On the Mode of Efflorescence of Calligraphic Styles of the Temurid Period
as Artistic Manifestations on Buildings and Books
Abdul Hai Habibi
The history of calligraphy in ancient Afghanistan dates back to pre-historic times. An extensive number of scripts developed throughout historic ages e.g., the Aramic, Kharoshti, Greek, Phalavi, Sharada, Dewanagri, Barahmi and Dindebira of Avesta. At the end of the 7th century A.D. Indian, Pahlavi and Greek alphabets gave way to Arabic script.
Arabic script was introduced in Afghanistan with the advent of Islam. It was used in writing the Holy Koran and in the courts of Arab rulers. In the 8th century this style of writing was used throughout Afghanistan, especially in Herat and the eastern parts of the country. While Pahlavi and Avestan scripts were present in the eastern regions of Afghanistan until the end of the 9th century and up to the reign of Yakub Lais. Examples of Greek script are present on the Touchi stone tablets which date back to 865 A.D. Similarly Arabic and Sharada-Nagari inscriptions dating back to 857, have been found in the Touchi Valley in eastern Afghanistan. Moreover, archaeologists have found some inscriptions in Dewanagari script of Sanskrit language in Swat and Waihind on the banks of the Attok. It is asserted these inscriptions were written between the 8th and 10th centuries and belong to the Kabul Shahs, who were forced to exit to the eastern regions of the country near the Indus, by Moslem rulers and Subuktageen, the founder of the Ghaznavid dynasty.
Some older examples of Arabic script, taken from the later Nabti script, and rooted in the Aramic script were used in the 5th century and this style was inscribed on the door of a church in Kabal-al-Duruz Harran of Syria in 567 A.D. Other samples written in the years 651, 660, 691, and 749 A.D. have also been discovered. These samples belong to the Kufi and Naskh scripts. Arab rulers struck coins carrying these styles of writing in 708 A.D. in Kerman and Merv, in 735 A.D. in Balkh, 808 A.D. in Herat and 802 A.D. in Zaranj of Seistan. These coins are housed in the Kabul and British museums, the scripts being a mixture of the Arabic Kufi and Naskh styles resembling Touchi inscriptions.
Although Arab conquests were completed in the Helmand and Arghandab valleys and the Kabul river vallley by the end of the first century Hejera and with these religious victories Islam and Koranic scripts penetrated into Afghanistan, yet the new religion affected the mountainous regions of Eastern Afghanistan much later. This we know from the inscription of Bampur mosque near Karachi, written in 765 A.D. that has a beautiful and well-written script resembling the Kufi style. Both inscriptions, discovered in the Touchi Valley, dating back to the 9th century, are unattractive and raw and only show the initial influence of Naskh Arabic script in the eastern regions of Afghanistan.
Writing is the social manifestation of human life and like other fundamentals of life changes with political, economic and psychological factors either for better or worse. With the beginning of nomadic life and the preliminary stages of feudalism, writing was practiced as a necessity of simple life, but with the rise of feudalism and the coming into being of kingdoms and empires this social and urban human phenomenon, like all other arts, takes an authentic artistic shape and is considered as a fine art of the time. The Arian countries of Central Asia has a long history of authentic paintings and sculptures on buildings and books. Samples of their artistic talent are extant in ancient Buddhic relics on the painted walls of ancient relics of Bagram, Peshawar and other places. They are also to be seen on the buildings discovered in Panjkant in Samarkand.
Colors and paintings were used in the writings of the Achaemenid period of Iran and it is said that Avesta was written on the hide of bulls with golden letters. Religious relics of Mani were also illuminated and some Islamic historians like Ibn-e-Muqaffa, Al Balazuri, Ibn-e-Qutaiba, Al-Sooli and Ibn-e-Durustooya provide descriptions of many valuable scripts and books exquisitely illuminated and painted. While the Abbasid caliphate was in the offing in the middle of the 8th century and the empire of Arabs stretched from Nile to the banks of Indus and they had inherited Byzantine, Iranian, Gandahara, Sugd and Manian arts, it was natural for them to be influenced by the splendor of beautiful buildings, books and the artistic heritage of the occupied lands. Ibe-e-Nadim, Tabari and Mas‘udi mention the delivery of beautiful statues studded with jewelry from Bamiyan, Kabul, Dawar and Bost to the courts of Baghdad where they were kept for a long time so that people would come and see them and later were exhibited in the central police station for three days. People were awed at the sight of these wonderful objects, saw them with interest and did not break the idols as the Moslems of the first Islamic century had done. According to the tenets of their religion Moslems were forbidden to carve human figures on the walls of their cemeteries or mosques so in order to adorn their mosques Arabs used calligraphy and paintings devoid of human or animal forms. Thus the evolution of Arabic script into an art was accelerated in the beginning of the Abbasid caliphate in the middle of 8th century because with the rise of feudalism economic factors became favorable to develop such art.
The people of Khorasan played a significant role in developing these arts. Yahya Barmaki (died 805 A.D.) was keenly interested in calligraphy and he nurtured the most famous calligrapher of the Mamoon court, namely Ahmad bin Khalid Ahwal, who contrived rules for the Arabic script. His style of writing was extremely exquisite. Similarly, another Khorasani minister, Fazl bin Sahl Sarakshi, also paid great attention to the development of this art and during his time Kalam-al-Riyasi (Riyasi penmanship) was practiced from which the Suls, Muhqaq, Reqa and Ghubar styles developed (Al Fehrest, 13).
After this a great deal of attention was paid to make the Arabic script artistic and Ibn-e-Khutaiba (died 889) says that the courtiers of Mamoon persuaded their secretaries to write as good as possible. Al-Suli and Ibn-e-Durustooya in Ketab-ul-Kuttub, written during the 10th century, describe the rules and esthetic principles of Arabic script. Abu Bakr al-Suli who wrote Adab-ul-Kutuub in 937 A.D. says the writings of Ahmad Ahwal, which were sent by Caliph Mamoon to Constantinople, were displayed on the gates of the court so that everyone would be able to see its beauty. Caliph al-Mutamid is said to have sent a letter to the emperor of Byzantien in the end of the 10th century which was written in such beautiful hand writing that the emperor said: "Except for their excellent handwriting I envy nothing else of the Arabs."
During the reign of the Arab caliphate, Arabic script developed from the simple Baskhi style into the sophisticated, beautiful, decorative and artistic Kufi script. A sample of this script is present on a marble tablet in the Al-Mehdi mosque of Baghdad. This tablet contains 11 emended Kufi lines among beautiful engravings and dates to 771. Similar tablets have been discovered by M.N. Khanikoff in Darband and Baku. It looks that this emended Kufi script reached Khorasan in the same adorned form since the angular form of this type of writing has been found in the Naeen mosque which was built in 960 A.D. Later on in 1027 A.D. this style of writing was used on the walls of the cemetery of Pir Alamdar adorned with flowers, branches, leaves and other refined figures, which makes one think that they are engraved flowers. The same embellished style is seen in its zenith on the arch of the Maghak-e-Attari mosque in Bukhara from the 12th century.
Writings on buildings, as was noticed, were highly decorative and contained paintings, flowers and geometrical figures intermingled with one another. However, books which were used by the public were written in a simple style and efforts were made to make the handwriting as readable as possible It is here that Kufi script interlarded with Naskh is seen in different forms in books. Thus another script came into being which Ibn-e-Nadim has called Fir Amoz, the Arabized form of Persian Pir Amoz. From this name it is evident that this style had originated among the Persians. The words in Fir Amoz were connected with one another with the tip of the pen and brush so that they would look well embellished. An example of this kind of script, a page from a Koran, is present in the collections of Meshad Rezavi. Another book written in the decorated Pir Amoz script is Sefat-ul-Sheas by Shaikh Sadeq in 979 A.D. The calligrapher of this book is Nasr bin-Abdullah Qazvini who wrote it in the year 1000. A copy of it is preserved in a private library in Tehran.
From the Korans of Astan-e-Rezavi Meshad, one donated by Abul Asim Mansoor bin-Mohammad Herawi the minister of Sultan Mahmud in 1002 A.D., and another donated by Abu al-Barakar Razi in 1030 A.D., and the Koran written by Esa bin Abdullah Balkhi in 1027 A.D., housed in the library of Milan, which were written in simple Kufi script mingled with Naskh, it is evident that in the beginning of the 11th century Kufi script used in Koran and similar to Naskh script was devoid of beauty and had little artistic value. When books were written a Maskhool style was used, like the handwriting of Usman bin Hussain Warraq written in 1073 A.D. of Meshad Rezavi. However, on buildings and tablets the script was decorated with branches, leaves, geometrical figures, tall Alifs and right angles. In ancient relics this type of writing is seen in Ghazna on the tombs of Subuktageen and Sultan Mahmud in the beginning of the 11th century. On the tomb of Mahmud, two exquisitely written Kufi and Reqa styles are evident.
With further perfection of the art of decoration and embellishment used in the Kufi script it was used in great profusion on buildings. In the Saljuq period it can be seen on the mausoleum of Emam Yahya in Jouzjan, the Mehrab of ‘Awlia, minarets and on the stones of the palace of Masud, the third ruler in Ghazna, the remains of the Lashkari Bazaar of Bost, Chesht, the grand mosque of Herat and the minaret of Jaam, which were constructed by Ghiasuddin Mohammad Saam in the 12th century. All these structures represent the perfectness and exquisiteness of Kufi script in the courts of the Ghaznavid and the Ghorid dynasties. From this it is evident how art was fostered under feudal economic and social conditions by the powerful sultanates before the Timurid period in Afghanistan. An inscription has been found from a well in Wihand on the banks of the Attock written in cursive Naskh style dating 1089 by a Jouzjani jurisprudence, Abu Jafar Mohammad bin Abdul Jabbar bin Mohammad. If we compare this script with its contemporary scripts on the buildings already mentioned, it is revealed that the artistic value of calligraphy was fostered by the rulers, and the buildings erected were all testimonials of the great art of calligraphers.
From the Persian books available, Ketab-ul-Abina an Haqayeq-ul-Adviya, written by Asadi Tousi in 1055 A.D., and Shahre-‘aruf, written in 1080, housed in the Karachi museum, are considered to carry a fixed date of writing. The style of Ketab-ul-Abniya resembles Kufi script and the script of the second book is close to Naskh, while on the other hand, the calligraphed copy of Tarjuman-ul-Balagha, written in 1113 A.D., and preserved in Istanbul museum, resembles Ketab-ul-Abniya. This shows that the calligraphers had their own choice of selecting whatever style they preferred to write with and invented different styles in Kufi and Naskh scripts. These scripts could be read with great ease. The calligraphers refrained from illuminating the scripts with flowers and pictures except in the preface or the beginning a new chapter. Both Ketab-ul-Abniya and Tarjuman-ul-Balagha start with the sentence: In the name of the Merciful God, the Forgiver, in stretched Kufi letters, while the entire book itself is devoid of such embellishments. The calligraphers were watchful about the style of Naskh script and its simplicity and tried to write the Korans as readable as possible. The intricate patterns of Kufi script, seen on buildings and tablets, have not been used while writing the Koran. If any adornments were made they were solely at the beginning of a new chapter, suras or manzils.
During the 11th and 12h centuries when Central Asia was ruled by the Ghaznavids, Saljooks, Khwarazam Shahs and the Ghorids, Kufi, Naskh and Suls writing with their varieties were fostered a great deal in Khorasan. If we study the remnants of these styles in Herat, Bost, Balkh, Meshad and Samarkand and other cities of Khorasan it is clear the 12th century was the period when Arabic scripts attained their zenith, and all skilled calligraphers of Khorasan polished and improved this art from Neshapur to Bokhara, Samarkand, Shash, Taraz, Ghazni and all the way to the banks of the Indus. With the efforts of the Ghaznavids and the Ghorids this art reached the heart of India and Delhi in the end of the 12th century. A replica of the Minaret of Jaam of Ghor was made in the Kuwat-ul-Islam mosque of Delhi in 1199 A.D. It was named Qutub Minar.
This fine example of the magnificence of Khorasani decorated calligraphy is still present in all its former grandeur in Delhi and we can see that after three centuries Khorasani art had penetrated into the heart of India from Herat, Ghor, and Ghazni. This art was fostered among strong political, economic and religious motives and most of the rulers wanted to show their pomp by erecting minarets, buildings and beautiful mosques. Instead of engraving human figures on buildings they adorned them with figures and engravings of non-living things. Kufi script which was highly decorative was used in making magnificent engravings and paintings.
This script, with its different decorative styles, developed through the ages, together with Naskh as an embellishment for building and the pages of the Koran, was used by the people in all Islamic countries as an artistic manifestation until the beginning of the 13th century and the arrival of the Mongol forces.
For example, the tomb of Malik Ghaisuddin Ghori, in the grand mosque of Herat, has been decorated with the beautiful Reqa-e-Raihani script and sometimes Reqa, Raihan, Suls, Muhaqaq and special Suls used for inscriptions, with long erect alifs and Muhaeqq-e-Shajari, Sules-e-Tugra, Suls-e-Ta‘liq and other mingled forms have been found on inscriptions.
Likewise, Naskh was developed to such an extent that it took complete artistic form. An example of this type of writing is to be found in the Koran written by Abdullah Sairafi in 1319 A.D. in Meshad Rezavi.
The descendants of Ghengiz Khan, while being forced out of this land, destroyed a great deal of buildings and books in Samarkand, Balkh, Merv, Neshapur, Herat, Seistan and other famous cities of the time, and in this vandalism a great number of artists and scholars lost their lives and some fled to far away lands of the Osmanids and India, but after a century the Mongol rulers in Trans-Oxiana, Afghanistan and Iran became familiar with the arts and culture of Khorasan and some local rulers like, Al-Kurts and the rulers of Pars, made peace with the Mongols and paid tribute to the protection of culture and arts. In the ancient relics of Al-Kurts of Herat valuable examples of calligraphy are present on tombs and buildings. These artistic relics are considered to be a ring connecting the period before the Mongols and the beginning of the renaissance of Timurid art and show how the valuable cultural heritage of the people of the Ghaznavid, Saljook and Ghorid periods was transferred to the Timurid renaissance.
The old style Suls script on the gravestone of Khwaja Shahabuddin Abdullah Ghawardani, written in 1343 A.D, the Tawaqa script on the grave of Shaikh Abul‘ala written in the month of Moharam of the year 1355 A.D., Tawqia T‘aliq Numa on the tomb of Tughril bin Amiran Fushangi, in Ribat-e-Pai, western Herat in 1358 A.D. and the Reqa T‘aliq Numa script of Sultan Shah written on the cauldron in Herat's grand mosque, which was made on the orders of Sultan Ghaisuddin Mohammad Kurf, in 1375 A.D., belong to this period.
It must not be forgotten during the five centuries after the advent of Islam, when Kufi script was being fostered in its different forms in Iraq, Khorasan and Trans-Oxiana, a special form of this script was widespread from Caucasia to Khwarazam in the north. It had intricate styling with a great deal of twists and turns. The most ancient example of this script is to be seen on the four lined inscription of the mosque of Al-Rashid bin Mohammad bin Abubakr in Baku. This inscription dates back to 1078 A.D. A later inscription is on the grave of Yusuf bin Kabir, written in 1161 A.D., and an improved form of this script is on the gravestone inscribed in 1271 A.D. on the door bar of the building famous as the tomb of Fakhruddin Razi in Kuhna Oranj which was engraved with flowers, fine figures and leaves, during the 12th century.
My conjecture is that this type of northern Kufi script, widespread from Caucasia to Khwarazm, is the beginning of an unknown script the last example of which is present in a Koran of Meshad Rezavi and the scholar, Gulchin Maani, calls it Khat-e-Baburi, invented by Mohammad Babur Shah, the founder of the Timurid dynasty in India. Since Babur had ample information about the cutural relics of Trans-Oxiana it is possible that this style inspired him to invent the Baburi script. But this hypothesis needs careful study. Anyhow, it is only an initial guess.
In the end of the 14th century Amir Timur organized a large empire which included all the countries of Trans-Oxiana, Afghanistan and Iran. Since the people of this empire had been exposed to the cultural heritage of the Ghaznavid, Ghorid, Khwarazm Shah, Saljook and Islamic art from the west and the Indian, Chinese and Moghol arts from the east therefore when Shah Rukh, son of Amir Timur, made Herat and Samarkand the nucleus of his empire, in the beginning of the 15th century, he fostered this cultural heritage in Herat and Samarkand and these cities became the centers of renaissance art in Central Asia. It was at this time that the art of book writing reached its zenith, and some large buildings were built having huge inscriptions embellished with beautiful letters. This school of art lasted for a century until the reign of the art loving Sultan Hussain Baiaqara; after that the arts of calligraphy, painting, engraving, book binding and miniatures moved from these centers of artistic renaissance to Bukhara, Asfahan, Tabriz and India.
During this period of artistic renaissance the creative talents of the people of the region had spread throughout the Timurid empire from the borders of China to Tabriz, therefore we can call Herat the center of this art. Thousands of calligraphers, painters, illuminators, sculptors, book binders, architects, tile setters and color experts were busy making valuable artistic monuments under the orders of the Timurid emperors.
The artistic renaissance of Herat brought into being extraordinary works, the history of which is too long to be explained in this article. Only a voluminous set of books can fully relate the history. Here I will mention only two masterpieces of this school of art.
The first relic worth mentioning is he calligraphed copy of the Shahnama of Firdawsi preserved in the Gulistan Museum of Tehran, inscribed in 1429 A.D. by Jafar Ysunghuri. Considering its writing, paintings, paper embellishment and binding, international experts claim this book to be the most valuable in the world which embodies the most advanced stage of book making.
The second sample is the Gauharshad Mosque of Meshad built under the orders of Queen Gauharshad with the help of the art loving Timurid princes. This mosque was completed in 12 years under the supervision of Qiwamuddin M‘amar. It has a special Khorasani architectural style and its superb adornment, tile work and writing puts it in line with the 12 historic masterpieces of world architecture. It was completed in 1418 A.D.
Because the main topic of this article is calligraphy of the Timurid period in Herat therefore we will not discuss other artistic masterpieces and revert to some aspects of calligraphy.
It was pointed out that the art of calligraphy, since the 8th century, had a prominent place in Islamic civilization, and took the place of paintings related to the Gandahara, Manian, Moshanid, Sassanid, Byzantine, Chinese and Buddhist arts. It was based on this principle that it was used as a means of decoration in places of worship. It is true that kings had, in their own palaces, some walls painted as can be seen in the Lashkari Bazaar palaces of Bost. Baihaqi, the Ghazni court historian has written about a house where walls were painted with human figures on order of Prince Masood in the Adnani garden of Herat. But this action of the prince came under severe reproach of his father Sultan Mahmood (Tarekh-e-Baihaqi, 121). We deduce from this fact that colored and figural paintings were used with care on government buildings. Mosques, temples and cemeteries were not used for this purpose and in place of figured paintings various decorative lines and flower designs, in non-figural engravings, were being used. It was this religious and moral motive that spurred and initiated the use of decorative scripts in Islamic art. Thousands of decorated and illuminated manuscripts of the Koran were written or building were decorated with the same kind of artistic work. This religious restriction gave birth to creative and expert calligraphers and art formed on the basis of religious tenets. Attention to the art of calligraphy in the Timurid period reached to such a point that Timurid princes like Baysunghur, Ibrahim and Badiul-Zaman were expert calligraphers. From the beginning of the 8th to the 16th century, during the first 700 years of Naskh and Kufi scripts an art was created that reached about 50 varieties, but in the 15th century aqlam-e-sitta, or six scripts, were basically in existence which are mentioned in a quatrian:
My beloved writes well, good and pretty in all six styles
Manashir, Muhaqaq, Naskh, Raihan, Reqa and Suls.
The buildings and books, erected and written during the Timurid period, have all the varieties of Kufi script with decorative designs featured prominently. Examples are the writings of Mushajjar-e-Mashkool on the exterior of Amir Timur's tomb in Samarkand, built in 1404 A.D., and Madrasa-e-Ulugbeg erected in 1420 A.D. The tomb of Khwaja Ahmad Yasawi in Turkestan, dating to the 14th century, a part of the Timurid building of Herat and Balkh and the Kosan of Herat, the Muaqqali and Muqaffal and the geometric figures on brick works of Ghauharshad mosque, the Madrassa of Ulug Beg and the Shah-e-Zenda of Samarkand, other building of the time and the beginning of the Koranic suras of this period. One can deduce from these facts that Kufi writing reached its zenith at the time.
The progress of Kufi script with its variety and complexity was accompanied by the refinement of the Naskh script. In Persian books Kufi writing coupled with Naskh could be seen together during these centuries. But since Naskh script had little decorative aspects it was not used on buildings. It was with the refinement and sophistication of the Kufi and Naskh scripts that Suls, with its varieties like Muhaqaq, Raihan and Reqa came into existence. And for office and publication work the mixed Kufi and Suls script called Touqi or Manashir got into use, because it was easy to write and had no art and novelty about it. An example of this kind of mixture of Suls varieties is seen in the manuscript of Ketab-ul-Tafhem by Al Beruni, preserved in the Majlis Library of Tehran. This manuscript was written in 1143 A.D.
Calligraphers and creative artists had a great part to play in mixing these different styles and creating special artistic styles in each period . This is why it is difficult to distinguish and name each and every style of this mixture. Buildings, tombs and books, relating to the Timurid renaissance in the country, which the court historian of that time, Abdur Razak Samarkandi calls Khorasani, display the following examples of writing.
First: Various and complete forms of Kufi script of which we mentioned a few examples.
Second: Mature and splendid Suls writing like the seven pages of Koran, written by Prince Bai Sanghur bin Shahrukh, who died in 1433 A.D. and the 60 pages of Koran written by Shaikh Mohammad Tugharaee written in 1406 A.D., and 16 pages of Koran written in clear handwriting of Raihan and Reqa by Prince Ibrahim Sultan son of Shahrukh in 1423 A.D., and the Koran written by Khwaja Abdullah Munawarid, who died in 1516 A.D., and another Koran written in an excellent style by Abdullah Tabakh Herawi in 1441 A.D. in Meshed Rezavi.
Buildings also have various completed and beautiful styles like Suls, Reihan, Muhaqaq and Reqa scripts on pillars, grand mosques, the Gazar Gah of Herat and other buildings of the city. A style resembling Suls T‘aleeq, but excellent in form, can be seen on the gravestone of Said Hassan Abdal of Kandahar and various writings of Suls and Raihan styles by Baysunghur son of Shahruk have been written on the side of balconies, facades and tombs of the Gauharshad Mosque in Meshad built in 1418 A.D.
The buildings of the Timurid period such as Gazar Gah of Herat and Meshad Rezavi, and structures in Samarkand and Bukhara had various styles of Suls, Kufi, Mauqqali, Raihan, Reqa, Baskh, Mohaqqaq and Tawqi. These styles are a manifestation of the art of writing belonging to the Temurid renaissance from among which the dedication stone of Musala in Herat is in excellent Suls style, prevalent during the Shahrukh period, on four lines in the Persian language, written by the order of Queen Gauharshad by Jalal Jafar in 1437 A.D. He is the son of the famous calligrapher Jafar Baysunghuri. Examples of the writings of father and son are evident on many buildings in Herat. In the same way the gravestone of Shaikh-ul-Islam Mohammad bin Ahmad in Gazer Gah in 1434 A.D. has very good Suls writing. On the arch of the Masjid-e-Buland and Madrassa of Mir Arab in Bukhara good writing of Raihani style of the 16th century and on the sides of the Namazgah arch of Bukhara examples of Muqaqqali writing of the 16th century and in the Madrassa of Mir Arab Bukhara and the mosque of Bebe Khanum in Samarkand excellent styles of the late 14th century can be seen. In the same token bold and middle Suls of the 14th century can be seen on the marble gravestone of Hakim Termizi in Termiz and a very good Reqa Raihani writing, on the southern tomb of Ozgand written in 1186 A.D., is prominently visible.
We should mention here that from the beginning of the 14th century a special style developed between Suls and Raihan and Naskh in Turkestan which was called Turkestani style. This style is a mixture of Suls, Raihan and Muhaqaq, an example of which is the Koran translated in Chaghatie Turkish by Mohammad bin Shaikh Yusuf Abari, head calligapher in 1336 A.D. This Koran is now in Meshed Rezavi. In the same collection a Koran written in the Turkestani style of the 16th century is also present. This special style of Turkestani can be seen in the writings of 14th and 15th century in Central Asia. Examples of this pretty bold style can be seen on the Shahe-e-Zenda building in Samarkand reaching back to 1360 A.D, on the gravestone of Qusam bin Abas (1334 A.D.) and also on the balcony of the tomb of Buyan Kuli Khan in Bukhara built in 1359 A.D.
Third: As we mentioned before, Arabic script in Khorasan changed during the 13th century, in addition to the six styles, a new style that was the product of the talent of the people of Khorasan came into being. This style was called T‘aleeq and was a mixture of Naskh, Reqa and Towqia. Since this writing was used in official and common letters it was called Tarasul. Maulana Jaami in this connection recited:
Calligraphers used sevens scripts in different styles;
Suls, Raihan, Muhaqaq, Naskh, Tawqia and Reqa.
After this the non-Arabs invented a new style, T‘aleeq from Towqia
T‘aleeq was more complicated in comparision to other writings and because of this Qa‘ani, the poet, compared it to the frizzly locks of women:
Thy locks are more complicated than the Tarassul script.
T‘aleeq style of writing was not used on building and inscriptions. Sometimes it was used in writing books but it was more commonly used in writing letters. The oldest examples of pure artistic and decorative T‘aleeq were written by Khwaja Tajuddin and Khwaja Ekhtiar Herawi, who were secretaries of Sultan Husain Bayaqra. Abdul Hai, secretary of Abu Said Mirza, and Khwaja Abdullah Murwari have also written in this style. Except for the last page of the manuscript, Tabakat-ul-Sufia, in the library of Nafez Pasha in Istanbul, written in mature Naskh style by Mumtaz bin Abdullah in 1272 A.D., it can be proved that Naskh writing of this period had crept nearer to T‘aleeq because on this page a few lines, similar to T‘aleeq, written by the same clerk can be seen. Based on this logic the beginning of T‘aleeq can be traced to one century before the rise of Amir Timur, since on the grave of this Amir in Samarkand, a T‘aleeq script resembling Naskh, tending towards Suls, can be seen. Examples of Naskh resembling T‘aleeq can be seen on the last pages of Asrar-ul-Tawheed of the library of Salim Agha in Istanbul. They were written in 1300 A.D. by Mohammad Saleh for Qazi Ali Juwaini in Khurasan. Therefore, this can be considered as the beginning of T‘aleeq style.
Fourth: In the second half of the 14th century another beautiful writing, that had exquisite value, came into being from Naskh and T‘aleeq and it was called Nast‘aleeq. The creator of this writing was supposed to be Mir Ali Tabrizi Kebla-tul Kuttab, who lived about 1338 A.D. The calligrapher Sultan Ali Mashadi says:
Naskh, T‘aleeq, little or bold, the real creator is Mir Ali.
He created Nast‘aleeq style from a mixture of Naskh and Ta‘leeq.
Abdul Fazl Alami, in the introduction of Muraqqa-e-Shahi, says that some examples of Nast‘aleeq writing had been seen before Timur's period, that is 1369 and I confirm that the style of writing could be found before that epoch. In support of my contention I say that the writing of Majm‘a-ul-Nawadir, written by Mohammad Awaz bin Bakthi, was in Nast‘aleeq style and this book dates back to 1383 A.D.. This period coincides with Mir Ali's lifetime. From this one can draw the conclusion that the Nast‘aleeq style had begun and matured long before this period. A manuscript of Tabak-ul-Sufia Ansari, written in bold letters, in a mature and expert Nast‘aleeq style, by Derwesh Sufi in 1435 A.D. is housed in Nur Utmania library in Istanbul.
The last scribe is a contemporary of Mir Ali Tabrizi. If we call Mir Ali the creator of the style then other calligraphers of Nast‘aleeq, living in that period, could not have reached that degree of maturity in the writing of this style. It is because of these reasons that Ghulam Mohammad Haftqalami Dehlawi, who is the author of Tazkera-e-Khushnawisan, in 1239 A.D. writes: "Before Mir Ali Tabrizi Nast‘aleeq writing was being practiced but he laid down the rules for writing in the Nas‘aleeq style." Looking at the prevalence of this style and the logic presented by various authorities we can say that the beginning of Nast‘aleeq was around 1300 A.D.
Anyhow, in the Timurid and Shahrukh period Nast‘aleeq, which was the most beautiful writing style and was the product of the brilliant talent of Khorasani scribes, got into use in the Timurid empire, and was used on buildings and in writing books. In the Timurid court, students of Mir Ali, who were experts and masters in this style, were trained by Abdullah, the talented son of Mir Ali. From among these students Maulana Jafar and his son Jalal, Maulana Azhar, who died in 1475 A.D., and his son Mohammad and Sultan Ali bin Mohammad Meshadi, Mir Ali Herawi and Mohammad Ubhi, Sultan Mahmood Khandan and Sultan Mohammad Nur and others were famous Nast‘aleeq writers, whose style was adopted after the 16th century and spread from Herat to Trans-Oxiana, Iran, India and the Usmanid empire. As we know, the center of this art was Herat.
Very fine specimens of Nast‘aleeq writing adorn Timurid buildings in Herat. The old gravestone of Maulana Jaami, supposed to be the writing of Mir Ali Herawi, the gravestone of Shaikh Zain-ul-den Khawafi, written in 1434, and the Nast‘aleeq written in fine and resplended style on the arch of Houz-e-Zamzam of Gazar Gah, the marble tablets of the grave of Pir-e Herat, written in 1454 A.D., and the epitaphs in Nast‘aleeq, on the grave of Rustam Mohammad Khan and the writing of Sultan Ali Meshadi, on the grave of Amir Ghiasuddin Mansur, father of Sultan Baiqara written in 1477 A.D., and four other graves belonging to Timurid prices are fine examples of Nast‘aleeq writing. Elegic poems in the mausoleum of Prince Baysunghur in the Kheyaban and two couplets in bold Nast‘aleeq by Hasan Khan Shamlu on the white marble slabs of the grave of Pir-e Herat are the greatest manifestations of this art.
During this period an exquisite Nast‘aleeq style was used to write books. Nast‘aleeq calligraphers, belonging to the Herat school, created valuable masterpieces from among which we can refer to the work of Jafar Baysunghur, who inscribed the magnificent Shahnama-e-Baysunghuri in 1429 A.D., now housed in the Gulistan Museum of Tehran. Three pages containing the Nast‘aleeq, Raihan, Suls, Naskh, Reqa and Shekesta Nast‘aleeq and signed by Jafar Baysunghuri are preserved in the National Museum of Tehran. Eight other examples of his writings on books, collection of poems and albums are kept in other museums in the world.
Fifth: Ta‘leeq and Nast‘aleeq were popular throughout the 15th century and Amir Timur's reign, flourishing along with Naskh and varieties of Suls. Secretaries in public offices merged the two styles in their long hand creating a third style called Shekesta received artistic and technical attention. We know that during the Timurid period of Herat, in addition to the six basic and two Ta‘leeq and Nast‘aleeq styles, a ninth, the Shekesta style was independently added. Ustad Jafar-e-Baysunghuri has written two very fine and beautiful lines in the Shekesta Nast‘aleeq which are preserved in the National Museum of Tehran along with his other works and shows the maturity achieved by this style during the reign of Shahrukh. After him Fasihi Herawi and Shafiae Herawi and Murtaza Kuli Shamlo Herawi, Derwash Abdul Majid Taluqani and others are supposed to be the most famous exponents of this style. Since some of the calligraphers had a special style of their own therefore it was called Shekesta Amez and attributed to Shaifi-e-Herawi. It was also given the name of Khat-e-Shaifia.
Shekesta writing can be rarely seen in books and on inscriptions. Even up to this day it is used for writing office and public affairs letters and is sometimes employed for decorative purposes and writing poetry.
This was a brief discussion of the art of calligraphy in the Timurid period and past eras. I propose now that the various branches connected with book making during this period from calligraphy to painting, miniature, illuminations and binding should be investigated thoroughly and intensive research conducted on them.
In libraries and museums throughout the world and personal collections there are thousands of volumes of books representing this art. It is necessary that artistic works directly connected with the Timurid renaissance in Herat and its branches in Trans-Oxiana, Iran, Turkey, and India should be studied and published with photographs under the expert eye of scholars familiar with Persian, Arabic, Turkish, Chinese, Mughal, Timurid and Indian arts and the languages concerned, their contents catalogued and photographed. This is specifically essential in reference to Such treasures existing in Russia, Iran, Europe, America, India and Turkey. All the works of painting should be put at the disposal of experts and studied after registering them in an organized way.
We should not ignore the fact that in Afghanistan, Iran, Arab countries and India there still live very creative and expert calligraphers like Said Mohammad Daud Hussaini, Said Mohammad Aishan, Azizuddin Popalzai and Akhund Mohammad Ali Herati, to mention a few in Afghanistan. With their demise they will carry away with them very precious and artistic traditions. Priceless legacy should not be allowed to pass away and no one left behind to carry on their excellent tradition, because their art is a most valuable legacy in the field of human artistic endeavor.