Tales Of Three Calligraphers from Jaipur, Benaras and Sandila

Tales Of Three Calligraphers from Jaipur, Benaras and Sandila
Jaipur and Benaras have been invariably accredited as seats of scholarship. Both princely states afforded refuge to the calligraphers, poets, writers and other cognoscenti who subsequently excelled in their respective spheres of expertise. Benaras, being effortlessly connected with other parts of the country, experienced a larger quantum of advent than Jaipur, which was, and still is, measured as a far-flung oasis. On the other hand, Jaipur, to a great degree, owes its excellence to an influx of a battery of stalwarts from Delhi who had settled there in the aftermath of the revolution of 1857. Such foremost scholars wove an extraordinary framework of erudition around the city and soon it earned the moniker of a Second Delhi. In contrast, Sandila, in the literary arena, earned quite a reputation on account of a voluminous diary of about seventy-eight hundred pages that was written by one of its natives, Maulvi Mazhar Ali.

Illustration by Ram Chandar Nazar on 10th May 1957 (Courtesy - Mr. Nasir Jafri, Jaipur)

Now, in an ongoing pursuit, the present writer has come across three unpublished specimens of the calligraphies of Ram Chandar Nazar, Hafiz Altaf Hussain and Raja Durga Prasad that shape the very basis of this article. Though differently positioned and born in dissimilar eras, they all shared a common keenness for calligraphy.

1.)  Ram Chandar Nazar
The first subject is the savant penman, Ram Chandar Nazar of Jaipur whose calligraphy furnished new perspectives to the artform. Son of Munshi Govardhan Lal, he was a Bhargav Brahmin and acknowledged as the last of the Mohicans. To honor him, the Jaipur wing of the Anjuman-E-Taraqqi-Urdu (Hind) had bestowed him with the appellation of Jawahar Raqam. Being superlatively endowed, he had no peer when it came to crafting the Nastaliq script. Besides, eminent brothers Munshi Panna Lal Nazim, and Munshi Hira Lal Monis had trained Nazar to be a dexterous scrivener. With an admirable approach, his knack in the Baizawi script had reached superior heights.

Professionally, Nazar was associated with the offices of Registrar and Subordinate Judge. Being polite in temperament, his friends described him as a gentleman with a predilection to sophisticated precision and tranquility.

Illustration by Nazim Hussain Jafri in 1945 (Courtesy - Mr. Nasir Jafri, Jaipur)

Beginning his career as a poet in 1914 he composed melodies that until now reverberate in the alleys of Jaipur. One of his following couplets still kindles the ardor among the elderly citizens:

Hamein Kahna Nahin Aata Magar Sunne Ko Aate Hain

Hamara Kaam Hai Bazm-E-Sukhan Mein Waah Waah Karna

On 10 May 1957, he had inscribed an Urdu poem of nine couplets to mark the auspicious Bismillah ceremony of the daughter (Ms. Parween Begum) of his friend, Mr. Syed Yaad Ali Jafri, a resident of Char Darwaza, old Jaipur. The original, unpublished folio in his handwriting, bearing his name, title, and date of composition has been appended with the piece. It certainly exudes an aura of sophistication. The masterpiece, studded with chaste Persian words, begins and ends with a hymn and has rudiments of benedictions for the girl, who, now in her sixties, is leading a thriving life in Karachi.

Illustration by Hafiz Altaf Hussain in 1888 (Courtesy - Mr. Asad Reza, Richmond, Virginia)

How fascinating it is to note that Mr. Nazim Hussain Jafri, a maternal uncle of Mr. Syed Yaad, was also a scribe of certain repute, however, it is quite a herculean assignment to trace his illustrations in Rajasthan, for those have vanished in the absence of proper preservation. Despite that, the present writer has managed to procure a print that has been incorporated with the article.


2.) Hafiz Altaf Hussain:

The second calligrapher is Hafiz Altaf Hussain, Tehsildar of Benaras, who, in 1888, had inscribed a gilded wedding card for the couple, Mr. W. R. Partridge (Sahab Bahadur, C.S.) and Ms. Sherring Anne. Mr. Altaf appears to be a bard with an eponymous nom de plume. The chronogram, Akhtar O Mah Ka Hua Hai Kya Hi Zeba Ittesal, integrated within the quatrain, delivers the year of the nuptial.

Thus, it would not be out of place to divulge that Benaras had reached the pinnacle of such a literary glory under the patronage of Nawab Ali Ibrahim Khan Khaleel Azimabadi of Doolighat Estate, Patna, who had for long acted as the Chief Justice and Governor of the province. Besides, it was his diligent sponsorship that had inspired generations of literatuers and poets like Mr. Altaf and others.

Illustration by Raja Durga Prasad in 1910 (Courtesy - Mr. Asad Reza, Richmond, Virginia)

Interestingly, the bride, her groom, and their progeny were the exciting people. William Reginald Partridge, I.C.S., was a Magistrate and Collector in the United Provinces, and Sherring was the daughter of an eminent author, Matthew Atmore Sherring, who had died in Benaras on 10th August 1880. Their son, Reginald Sherring (Ralph) Partridge had married Dora Carrington, and later Frances Marshall. A romantic soul that he was, his passionate affair with Lytton Strachey was also reported. Besides, English novelist Virginia Woolf was fond of him for whom he worked at the Hogarth Press, and he was pretty much a member of the Bloomsbury Group which included E. M. Forster, Venessa Bell, Duncan Grant, David Garnett, and others. After leading a blissful and amorous life, Ralph died of a heart attack in 1960. Quite captivating it is to note that Ralph and his two wives were portrayed as significant characters in acclaimed movies such as Carrington, The Hours, Al Sur de Granada (Spanish), and Vita & Virginia.


3.) Raja Durga Prasad:
The third calligraphist is Raja Durga Prasad (1846-1920) of Sandila, United Provinces, who had prepared a

Illustration by Raja Durga Prasad in 1910 (Courtesy - Mr. Asad Reza, Richmond, Virginia)

Persian manuscript in 1910. Written in immaculate Persian verses, it is a four-page brochure that commences with a hymn in which the calligrapher solicits the intercession of the Almighty God. While inscribing such a supplication, he fittingly attributes humble designations to himself. Inscribed in the then prevailing Khat-E-Shikastah, it presents an elegant sample of the Persian language. Sadly, many online auction houses, including Columbia and Alamy, have erroneously attributed the document to one Raja Durga Prasad Nadir.

Enjoying a privileged status, Raja Durga Prasad was an Honorary Magistrate, a Taluqdaar, and Chairman of the Municipal Board. Being a poet with the pseudonym Mehr and an aficionado of the Persian and Urdu literature he had composed numerous tomes such as Tareekh-E-Sandila, Bostaan-E-Awadh, Tareekh-E-Ayodhya, Hadiqa-E-Ishrat, Muraqqa-E-Khushkhati, Taqreez bar Deewan-E-Hafiz, and Makhzan-E-Akhlaq. Besides, his affection for the language can be ascertained from the factor that his tombstone bears the Persian inscription.

Illustration by Raja Durga Prasad in 1910 (Courtesy - Mr. Asad Reza, Richmond, Virginia)


In conclusion, it is only natural to affirm that such manuscripts, in the absence of taut preservation practice, are making a beeline for the flea markets of New Delhi, Mumbai, Lahore and Karachi where the odds of their survival and further application are appallingly dreary. So, one should be grateful to art connoisseurs like Mr. Asad Reza, and Mr. Nasir Jafri who strive firm to uphold the legacy of artists in whatsoever fashion they can. Sadly, a vast corpus of the unpublished texts of Raja Durga Prasad and a plethora of others are on the precipice of annihilation and will soon slither into oblivion if a conscientious endeavour is not formulated within time to ensure their safeguarding.