Renowned calligrapher Mohammad Mohsin Ul Haque teaches his students at a school in south Delhi, India. Released 24 June 2023. EFE-EPA/Neeshu Shukla

India’s ancient art of calligraphy struggles to survive in the age of technology

By Neeshu Shukla

Renowned calligrapher Mohammad Mohsin Ul Haque teaches his students at a school in south Delhi, India. Released 24 June 2023. EFE-EPA/Neeshu Shukla

New Delhi, Jun 25 (EFE).- The ancient art of calligraphy is on the brink of extinction in India, even as the few surviving calligraphers on the medieval streets of Delhi are looking for disciples to keep the craft alive.

These days it is rare to come across people like Mohammad Mohsin-Ul Haque, a renowned calligrapher in the Indian capital who dedicates his entire time to the practice as well as teaching the art to the young generation.

In a school in Delhi’s southern Malviya Nagar district, Haque teaches students who want to keep alive the dying art, although none of them wants to specialize in it, let alone make it their livelihood.

“I really enjoy learning calligraphy, I am not sure right now whether I would take it up full time, but I do have a lot of interest in it,” one of the students, Maria Khatun, told EFE.

To complement his work as a teacher, Haque also accepts commissions from some government departments to design certificates and invitations, which help him run his family along with his wife, a mathematics teacher.

The importance of calligraphy in India dates back to before the arrival of printing press, and when it was especially used in reproducing religious texts.

As the art became popular, kings and nobles would hire calligraphers who worked exclusively for them and gave a personal touch to their books, documents and manuscripts, even the wall inscriptions and monuments.

Many old buildings, such as Delhi’s popular tourist destination Qutub Minar, still carry calligraphic inscriptions that preserve their history.

The city of Lucknow in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh has played an important role in the promotion of calligraphy.

The owner of an art boutique in the city, Irena Akbar, told EFE that the Mughal Empire – which dominated India between the 16th Century and the arrival of the British 19th Century – was a major patron of calligraphy.

“Mughals brought Arabic, Urdu, and figurative calligraphy with them in India with the influence of Persian scripts. They used to have calligraphed documentation, Muslim wedding contracts, and for decorating walls of monuments,” she said.

Akbar highlighted the world-famous mausoleum of Taj Mahal in Agra (Uttar Pradesh) as a major example of calligraphy, in its Quranic inscriptions.

Even before the arrival of the Mughals, India had a rich tradition of calligraphy in Sanskrit – one of the oldest languages of the world – especially for penning down the oldest texts of Hinduism.

The advent of technology has reduced calligraphy’s role to a hobby, with its few practitioners struggling to survive and depending on other work for their livelihood.

 “Now that the art of calligraphy is seen as limited to documents and old architecture, calligraphers are losing their demand and appeal to computers, but keeping history alive through art is important,”Haque said.

He insisted that some aspects of calligraphy could never be replaced.

“I believe a master in calligraphy can never lose its demand for eternity, but because we cannot change anything, the calligraphers must also move with technology and utilize it to transform their art, experimenting with it and creating something new”, he concluded. EFE