Nastaʿlīq script

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ISO 15924 Aran, 161
A couplet versified by the Persian poet Hafez in Nastaʿlīq.

Nastaʿlīq (also anglicized as Nastaleeq; in Persian: نستعلیق nastaʿlīq) (includes of words: "Naskh (نسخ)" and "ta'liq (تعلیق)") is one of the main calligraphic hands used in writing the Persian script, and traditionally the predominant style in Persian calligraphy.[1] It was developed in Iran in the 14th and 15th centuries. [2] It is sometimes used to write Arabic-language text (where it is known as Taʿliq[citation needed] or Persian and is mainly used for titles and headings), but its use has always been more popular in the Persian, Turkic and Urdu sphere of influence Nastaʿlīq has extensively been (and still is) practiced in Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan for written poetry and as a form of art.

A less elaborate version of Nastaʿlīq serves as the preferred style for writing the Kashmiri, Punjabi and Urdu, and it is often used alongside Naskh for Pashto. In Persian it is used for poetry only. Nastaʿlīq was historically used for writing Ottoman Turkish, where it was known as tâlik[3] (not to be confused with a totally different Persian style, also called taʿliq; to distinguish the two, Ottomans referred to the latter as ta'liq-i qadim = old ta'liq).

Nastaʿlīq is the core script of the post-Sassanid Persian writing tradition, and is equally important in the areas under its cultural influence. The languages of Iran (Western Persian, Azeri, Balochi, Kurdi, Luri, etc.), Afghanistan (Dari, Pashto, Uzbek, Turkmen, etc.), Pakistan (Punjabi, Urdu, Kashmiri, Saraiki, etc.), and the Turkic Uyghur language of the Chinese province of Xinjiang, rely on Nastaʿlīq. Under the name taʿliq (lit. “suspending [script]”), it was also beloved by Ottoman calligraphers who developed the Diwani (divanî) and Ruqah (rık’a) styles from it.

Nastaʿlīq is amongst the most fluid calligraphy styles for the Arabic alphabet. It has short verticals with no serifs, and long horizontal strokes. It is written using a piece of trimmed reed with a tip of 5–10 mm (0.2–0.4 in), called "qalam" ("pen", in Arabic and Persian "قلم"), and carbon ink, named "davat". The nib of a qalam can be split in the middle to facilitate ink absorption.

Two important forms of Nastaʿlīq panels are Chalipa and Siah-Mashq. A Chalipa ("cross", in Persian) panel usually consists of four diagonal hemistiches (half-lines) of poetry, clearly signifying a moral, ethical or poetic concept. Siah-Mashq ("black drill") panels, however, communicate via composition and form, rather than content. In Siah-Mashq, repeating a few letters or words (sometimes even one) virtually inks the whole panel. The content is thus of less significance and not clearly accessible.


Persian Chalipa panel, Mir Emad.

After the Islamic conquest of Persia, the Iranian Persian people adopted the Perso-Arabic script, and the art of Persian calligraphy flourished in Iran as territories of the former Persian empire. Apparently, Mir Ali Tabrizi (14th century) developed Nastaʿlīq by combining two existing scripts of Nasḫ and Taʿlīq.[4] Hence, it was originally called Nasḫ-Taʿlīq. Another theory holds that the name Nastaʿlīq means "that which abrogated (naskh) Taʿlīq".

Nastaʿlīq thrived, and many prominent calligraphers contributed to its splendor and beauty. It is believed that[by whom?] Nastaʿlīq reached its highest elegance in Mir Emad's works. The current practice of Nastaʿlīq is, however, heavily based on Mirza Reza Kalhor's technique. Kalhor modified and adapted Nastaʿlīq to be easily used with printing machines, which in turn helped wide dissemination of his transcripts. He also devised methods for teaching Nastaʿlīq and specified clear proportional rules for it, which many could follow.

The Mughal Empire used Persian as the court language during their rule over South Asia. During this time, Nastaʿlīq came into widespread use in South Asia. The influence continues to this day. In Pakistan, almost everything in Urdu is written in the script, constituting the greatest part of Nastaʿlīq usage in the world. The situation of Nastaʿlīq in Bangladesh used to be the same as in Pakistan until 1971, when Urdu ceased to remain an official language. Today, only a few people use this form of writing in Bangladesh.

Nastaʿlīq is a descendant of Nasḫ and Taʿlīq. Shikasta Nastaʿlīq (literally "broken Nastaʿlīq") style is a development of Nastaʿlīq.

Notable Nastaʿlīq calligraphers[edit]

Example showing « خط نستعلیق » (Nastaʿlīq script) written in nastaʿlīq .

And others, including Mirza Jafar Tabrizi, Abdul Rashid Deilami, Sultan Ali Mashadi, Mir Ali Heravi, Emad Ul-Kottab, Mirza Gholam Reza Esfehani, Emadol Kotab, Yaghoot Mostasami, and Darvish Abdol Majid Taleghani.

And among contemporary artists: Hassan Mirkhani, Hossein Mirkhani, Abbas Akhavein and Qolam-Hossein Amirkhani, Ali Akbar Kaveh, Kaboli.[5]


Islamic calligraphy was originally used to adorn Islamic religious texts, specifically the Qur'an, as pictorial ornaments were prohibited in Islam. Therefore, a sense of sacredness always hovered in the background of calligraphy.

A Nastaʿlīq disciple was supposed to qualify himself spiritually for being a calligrapher, besides learning how to prepare qalam, ink, paper and, more importantly, master Nastaʿlīq. For instance see Adab al-Mashq, a manual of penmanship attributed to Mir Emad.

Nastaʿlīq typesetting[edit]

An example of the Nastaʿlīq script used for writing Urdu

Nastaʿlīq Typography first started with attempts to develop a metallic type for the script, but all such efforts failed. Fort William College developed a Nastaʿlīq Type, which was not close enough to Nastaʿlīq and hence was never used other than by the college library to publish its own books. The State of Hyderabad Dakan (now in India) also attempted to develop a Nastaʿlīq Typewriter but this attempt failed miserably and the file was closed with the phrase “Preparation of Nastaʿlīq on commercial basis is impossible”. Basically, in order to develop such a metal type, thousands of pieces would be required.

Modern Nastaʿlīq typography began with the invention of Noori Nastaleeq which was first created as a digital font in 1981 through the collaboration of Mirza Ahmad Jamil TI (as Calligrapher) and Monotype Imaging (formerly Monotype Corp & Monotype Typography).[6] Although this was a ground-breaking solution employing over 20,000 ligatures (individually designed character combinations) which provided the most beautiful results and allowed newspapers such as Pakistan's Daily Jang to use digital typesetting instead of an army of calligraphers, it suffered from two problems in the 1990s: (a) its non-availability on standard platforms such as Windows or Mac OS, and (b) the non-WYSIWYG nature of text entry, whereby the document had to be created by commands in Monotype's proprietary page description language.

Currently Microsoft has included Urdu language support in all new versions of Windows and both Windows Vista and Microsoft Office 2007 are available in Urdu through Language Interface Pack[7] support. Most Linux Desktop distributions allow the easy installation of Urdu support and translations as well. Windows 8 was the first version of Microsoft Windows to have native Nastaliq support, through Microsoft's "Urdu Typesetting" font.[8]

Nastaʿliq electronic publishing and DTP[edit]

In 1994, InPage Urdu, which is a fully functional page layout software for Windows akin to Quark XPress, was developed for Pakistan's newspaper industry. This was done by an Indian software company - Concept Software Pvt Ltd - led by Rarendra Pratap Singh and Vijay Krishan Gupta, with the input and help of Firoz Hashmi expert in calligraphy & Urdu Language and a UK company called Multilingual Solutions (Limited) led by Kamran Rouhi. In this version 40 other non-Nastaliq fonts which were created by Syed Manzar Hasan Zaidi. They licensed and improved the Noori Nastaliq font from Monotype at that time. This font, with its vast ligature base of over 20,000, is still used in current versions of the software for Windows. As of 2009 InPage has become Unicode based, supporting more languages, and the Faiz Lahori Nastaliq font with Kasheeda developed by Syed Manzar Hasan Zaidi, Axis SoftMedia Pvt. Ltd., has been added to it along with compatibility with OpenType Unicode fonts. Nastaliq Kashish[clarification needed] has been made for the first time[clarification needed] in the history of Nastaliq Typography.

InPage has been widely marketed and sold in the UK, India and elsewhere since 1994, and is utilized in the majority of UK schools and local authorities where Urdu is a main language of pupils and constituents. InPage is also reported to be in use on millions of PCs in India, Pakistan and other countries of the world.

Nowadays, nearly all Urdu newspapers, magazines, journals, and periodicals are composed on computers via various Urdu software programmes, the most widespread of which is the InPage Desktop Publishing package.

See also[edit]


Further reading[edit]

  • Habib-ollah Feza'eli, Ta'lim-e Khatt, Tehran: Sorush, 1977 (in Persian)
  • Sheila Blair, Islamic Calligraphy, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2005.

External links[edit]