Arabic Calligraphy : Styles and Examples in Delhi & Nearby


Wikipedia defines calligraphy as
Calligraphy (from Ancient Greek: κάλλος kallos “beauty” and γραφή graphẽ “writing”) is a visual art related to writing. It is the design and execution of lettering with a broad tip instrument or brush in one stroke (as opposed to built up lettering, in which the letters are drawn).”

Calligraphy as an art form has always been popular from time immemorial but it was under the Islamic rules in various countries that it reached its zenith as images of living beings were forbidden in Islam. This meant that geometric forms and calligraphy were the only forms that could be used for decorating buildings and monuments. Given that much of Islamic architecture centred around tombs and mosques, Quranic calligrapgy gained much importance.

There is not much known about the origin of the Arabic script and it is felt that it was derived from the Nabataeon script towards the beginning of the 6th c AD. Some attribute it to Syriac writing. Though there is a common belief that the primitive form of the Arabic writing was Kufic and Naskh was a development of that, both existed side by side.

Kufi: the word Kufi comes from the Iraqi town of Kufa.

It is characterized by:

  • Angular letter shapes
  • Short, broad vertical strokes and long extended horizontals
  • Written on a horizontal baseline


The stiff angular shape of the Kufic character didn’t lend itself for ordinary use and it was reserved for writing the Holy Quran, coins and inscriptions on stones.

It was developed into such a fantastic decorative shape that very few could read it and only professional calligraphers could transcribe it. This led to a gradual disuse of the style by 13th century. In India where Islamic power was established in the 12th century only a few examples are found on religious buildings.

In India Quwattul Islam Mosque, SultanGhari and Tomb of of Iltutmish have fine specimens of Kufic calligraphy.A_section_of_the_Koran_-_Google_Art_Project9th century Qur’an, an early kufic example from the Abbasid period.


2. Naskh : Naskh is round script distinct from Kufic which is angular. Naskh, was developed in the 10th century, and refined into a fine art form and became an accepted style for writing the Holy Quran. “Naskh” is derived from the verb “nasakha,” meaning “to transcribe or copy.

Its characteristics are

  • Small script, neat and balanced
  • Letter shapes are more fluid and curved than rayhani
  • Letters lean slightly to the left
  • Descending letters end in an upward hook
  • Equal division between flat and round shapes and heavy and light strokes
  • Highly legible, clear and quick to writenaskh4220px-Alai_Darwaza_-_Qutub_Minar_ComplexThe domed Alai Darwaza  is decorated with red sandstone and inlaid white marble decorations, inscriptions in Naskh script

3. Taliq Ta‘liq” means “suspension,” or “hanging together”

It was used for official correspondence in the royal courtand for writing books and letters.

It is chatacterised by

  • Letters that don’t connect on the left are often connected in this script (unauthorized ligatures)
  • Descending strokes appear as loops
  • Letters are rounded with extreme contrasts in letter spacing
  • Wide spaces appear between lines
  • Lines ascend upward as they move from right to lefttaliq2

4.  Nastaliq  : (Pronounced “nes-tah-leek”) and  is thought to be a hybrid of the words “naskh” and “ta‘liq”

Nasta‘liq was originally devised to write the Persian language and was used in Persia and India/Pakistan for literary and non-Koranic works. It was developed in 15th c Iran

It is characteristed by

  • Features characteristics of both naskh and ta‘liq
  • Vertical strokes are short, horizontal strokes are broad and sweeping
  • Letter shapes appear to be deep and hook-like
  • Letter shapes vary widely in thickness
  • Overall impression of swiftness, calm, fluidity
  • Letters appear to “float” or “hang” across the page. This quality is increased when the text is arranged diagonally, as is common in nasta‘liq poetry
  • Nasta‘liq is never written with vowels except an occasional hamza and shadda1067Hakim Mosque, Isfahan, Iran  with a poem is inscribed in white Nastaliq calligraphy on blue ceramic tiles farsi_smplNastaliq500px-Miremad-1

4.Shikaste (Pronounced “shi-kas-teh”; Persian–Shekasteh)

It means broken because this script is a ‘broken’ version of Taliq and nastaliq. It was used for longer documents as it was written quickly . Also its flowery style was ideal for poetry.

Note : his script is illegible to the inexperienced eye

Its characteristics are

  • Shikaste is the ta‘liq or nasta‘liq script written rapidly. Each word is written with a single pen stroke, without lifting the pen off the page
  • Letters and words that don’t connect on the left are often connected in this script (unauthorized ligatures)
  • Vertical strokes are extremely short
  • Letters are written diagonally across the page
  • Letter shapes are intricate, complex and denseshikasta-calligraphy-1364140901_b

Artist: khurshid gohar qalamB4709Shikasta From Museum of Fine Arts Boston

5. Thuluth :Pronounced “thoo-looth”; Turkish–Sulus)

“Thuluth” means “one-third.” This possibly refers to its pen size (one-third the size of the pen used for a larger script called tumar)

It is used  for writing many different kinds of texts and particulary for titles and architectural inscriptions

It was developed in 10th c A

It is characterised by

  • Vertical strokes have a leftward slant, horizontals have a deep curve
  • The ends of most descending letters come up in a hook
  • Often written so the letters interlace
  • Many alternate letter forms exist in this script

The calligraphy on the Taj Mahal has been done by the Persian master calligrapher Abd ul- Haq, who came to India from Shiraz, Iran, in 1609. As a reward for his “dazzling virtuosity”, Shah Jahan gave him the title of “Amanat Khan”. His signature appearsat the base of the interior dome.According to historians  Amanat Khan was responsible not only for the design of the script but also for the choice of text. The texts chosen refer broadly to themes of judgment and paradisiacal rewards for the faithful. The inscription over the gateway invites the reader to enter Paradise, the abode of the faithful and reward for the righteous.indexindeximagesfamakana100-web2

6. Ri’qa : Riqa‘ ” is derived from the Arabic noun, ruq’a, meaning “a patch or piece of cloth.” The script was named thus because it was often written on small pieces of paper to petition royalty. It was used for writing letters, epics, stories and personal / official correspondence.

Its characteristics are

  • Small version of tawqi‘
  • Features rounded letter shapes
  • Letters that don’t connect on the left are often connected in this script (unauthorized ligatures)riqa1csayyab1-tn

7. Divani : “Divani” is derived from the word “divan,” the name for the Ottoman royal chancery. It was developed in the 16th c AD and was used  in the Ottoman court to write official documents, including proclamation scrolls, edicts, land and title grants, appointments, correspondence, endowments, etc.

It is characterised by

  • Wide spaces appear between lines
  • Lines ascend upward as they move from right to left
  • When written in large (djali) form, the empty spaces in the script are filled with small dots in a veil of decorative detail
  • Letters and words that don’t connect on the left are often connected in this script (unauthorized ligatures)
  • divani3divani4Other scripts are maghribi, Muhaqqaq and Rayhani
    Some examples from monuments in DelhiIMG_00000364Mehrab in Jamali Kamali MosqueDetails_of_calligraphy_on_a_pendentive,_Humayun's_Tomb_complexMedallion Afsarwala Mosque, Humayun’s tomb complex
    Ceiling of Firuz Shah Tughlaq’s Tomb in Hauz Khas
    Grave in Humayun’s tomb courtyard
    Mehrab in Masjid e Qila Kuhna, Purana Qila
    Examples from Firuz Shah Tughlaq’s tomb
    From Madjid e Qila e Kuhna or Purana Qila
    #Calligraphic medallions in mosque
    Rajon ki Baoli
    Some unique examples examples of Bismillah imagesartist : Balti sahab
    Large advert bird








Comment List

  • Jamal Jafri 10 / 01 / 2015 Reply

    Beautifully put together! Thanks for sharing!

    • Rana Safvi 10 / 01 / 2015 Reply

      Thank you for the encouragement

  • Khadijah Dampha 26 / 07 / 2015 Reply

    I want calligraphic in my abayas and scarfs. Please is it possible to make it for me?

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