Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Bangla (Bengali) Calligraphy Needs Encouragement

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I am not a calligrapher, but the above one is a daring attempt
of mine into Bangla calligraphy!


This is a good example of Bangla calligraphy done by
renowned artist Murtaza Bashir of Bangladesh

Image courtesy: http://www.mukta-mona.com/

1913 Nobel Laureate and poet Rabindranath Tagore's
signature in calligraphic style

My Brush with Calligraphy

My first encounter with calligraphy was in 1960 at Holy Cross High School of Bandura, Bangladesh. At that time Brother Neville, CSC, an American missionary, was one of the English teachers. He was an avid stamp collector and coffee drinker. He used to use Bangla modh (village-brewed 'wine' in name only, but in reality almost 100% pure spirit!) not for drinking but for heating water for his many of cups of daily coffee intake in a tiny stove. This is the first time I come to know that Bangla modh is such a powerful drink that it burns when a match is set on it! Instead of going to the kitchen so many times a day, it's good way of boiling water in one's own room.

One day he was speaking of his stamps and stamp collection. Since my father had a modest collection of stamps, which I used to browse from time to time in my village home, I became interested in looking at the Brother's collection of stamps.

At his invitation, one day, several of us went to see his stamps. His thousands of stamps in several big American-made albums stunned us all. From that time on, I also became a small collector of stamps. Sometimes in future, I will talk of stamps. Brother Neville also showed us his work on calligraphy -- both in English and Bangla. Calligraphy was his hobby. I never saw such a beautiful stylized handwriting in my life! Just amazing! This is the first time we also came to know that this type of writing is called 'calligraphy.' He had several writing pens, dozens of nibs for ultra-thin to quite thick writing, and several small pots of black China ink. He then demonstrated his dexterity in calligraphy on a sheet of thick paper.

Brother Neville's ordinary handwriting was also extremely beautiful. He would encourage his students to practise good handwriting, although it was not compulsory for school children.

What is Calligraphy?

Calligraphy (in Greek kallos = beauty + graphein = to write) is beautiful handwriting. It is a stylized handwriting. Some call it ornamental writing. This type of writing has an aesthetic value and it is part of the fine art.

Calligraphy gradually developed in different languages and countries. Some language calligraphy achieved quite a high standard. The Chinese, Arabic, Persian, English, and some other European language calligraphy not only excelled, but also became widespread among their population. It became an integral part of their culture.

A sample of Arabic calligraphy

An example of ancient Chinese calligraphy

A Chinese poem done in calligraphy

A Persian calligraphy

Indian Languages Calligraphy Not So Developed

Indian languages, including Bangla (Bengali), did not develop calligraphy as they should have. One reason might have been lack of enough patronage and encouragement from the ruling classes. Another one might be the very low literacy rate among the populations.

We have seen that those who studied under the British in the then India (included in it, the present India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh regions), penmanship (standardized writing style for common purposes) was taught in schools, resulting in the habit of good writing style among students. After the British were gone and several countries emerged from one India, penmanship began to fall into disrepair. After the emergence of Bangladesh in 1971, the standard of ordinary handwriting has deteriorated further.

We can see some examples of calligraphy on walls near the Central Shaheed Minar (Language Martyrs' Monument) in Dhaka every year on the occasion of the Ekushey February celebrations, but this form of art is not in the mainstream at all.

As a Respect to Bangla Language, Calligraphy Should be Encouraged

Bangladeshis love their mother language Bangla (Bengali) from their hearts. They are highly inspired by the Bangla language movement (1948-1958) and the language martyrs of 1952. Presently, computer is increasingly invading the homes, institutions, offices and business firms creating a dent on the habit of handwriting, let alone good handwriting. The western countries are already victims of this indiscriminate computerization regarding handwriting.

The Bangladesh government, educational institutions and business firms should come forward to encourage standardized handwriting in general and calligraphy in particular. Religious precepts, good quotations, poems and other stuff can be written in calligraphy and framed for display. This will also be a good art form for the Bangalis. Encouragement may come in the form of sponsorships, trainings, competitions, awards and the like. These efforts, then, will be a real tribute to the Bangla language and its martyrs.

For Those Interested in Calligraphy

If you are interested in calligraphy, you may visit the following sites:

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