Rizwan Shafi Wani/Srinagar
Jalaluddin can write Arabic, Urdu, Hindi, English, Sanskrit, and Punjabi. This 64-year-old artist is the first one from Kashmir to introduce Islamic calligraphy in wood carving designs. His hand-made products have been gifted to many celebrities including former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the British High Commissioner. Jalaluddin lives in the Osmania colony of Srinagar.
He has been practicing this art for 45 years though he was interested in it as a child. He started carving the wood at the age of 10 years.
He told Awaz-the Voice, “I wanted to learn wood carving since my childhood. I started learning it along with my studies.” To learn its intricacies and bring finesse to his works, he a factory. “I started working for a local artisan named Abdul Majeed Parrey. Since I had a passion for wood carving, my teacher taught me all the rules and procedures of the art. Gradually, I became proficient in this work. I have worked in many factories in Kashmir. In 2007, a friend offered me to work in Dubai.”
There he worked as a painter for about eight years. “When I returned to Kashmir four years ago, I thought of starting Islamic calligraphy on Kashmiri wood. Thank god I was successful. Walnut wood carving is in high demand. Calligraphy is not an easy task. Not everyone can do this.”
Jalaluddin with one of his master pieces
Jalaluddin has turned a portion of his house into a factory. He has decorated and embellished major mosques and dargahs of the Valley. He also worked in Jama Masjid in Srinagar downtown. His compositions are very popular not only in Jammu and Kashmir but also abroad.
Jalaluddin Shaikh, fond of writing Quranic verses, has beautifully engraved Surah Al-Anshar on a 2 feet wide piece of walnut wood. This work has attracted a lot of visitors.
He says that writing Quranic verses on walnut wood requires a lot of skill and can only be done by an expert. “I have attractively written Surah al-Anshara on 2 feet long canvas. It took a month to complete it. I have never seen any other artisan do this. When this canvas picture went viral on the internet, a lot of people started calling me,” he said.
Carving Arabic words in wood
Jalaluddin says that the people of Saudi Arabia contacted him; they praised his work. He has been receiving a lot of orders. “I work alone in my factory. At that time, so many orders come from people that I remained engaged in my work throughout the day.”
Jalaluddin says that he can write in five languages and also carves beautiful designs on wood. He uses 40 tools to do the carving on wood; most of these are not available in the market, and he improvises these. he first creates tools depending on the design he wants to carve on wood.
There is no other calligrapher of Jalaluddin’s stature in Kashmir; nobody quite knows how to paint calligraphy and carve out designs on wood as Jalaluddin Sheikh does. He says that the government officers contacted him after the photo of his first major calligraphy design on wood went viral on social media. “Till then my name was not in the list of registered artisans but now I am a registered artisan in handicrafts and handloom department and nominated for a prestigious award.”
Jalaluddin Sheikh in his factory
Jalaluddin Sheikh is inspired by Indonesian and Iranian calligraphy. He says that although Islamic calligraphy in Iran has the imprint of Persian script, it is still very beautiful. Significantly, the handicrafts industry is considered a major sector of the economy of Kashmir. Thanks to this sector, a large part of the population is still employed. However, in recent years, the industry has suffered a major setback due to Corona.