Quranic verses, written in golden letters on vellum, that adorn the walls of ‘Shireen Qalam’ – an Islamic art exhibition organised by the Jammu and Kashmir Cultural Academy – attract every visitor to the exhibition for two reasons: the beautiful calligraphic images and the man who has preserved these old and rare manuscripts.
Suresh Abrol is a Hindu from Jammu. Abrol and his family have been preserving these rare Islamic manuscripts, including old Quranic manuscripts, for over a century now. The Abrol’s have set-up their own museum and manuscript library – Shashvat Art Gallery – in their house.
“We have inherited it from our grandfather Late Lala Rekhi Ram,” says Abrol. “He was Maharaja’s jeweller and had a great jewellery collection. He developed an interest in it and started to collect miniature paintings also”.
His grandfather’s interest in manuscripts started when he would go to Tawi river for the morning bath. “It has been over 95 years now. He used to go to the river for bathing and people would come there to throw their old manuscripts in the river,” says Abrol. “He would collect these manuscripts from them and bring them home. People then would say he has gone mad. But he would say it is his passion”.
Slowly the collection started to grow and today the Abrol’s have 250 Islamic calligraphic images at their art gallery – 130 of them written on Vellum, the delicate sheath between the hide and the meat of an animal.
A science graduate, who also holds a degree in naturopathy, Abrol’s own interest in collecting these manuscripts started when he visited the Prince of Wales Museum. “After that visit, I also started to develop an interest in it and I bought many new manuscripts,” he says. “I would go the scrap dealers and sift through the old books”.
At the exhibition in Srinagar, Abrol has displayed – for the first time – 40 Islamic calligraphic images, a 24 feet long family tree of Muslim prophets and a miniature Quran written on cloth. The exhibition also showcases the oldest Quranic manuscript in valley written some seven hundred ago. The other attractions include a 300-year-old book by Kashmiri author Mohammad Azam Dedmari on the botanical herbs of Kashmir, a Quranic manuscript written in 24-carat gold, a 628-year-old manuscript of Quran written on Kashmiri paper and a 150-year-old handwritten Quran gifted by a Kashmiri Hindu Pandit Harmanand Koul.
The Abrols’ have been maintaining these manuscripts of their own without any help from the government. “We are three brothers and all of us deal with jewellery. Whatever, we need to do for the preservation of these manuscripts, we do it ourselves from our own pocket,” says Abrol. “We generally used the traditional methods of preservation which are cost effective”.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS