The profound words of famous Urdu poets such as Mirza Ghalib, Allama Iqbal, Firaaq Gorakhpuri, Joshi Malihabadi and Jaun Elia, to name just a few, have long offered food for thought to listeners and readers. Over time, their words made their way from books and ghazal mehfils to latenight radio programmes. In times of social media, their pearls of wisdom are shared widely on Facebook and Instagram. However, the wallpapers that form the visual backdrop of their poetry do utter injustice to them. The wallpapers are tacky and loud, and in no way, deserve to form the visual background of poets’ literary gems. In order to do justice to their elegant poetry, the subtle art of calligraphic writing should be used to give their words the correct visual dressing. Welcome to the world of Urdu poetry art or Urdu calligraphy art where poetry rendered in calligraphy can add a dash of intellectuality and philosophy to your living spaces, and visually uplift them along as well.
Urdu poetry is generally written in Nastaliqfont which was developed in Iran in the 15th century after the Arab conquest. In Nast’aliq, letters slope from right to left, giving a ‘hanging’ or ‘ta’liq’ appearance. It was originally designed to write Arabic script but with time it began being used to write Persian, Urdu, Punjabi, Kashmiri and Pashto. Nastaliq font was also used to transcribe court papers.
It is the standard font used for writing Urdu in South Asia. Since the Persian script of Urdu is derived from Arabic script, Urdu poetry can be written in Arabic calligraphic styles like Diwani, Tughra and Thuluth as well. But it looks best in Nastaliq style as we are conditioned to read it that way.
Nastaliq is also suitable for writing Urdu poetry as it is less ornate than other fonts, and thus takes up less space. Therefore, one can write an entire eight-line Urdu ghazal on a small sheet of paper and stick it on their walls.
Can Urdu poetry calligraphy be included in the category of Islamic art? Technically, it can’t, as Urdu poetry is largely secular, non-religious, and its subject matter can be related to by people belonging to different religions. But given the revised definition of Islamic art by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the term ‘Islamic art’ refers to all kinds of the arts that were produced in the lands where Islam was the dominant religion or the religion of those who ruled. The term includes not only works created by Muslim artists, artisans, and architects or for Muslim patrons. It encompasses works created by Muslim artists for patrons of any faith, including—Christians, Jews, or Hindus—and the works created by Jews, Christians, and others, living in Islamic lands, for patrons, Muslim and otherwise.
Therefore, if one has to abide by the updated definition, then Urdu calligraphy art, or Urdu poetry art, canbe included in the larger realm of Islamic arteven though they may differ widely or even contradict each other.