmiri, binding, ink and Pen are Kashmiri products and the Calligrapher is Kashmiri.

Rare objects like a commentary on Quran done in Kashmir were also on display, among which 25 feet long Shajrai Nasab also called the family tree of prophet starting with the name of Abdul Bahar Syed Hazrat Adam, the first one to step in the world, according to Muslims, has been made public in the exhibition.

A dagger in gold made with elephant teeth, with lions head placed on the top was placed in the Metal calligraphy section. Tak said that there used to be a belief in the past that “if one sees the dagger in the Muslim month of Muharram, his/her religious beliefs get awaken because the sword has been used against the Yazeed and his companions.”

The rarest of rare example at the exhibition was the Quran written with Saffron as ink. The Quran is around 400 years old. A handwritten Quranic manuscript of 1300 Hijri, the Quranic manuscript written during the reign of Emperor Jehangir was also at the display.

Quranic script at the display. Photography by Sanjana Reddy

Teaching calligraphy 

In the room adjacent to the exhibition hall, Abdul Salam Qausuri, instructor of Calligraphy working with the academy was busy teaching basics of calligraphy to students from different backgrounds. The workshop is open and as many as 400 students around the Valley have so far joined the workshop to learn the styles of calligraphy.

Salam teaches free of cost here. He says that the event is scheduled for five days and will conclude on Monday. A student of Salam, who has done diploma in calligraphy, sits at a distance with crossed legs and sketching one of the styles of calligraphy on a chart paper to impress the audience around.

Nazima is in her 20s has been invited by the academy to teach the outside students. “The workshop got a great response and young students are taking more interest in knowing about calligraphy,” she said. “I am having a good time here to educate different people about calligraphy. This is the first time I am talking about calligraphy in public and people are curious to know about it.”

The exhibition saw visitors from across the Valley, including different government officials and politicians, including the Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti.

Photographs by Sanjana Reddy

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