April 29, 2016

Prayers for Nawruz (New Year)

This calligraphic panel is executed in black (Indian) naskh on a pink paper decorated with gold cloud motifs and pasted to a light-blue backing. It is signed by Muhammad Bakhsh and dated 1211 AH (1796−97) in the lower-left corner. In the upper-right corner, an invocation to ʻAli, Ya ʻAli al-aʻala (Oh ʻAli, the Greatest), shows that the work emerged from a Shiʻi milieu. The rubaʻi (iambic pentameter quatrain) that follows reads: “Oh Star of the Constellation of Destiny (endowed) with good luck / Rise up and be merry because the New Year has arrived. / Every promise that Fortune has made to you / Is now close, if it (ever) had been far.” This poem wishes a ruler (nicknamed the “Star of the Constellation of Destiny”) everlasting good fortune and the fulfillment of promises on the occasion of Nawruz (New Year). This Nawruz is most likely the spring equinox (March 21), marking the beginning of the solar calendar as celebrated in Iran and parts of India. It appears that this calligraphic panel was executed on such an occasion to celebrate the New Year and to wish a patron prosperity for the year to come.

A Friend's Letter

This calligraphic fragment consists of a letter written by a man to his friend. At the top, the letter is initiated by four bayts (verses) from a ghazal (lyrical poem) that advises men to be good and not to engage in siyah kar (evil deeds). These lines are written in smaller script on the diagonal and separated into four columns. The letter then proceeds horizontally. The correspondent apologizes for not having written in a long time. In the middle of his letter, he also includes verses from Firdawsi’s Shāhnāmah that have an eschatological character. They promote the fear of God and the Day of Judgment. The text is written in small black shikastah-nastaʻliq script on a piece of paper painted in light brown in such a manner that it looks like papyrus, bark, or bamboo. The text panel is pasted directly onto a purple sheet of paper backed by cardboard. Although the letter is neither signed nor dated, it appears to have executed in Persia (Iran) during the 17th−18th centuries.

Inshaʼ

This calligraphic fragment belongs to a series of 22 inshaʼ (literary compositions or letters) written by calligraphers named Mir Kalan, Khan Zaman (son of Khan Khanan), Qaʼim Khan, Lutfallah Khan, and Mahabat Khan. Judging from the script (Indian nastaʻliq), a seal impression bearing the date 1113 AH (1701−2), and a letter mentioning the city of Janpur in India, it appears that these writings were executed in India during the 18th century. Furthermore, if one were to identify the calligrapher Mir Kalan as the renowned painter active during the mid-18th century in Lucknow, then this identification would add further support to identifying this calligraphic series in the Library of Congress’ collection as a corpus of materials produced by several writers active in 18th-century India. The calligraphies are typically written in a hasty nastaʻliq on white paper, framed in blue, and pasted to a pink or salmon cardboard. They stand out for being in rather poor condition, in many cases badly damaged by worm holes and/or water stains. Some bear squiggle-like marks in the margins, while others include seal impressions that were cut out and pasted onto the cardboards. In most cases, an attribution to a calligrapher is written at the top, preceded by the expression raqamahu (written by) or khatt-i (the handwriting of). The recto of this particular fragment bears the attribution “khatt-i Khan Zaman” to Khan Zaman at the top. In the lower horizontal frame appears a fragment of a seal impression in which the following names can be deciphered: Muhammad bin... Shah Ghazi...Khan Fadavi. The composition on the white paper consists of a letter addressed to the writer's baradar-i mihraban-i man (dear friend or brother), in which he acknowledges receipt of the latter’s letter. The writer then states that he and his family are well, but that he is disappointed that his friend cannot join them. For this reason, he requests that his friend/brother send a vakil (agent) in his stead. The verso of this piece has suffered heavy water damage. At the top, however, one can still read the attribution to Khan Zaman. In the lower horizontal, there is a squiggle design and a pasted white piece of paper. The composition in the center resembles the letter on the fragment’s recto. The author addresses his dear friend/brother to tell him that he misses him and wishes to see him again. Since he cannot come, the writer requests that he get a vakalat (proxy or deputy) to carry out an action that is not specified here.

Inshaʼ

This calligraphic fragment belongs to a series of 22 inshaʼ (literary compositions or letters) written by calligraphers named Mir Kalan, Khan Zaman (son of Khan Khanan), Qaʼim Khan, Lutfallah Khan, and Mahabat Khan. Judging from the script (Indian nastaʻliq), a seal impression bearing the date 1113 AH (1701−2), and a letter mentioning the city of Janpur in India, it appears that these writings were executed in India during the 18th century. Furthermore, if one were to identify the calligrapher Mir Kalan as the renowned painter active during the mid-18th century in Lucknow, then this identification would add further support to identifying this calligraphic series in the Library of Congress’ collection as a corpus of materials produced by several writers active in 18th-century India. The calligraphies are typically written in a hasty nastaʻliq on white paper, framed in blue, and pasted to a pink or salmon cardboard. They stand out for being in rather poor condition, in many cases badly damaged by worm holes and/or water stains. Some bear squiggle-like marks in the margins, while others include seal impressions that were cut out and pasted onto the cardboards. In most cases, an attribution to a calligrapher is written at the top, preceded by the expression raqamahu (written by) or khatt-i (the handwriting of). The recto of this particular composition is attributed to Qaʼim Khan, as noted by the inscription on the top "fa'la Qaʼim Khan pa[sar]..." (made by Qaʼim Khan, son of...). A small squiggle design appears in the lower-left corner. The composition itself appears on a white-and-blue marble paper decorated with salmon flowers. It begins with praise of God, huwa al-ʻaziz (He is the Glorified), followed by two bayts (verses) of poetry on firaq (the pain of separation) composed by the great Persian poet Hafiz (died circa 1390). The writer then states that he received his friend’s letter, which was like a flower for him. Although this inshaʼ (letter) is filled with ornate and elaborate expressions, the writer admits at the end that it was “hararahu bi al-ʻajalah” (written in haste). The verso, like this fragment’s recto, is attributed to Qaʼim Khan, and has the same inscription on the top. The composition itself appears on a white paper decorated with blue sprinkles, and consists of an inshaʼ addressed to a certain Navab Sahib (a title further supporting the Indian origin of these letters). The writer states that he is pleased to have received Navab Sahib’s letter, which was like a gul-i khush bu (sweet-smelling flower), and is eager to see him. He thanks Navab Sahib for having done very thoughtful things for him and ends his letter by promising that he will not forget his kindness.

Qurʼanic Chapters 1 and 114

This calligraphic fragment is executed in fine shikastah (literally, “broken”) script and includes an initial bismillah (in the name of God) and surahs (chapters) one and 114 of the Qurʼan. At the top appears the first chapter of the Qurʼan, entitled al-Fatihah (The opening). It reads: “In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful. / Praise be to God, the Lord of the worlds; / The Most Gracious, the Most Merciful; / Master of the Day of Judgment. / You do we worship, and Your aid do we seek. / Show us the straight way, / The way of those on whom You have bestowed Your Grace, those whose (portion) is not wrath, and who go not astray.” Below the Fatihah appears one of the shortest chapters of the Qurʼan entitled Surat al-Nas (Mankind). It praises God as the Malak al-Nas (Lord of mankind) and as the Protector from Satan al-waswas (literally, the “Whisperer”): “Say, I seek refuge with the Lord and Cherisher of Mankind, / the King of Mankind, / The God of Mankind, / From the mischief of the Whisperer who withdraws / And who whispers in the hearts of mankind among the spirits and men.” These two surahs from the Qurʼan appear together here probably because they are short and easily memorized and recited aloud. It is quite unusual, however, to find Qurʼanic verses executed in shikastah, a very fluid script invented in Persia (Iran) by the 18th-century calligrapher Darvish ʻAbd al-Majid al-Taliqani. During the 18th and 19th centuries, Qurʼans were generally written in naskh or nastaʻliq, as these scripts were more legible than shikastah. For this reason, this particular fragment stands out as rare proof that some Qurʼanic ayahs were executed in shikastah in Iran during the 18th−19th centuries.

ʻId (Feast Day) Quatrain

This rubaʻi (iambic pentameter quatrain) is written in black nastaʻliq and surrounded by cloud bands on a gold background. It is not signed or dated, although the script suggests that it was executed in Persia (Iran) sometime in the 16th or 17th centuries. Provided with several monochromatic frames, the text page is pasted to a pink paper strengthened with cardboard. In the top-left corner of the text panel an invocation to God initiates the poem with the expression “huwa al-muʻizz” (He is the Glorified). Then follows the quatrain, which reads: “May your heart be like the sea and your hand like the mineral, / Like the heart and the hand of God, / King of the world who orders, / May you always run across the world.” This quatrain provides a duʻaʼ (prayer) for a ruler, comparing his generosity to that of God and hoping that his authority, much like God’s, may spread far and wide.