The art of beautiful writing

Nishita Banerjee talks of her fascination with the beautiful art of calligraphy

Lucknow is a prominent centre of calligraphy and the contribution of the city in promoting the art is without question.

The beautiful art of writing in Urdu, Persian and Arabic is known as khushnavisi. The art of calligraphy or khattati is derived from khushnavisi. The decorative art of calligraphy dates back to the 12th century when masters in calligraphy came to India in groups. Kufi, nashkh, thulth, muhahhaq, riqa, diwani and nastaliq are popular styles of Islamic calligraphy.

Sanskrit and Dravidian calligraphy was also popular in India with respect to inscriptions and manuscripts. Calligraphy and penmanship are connected with learning. It is believed that Mir Ali Tabrizi was the main propagator of this art in regions of Lucknow and Delhi. Nawab Sadaat Ali Khan also patronised this art during his reign. Hence, it was through writing in naskh and nastaliq that calligraphy reached Lucknow and attained distinction that became unrivalled throughout India.

Masters of their art

The calligraphers of the Nawabi era were masters in the art. They tried writing even on food items like chana dal, rice and sweets. Mohammed Rashid was able to trace bismillah hir-rehman ur rahim on a chana dal. Sources like Guzishta Lucknow and Tarikh- e-Lucknow give detailed information about the art of calligraphy. The contribution of Munshi Newal Kishore Press, Lucknow is tremendous in promoting the art form. The press was one of the most prominent printing and publishing houses of the continent in the 19th and 20th century.

Various monuments in Lucknow are enriched with the art of calligraphy like the Chota Imamabara, Karbala Talkatora, Imambara Zain-ul Abidin, Karbala Dayanat-ud Daula and Karbala Puttan Sahiba amongst others. In earlier times people would decorate their home with specimen of calligraphy. Calligraphy was very popular in medieval times and was used on coins, manuscripts, farmaans, books and other items. Hashim Akhtar Naqvi from Lucknow has the distinction of having his name in Limca Book of Records for writing bismillah hir-rehman ur rahim in various styles of calligraphy.


A particular type of calligraphy called tughra is also popular in Lucknow. Syed Azeem Haider Jafri, well known artist residing in the old city of Lucknow is an expert. With the passage of time and declining interest of people, Urdu calligraphy suffers neglect. The art of calligraphy is now only limited to wedding cards, name plates, stone carving and the interest in it of private people.

A recent initiative was taken by Lucknow Society towards preserving this form of art by conducting workshops on the same.

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