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Published in the 16-30 Apr 2005 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Saga of a dying art 

Azmathulla Shariff

The Milli Gazette Online 

Carving occupies an important place in Islamic Architecture. The art of carving on rocks and stones has been popular much before the Prophet Muhammad's period.

With the rise of Islam, it also gave rise to Islamic Art and Culture, under its influence Islamic Architecture was born. Wherever the ripples of Muslim rule reached it carried along Islamic art and culture with it. This art and culture varied from region to region in terms of language and people. On Indian subcontinent the influence of the Persian language was deep rooted. This language has fascinated poets and writes alike, knowing Persian well was considered a status symbol and was the official language before the birth of Urdu. Several architectural marvels built during Muslim rule in Indian subcontinent bear testimony to the wonders of Islamic Architecture.

In Indian subcontinent the Islamic Architecture adopted Indian influence in its womb and flourished as Indo Islamic Architecture for centuries. Many of these structures remain as sandwich of Arabic, Persian and Indian style of Islamic Architecture. The Islamic Architecture in India not merely used granite and Persian craft for creating such innate artistic work but used marble, limestone and mortar to enhance the beauty of every structure crafted. The very artistic hands of master craftsmen created the gem of Islamic Architecture in the shape of Taj Mahal.

The craftmenship of master craftsmen touched the bastion of Islamic Architecture during Mughal period. The fine art of chiseling and carving by the stone carves with Persian letters and Arabic verses on granite, marble, and limestone with mathematical precision to obtain the desired shape and size brought life to the Islamic Architecture. Then important government buildings, palaces and mosques were adorned with verses from Quran and Persian couplets and messages finely crafted by stone carvers.

While the influence of Islamic Architecture also dominated the Muslim Empires and Sultanates in South, Bangalore is no exception. Even here, in the summer palace of Tippu Sultan one can see fine art of crafting of Persian couplets in granite mounted on the interior side of the wall enhancing the beauty of the palace. While stone carving continue to be the painstaking work of the craftsmen, this art of crafting beautiful verses of Quran is rapidly dwindling due to lack of support from the community itself. The present day architects practicing Mosque Architecture have lack of vision for Islamic Art or they do not incorporate this art into their projects for fear of whooping costs.

The stone carvers are mainly dependent on the calligraphers work of leaving impressions in white ink on the granite. For them it is as much important as their chisel and hammer. Calligraphers and Stone carvers involved with the art have their limitations in promoting this art as most of them have financially weak background. Mr. Rahi who is a moulvi & hafiz works as a calligrapher with these stone carvers says "earlier this art was in great demand and stone carvers use to explore their skills on adorning the mosques and palaces". Most of these stone carvers learnt this art of chiseling by mere practice and hard work. Mr. Akram a master stone carver and who is in this trade for the last twenty years carving Quranic verses and name boards near Quddus Sahib Qabrastan says "I have not undertaken any major order for many years now, most of the time we engage in making name boards and tombstones, this will fetch us rupees 100 to 150 for the laborious art, the returns are not enough". Another stone carver Saleem Ahmed has changed with times, his stone carving near Kambal Posh Dargah uses computer aided machine to carve Arabic and Urdu and is the only person in Bangalore who does engraving on granite using computer aided machine. The machine work is neat and of top finish compare to manual work. Zahir Ahmed Ansari a Alim & Hafiz from Deoband who does calligraphy to lay his impressions on granite to simplify the work of carving for stone carvers says "faan ki maang nahi hai" (there is no demand for art). However Allah Bakash who learnt chiseling art from Munawar and runs independent carving work is very proud of his work and nature of his business and he says "I feel very happy that I carve Arabic and I am not doing something illegal".

Today the stone carvers have confined the chiseling art for just carving tombstones, name boards and in rare case some Quranic verse. It seems that there are no takers for this art form. In the present circumstances it becomes all the more important to protect this art and the master craftsmen. Lack of governmental support for the promotion of Urdu language is yet another setback to this art form. If timely action is not initiated to protect the remaining handful of master stone carvers, this art of fine crafting of Arabic and Urdu may become extinct in just few years from now.

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