Ancient arts of calligraphy, Kashikari may run into oblivion, need government patronage

ملتان۔ خطاطی اور کاشی کاری کا فن خطرات سے دوچار

By Iftikhar Ahmed

There was a time when ancient arts of calligraphy and Kashikari could lead artists to Royal Courts and earn them bounties in addition to fame and respect. But the technological advancements and rising machines dominance gradually diminished this art that once enjoyed a sound vocational status.

There exist artists who adapted to the changing scenario and were able to exploit technology to promote the arts giving it a new look. But such examples are rare. Noted calligrapher Rashid Siyal is among such forward looking souls, however, he too believes these arts are now under the threat of extinction and may soon run into oblivion. “It takes a lot of pain and days of work to create a piece of art but you cannot keep your kitchen running with your creative work” Rashid Siyal told APP.

The 5000 years old city of Multan had always remained a hub of fine arts and its artists and craftsmen proved their mettle all over the world. The world acclaimed monument, Taj Mehel, is a big example as many calligraphers, artisans and masons from Multan participated in its construction.

Art of calligraphy started taking roots and flourished magnanimously after emergence of Islam in this area following the arrival of Muhammad Bin Qasim. It became so popular that artists from parts of the world reached Multan, Delhi and Lahore. Calligraphers wrote Quran Pak in different scripts, making it pass through a long evolutionary stylistic journey from Kufic script to modern Nasakh and to Nastaliq scripts. The stylistic evolution led to introduction of Qamri script and Gulzari script and a lot of styles of Kufic script came to the fore. The evolutionary journey of scripts and uniqueness of style was stunning.

Emperor Babar was himself a calligrapher par excellence and he invented Babri script from Nasakh. The king’s lineage of learning originated from renowned calligrapher Mir Ali Tabrezi. A noted calligrapher Abdul Aziz Multani Qureshi had won commendation from emperor Jahangir. Mir Mulla Qayyum Qandahari Multani, another renowned calligrapher of his time, spent his last days in Multan and contributed to promoting the art. During the reign of Shah Jahan, letters written by a calligrapher Sultan Mahmood Qureshi Multani, who belonged to the learning lineage of Mulla Abdul Haq Shirazi, caught the attention of the King Shah Jahan who summoned the calligrapher to his Royal Court. The calligrapher, however, later returned to Multan and continued to contributing to the art.

The calligraphic art of Nauman Bin Saeed Ansari Hirati Multani in Kufic script was still visible on old mosques of Multan in Kashikari. A calligrapher Mullah Qadeem Bin Hassan Multani was the Royal calligrapher in the court of emperor Akbar-e-Azam. His contemporary calligrapher Mir Abdullah Multani was famous for his art from Multan to Dehli.

Multan produced many renowned calligraphers during the reign of Nawab Muzaffar Khan Shaheed as Governor who himself was skilful in calligraphy. The saints including Hazrat Hafiz Jamal Chishti Multani, Hazrat Khawaja Khuda Bakhsh Chishti Multani, Hazrat Munshi Ghulam Hassan Shaheed Multani, and Hazrat Pir Dilair Qadri promoted the art. Hazrat Syed Abdul Nabi Multani Shaheed, a martyr from the war for independence, was also known for his top quality calligraphic skills. Makhdoom Abdul Hadi, Maulana Qazi Noor Mustafa Qureshi Shaheed Multani, Ali Mardan Qadri Multani, Hazrat Qazi Ubaidullah Chishti Multani, Khawaja Khuda Bakhsh Multani, and Syed Jalaluddin Multani infused renewed passion among their followers and calligraphy touched new highs in Multan.

The name of Hassan Khan Kaleem Raqam emerged blinking in the modern era calligraphy and keeping art alive. His son Ibn-e-kaleem is a famous calligrapher of Multan who introduced Ra’na script by modernizing rules of Babri script and his modern approach brought uniqueness and popularity to his work. Ustaad Saleem Chishti was a pupil of Ustaad Ghulam Jilani in Multan who also benefitted from experiences of calligraphers from other parts of the subcontinent. Ali Ejaz Nizami, basically a painter, was also a respectable calligrapher of Multan.

Rashid Siyal, was, however, counted among those calligraphers who linked the art of calligraphy with modern technology. Many years ago when computer was at the initial stages of script writing, a script known as Rashid script was part of the word processors on computer systems. Rashid arranged many exhibitions to display his art work. Likewise, Ibn-e-Kaleem’s son Muhammad Mukhtar Ali also remained engaged in promoting the art while his brother Muhammad Jamal Mohsin was doing the same in Karachi.

The calligraphic inscriptions decorating the shrines and mosques showed the art of calligraphy and Kashikari was thriving and the artists carried it forward from generation to generation.

The verandah of the mausoleum of Hazrat Bahauddin Zakariya Multani that is visible from the entrance has seven Mehrab i.e semi-circle niche in the walls and all were decorated with calligraphic work in Kashikari. Famous monument, Nawab Ali Muhammad mosque’s walls are decorated with verses in Persian language in in Nastaliq script. A Multan governor during the reign of Mughals had built Eidgah. An information board is fixed outside inscribed with its history in Nastaliq.

World fame calligrapher Rashid Siyal has spent over 35 years nurturing his love for the calligraphy and was the one among those who did not take technology as a hurdle rather applied it for more refinement and modernity.

“I have decorated over 4000 mosques with my calligraphic work, mostly writing Quranic verses and have designed introductory pages of many books”, he told APP.

He said, he has transferred his skill to his daughters despite knowing this art was losing its relevance viz-a-viz meeting family expenses.

History showed Kashikari made inroads into Multan from Kashan city of Iran and Kashikars demonstrated their art on many mosques, mausoleums including the mausoleum of Hazrat Shah Yousuf Gardez in Multan.

There was a colony in Multan’s old walled city titled “Mohallah Kashigaran” where many families of Kashikars used to live. However, no family of Kashikars now live in this Mohallah. Noted Kashikar Wajid and his relatives are the only family associated with this art in Multan. “This is our seventh generation doing the Kashikari artwork in Multan,” Wajid told APP adding his family moved to this area with the arrival of Muhammad Bin Qasim.
He said, he was doing it since when he was only 10 and learned it from his father Ustaad Allah Divaya. Ten to fifteen members of our family are skilful and doing the artwork, he said adding that the mausoleum of Hazrat Khawaja Ghulam Fareed in Kot Mithan, and shrines of Hazrat Bahauddin Zakariya and Hazrat Shah Rukn-e-Alam and others in Multan, besides Bibi Jawindi mausoleum in Uch Sharif are decorated in Kashikari designs developed by his family.

He said that Kashikari designs decorating Multan and Islamabad airports were also developed by him adding that since he and his family are the only experts in this art in Multan, they are called every time a monument needed conservation and restoration of Kashikari panels.