Tracing Individual Style: Islamic Calligraphy from Nusantara

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Published in Suhuf, Vol. 5, No. 2, 2007, pp. 244-255

Text of Tracing Individual Style: Islamic Calligraphy from Nusantara


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ffiPuslitbang Lektur Keagamaan Badan Litbang dan Diklat Departemen Agama Rl


LEKTTJRVol. 5, No. 2,2007


Daftar IsiI'}cnelitianPcrlawanan Gender dalam Naskah Klasik Keagamaan Bugis: Kasus Lontaraq SiUi Rabiyatul Awwaliya




Naskah Klasik Jawa-lslam (Telaah atas Naskah Islam Kejawen Suluk Besi Karya Pengerang Wijil Kadilangu



Materi Siaran Keagamaan diTelevisi: Studi Bahan Ceramah Mimbar Islam pada Stasiun TVRI Manado Harisun Arsyad 204




Artikel225 'l'racing Individual Styles: lslamic Calligraphy fiom Nusantara Ali Akbar 244 'l'cka-Teki Inskripsi Islam Makam Kediri Claude Gulliot dan Ludvik Kalus 256I;uth Al-'Ari/in Ahmad Khatib Sambas Ahmad Rahman


-255 278

'l'claah Bukul'}rinsip-Prirrsip Tauhid dalam Buku al-Tawhtd: Its Implications Irtr'l'httught and Life Karya lsma'il Rajial-Faruqi Musmedia Pinem 279


()bituariMcngenang Prof. Dr. Hasan Muarif Ambary

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Tractng indtvidual styles


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Tracing individual stYles


Islamic Calligraphy from Nusantara'

Ali AkbarBryt al-Qur'an & Museum Istiqlal, Jakarta

Buddhist period.

from these regions that can be called 'Islamic art'. This is despite the fact that if population is taken into consideration, substantial numbers of Muslims live in Southeast Asia (Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the worrd), and Muslims have been present in this region for almost a thousand years. This situation of neglect has arisen partly because of a colonial 'legacy, that has consistently belittled the role of Islam in the arts and cultures of southeast Asia, while lavishing attention on works from the Hindu-

tidak memperoleh perhatian besar dari para penulis Nusantara pada masa lampau. SeUatitnya, mereka lebih banyak mengembangkan 9ay1. tulisan ,rrdiri, dan yang-paling menonjol adalah 'kaligrafi floral'. Jika di Timur


yang Tengah kaligrafr merupikan seni tulis dengan disiplin penulisan_ huruf seni bentuk dari bagian merupakan hrlis seni di Nusantara

,*frt f"tui

lainirya, dan dalam seni mushaf tidak terpisahkan dari iluminasi. Kata kunci: kaligrafi Islam, Nusantara, Al-Qur'an

Introduction ihe study of Islamic art from Nusantara - the local name for the island world of Southeast Asia, encompassing the present-day states of Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Brunei and the Philippines - has barely been touched, whether by Westem scholars or iocal ones. Studies of Islamic art generally ignore Southeast Asia, the covering only the area stretching from North Africa to Turkey, art Middle-East, central Asia and Iran up to India, as if it is onlyThis article is based on a paper entitled 'Islamic calligraply from which was originally Nusantara: a study based on ,o*. Q*'u' manuscripts'



Riq' ah, ljazah and Kufi c. These eight Middle Eastern styles of calligraphy seem to be treated almost as 'sacred', definitive, categories thit are never even questioned in any discussion of calligraphy in Nusantara. And yet a preliminary study of the treasury of Nusantara calligraphy reveals that something different was going on! Attempting-to discuss Nugantara calligraphy by constant reference to these eight standard s_t/es inevitably runs into problems. This paper will focus on Qur'an manuscrips, because the finest examplei of manuscrip art

Another contributing factor is that the study of Nusantara manuscripts has traditionally been dominated by philologists who only study texts - rather than art historians. The field oftanuscript illumination from Nusantara has over the past few years received considerable attention from Annabel Teh Gallop br *t" British Library, London. However, the treasury of Nusantara calligraphy remains almost totally undiscovered, and to date there is-not a single comprehensive or serious study of this field. Nusantara calligraphy is almost never mentioned in manuscript sfudies, or if it happens to be mentioned in passing, it is only in the context of the eight_popular calligraphic styres of the Middle Eastern tradition, namely Thuluth, Naskhi, Ta,liq (Farisi), Diwani, Diwani Jali,

whether calligraphy or illumination

copies of the Holy Book.


are forrrd



of lslamic prepared for the 'International Course in the handling and cataloguing


organised by the Al-Furqan Foundation, London, in cooperation 27 March' with the international tslamic University of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, Teh Annabel Dr by Indonesian fr_om 12 April 2006. The paper was tansdted London. Library, British collections, cattop, Head, south and southeast Asian

Some characteristics of Nusantara calligraphy one of the most notable features of Nusantara calligraphy, especially in the surah headings of eur'an manuscriptr,lr trr. charac-




ing individual

st),le,t :lli


Jurnal Leldur Keagamaan, Vol. 5, No. 2, 2007: 214

- 255

teristic knotting of the certain letters. The letters ate ta' marbutah in the words ayah, surah, mi'oh, Makkiyyah, Madaniyyah (or in the word al-qissah at the start of literary works) and alif after ya' in the word AyAt. This highly distinctive feature is found in Qur'an manuscripts from various regions, including Aceh, Palembang, Pakanbaru, Sumed*g, Demak, Surakarta, Surabaya, Mataram, Makassar and Ternate. On the basis of the occurrence of knots in Qur'ans from a wide range of states on different islands, calligraphic knots appear to be a general feature probably also found in other parts of Nusantara. Nevertheles, the most striking and attractive examples of these calligrapic knots are from Java. Many Qur'an manuscripts from Java have examples of letters with multiple knots, and of knots found in more than one word within the surah heading. In manuscripts containing religious texts (referred to in Nusantara generically as'kitab'), emphasising (or rubricating) the start of new chapters by stylising or elaborating certain letters can often be seen. The words amma, fasal, mas'alah or kitab which indicate the start of a new topic, and simultaneously mark the close of the previous topic, receive special treatment and are elaborated according to the creative talents of the scribe. In addition to this function of marking the juncture between chapters, in some manuscripts the knotting of ta' marbutah also functions to highlight the importance of a particular word. Another distinctive feature of the Nusantara calligraphic tradition is the use of 'floral calligraphy'2 which can be most clearly seen in Qur'an manuscripts from Palembang, Makassar, and is particularly evident in some Qur'ans illuminated in the Terengganu rtyt.. In the Middle Eastern calligraphic tradition, letters are usually letters - in the sense of retaining their pure letter forms even if placed against a background of floral ornaments; in other words, the letters have a separate existence from their floral background. But what can be seen happening in Qur'an manuscripts from Palembang, Makassar and Terengganu, for example, ispropose the term ,floral calligraphy' for calligraphic compositions in which the letters evolve or are fiansformed into floral ornaments themselves' As far as I know, this is a new term. 2

something unusual: the letters metamorphose and actually .become, floral omaments. This calligraphic form also demon#ates how Arabic (read: Islamic) letters have melded with the traditions of the surrounding local community, to yield unique forms of adaptation.

'Floral calligraphy' in surah headings of eur'ans Ji-om Bima,

Tenggara (above) and Terengganu, Malal;sia (below).




The beauty of, the surah headings shown above is in contrast with the style of writing in the rest of each of the eur'ans, which is inevitably written simply, always in Naskhi. Tiis leads to the conclusion that Qur'an rnanuscripts are sor,netimes written by two people- The calligraphic surah headings on the illuminated pages were written by the illuminator of the eur'an, while all the other pages are by the copyist of the eur,an. such collaboration often occurred in the copying of eur,ans and other manuscripts, because illuminated pug", ir, manu_ {*,r, scripts were treated very specially. The surah headings on illuminated pages were the work of the illuminator, whose sfeciality was not writing but drawing- The resulting compositiorx ur" t ighty distinctive. In such compositions, the 'ideology, or particular idiosyncratic tastes of the illuminator informs -irl, t"tt".s, yielding letters with very distinctive styres. Such distinctive results can be seen in the surah headings in a eur'an believed to be fiom Ternatc, North Maluku"247


Jurnal Lektur Keagdmaan, Vol. 5, No. 2, 2007: 2"14'255

l'racing irulividual.stylts lli,4kbor

Surah hteadiw, Qur'aY manuscript,


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In this manuscript, the surah headings on the illuminated pages at the beginning of the Qur'an were almost certainly writtgn py th. illuminator. It is impossible to'imagine that if the surah,hgadinql had been written by a trained calfigrapher (khattat), that he would have produced letters lpoking like this. The letter ta' marbutah in the *ords at-fatihai- ia *:oinqrft ib