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Nastaʿlīq (also anglicized as Nastaleeq; نستعلیق nastaʿlīq) is one of the main script styles used in writing the Perso-Arabic script, and traditionally the predominant style in Persian calligraphy It was developed in Iran in the 14th and 15th centuries. Although it is sometimes used to write Arabic-language text (where it is known as Ta?liq or Farsi and is mainly used for titles and headings), it has always been more popular in the Persian, Turkic, and South Asian spheres of influence. Nastaʿlīq has extensively been (and still is) practiced in Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan as a form of art. A less elaborate version of Nastaʿlīq serves as the preferred style for writing Persian, Kashmiri, and Urdu, and it is often used alongside Naskh for Pashto. Nastaʿlīq was historically used for writing Ottoman Turkish, where it is known as talik (not to be confused with a totally different Persian style, also called ta?liq; to distinguish the two, Ottomans refer to this latter as ta'liq-i qadim = old ta'liq).

Chalipa panel, Mir Emad

Chalipa panel, Mir Emad

Nastaʿlīq is the core script of the Persian writing tradition, and equally important in the areas under its cultural influence. Notably the languages of Afghanistan (Dari, Uzbek, Turkmen, etc.), Pakistan (Punjabi, Urdu, Kashmiri, Saraiki, etc.), India (Urdu, Kashmiri, Rekhta), and the Turkic Uyghur language of the Chinese province of Xinjiang, rely on Nastaʿlīq. Under the name Taʿliq, it was also beloved by Ottoman calligraphers who developed the Diwani and Ruqah 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, called "qalam" ("pen," in Arabic and Persian "???"), and carbon ink, named "davat." The nib of a qalam is usually split in the middle to facilitate ink absorption.

Two important forms of Nastaʿlīq panels are Chalipa and Siah-Masq. 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-Masq ("inked drill") panels however communicate via composition and form, rather than content. In Siah-Masq, repeating a few (sometimes even one) letters or words virtually inks the whole panel. The content is thus of less significance and not clearly accessible.


After the Islamic conquest of Persia, Iranians adopted the Perso-Arabic script and the art of Persian calligraphy flourished in Iran alongside other Islamic countries. Apparently, Mir Ali Tabrizi (14th century) developed Nastaʿlīq by combining two existing scripts of Nasḫ and Taʿlīq. Hence, it was originally called Nasḫ-Taʿlīq. Another theory holds that the name means "that which abrogated (naskh) Taʿliq".

Example showing Nastaʿlīq's proportion rules

Example showing Nastaʿlīq's proportion rules.

Nastaʿlīq thrived gradually, and many prominent calligraphers contributed to its splendor and beauty. It is believed that Nastaʿlīq reached its highest elegance in Mir Emad's works. The current practice of Nastaʿlīq is, however, heavily based on Mirza Reza Kalhor's manner. 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, including Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh. The influence remains to this day. In Pakistan, almost everything in Urdu is written in the script, concentrating the greater part of Nastaʿlīq usage in the world. In Hyderābād, Lucknow, and other cities in India with large Urdu-speaking populations, many street signs and such are written in Nastaʿlīq. Also, the education system in India recognises Urdu as a language of preference to students who wish to opt it as their first language and the quality of the training is of high standards. The situation of Nastaʿlīq in Bangladesh used to be the same as in Pakistan until 1971, when Urdu ceased to remain an official language of the country. Today, only a few neighborhoods (mostly inhabited by Bihāris) in Dhaka and Chittagong retain the influence of the Persian and Nastaʿlīq.

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

Notable Nastaʿlīq calligraphers

* Mir Ali Tabrizi
* Mir Emad
* Mirza Buzurg-i-Nuri
* Mishkín-Qalam

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

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


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 Nastaʿllīq. For instance see Adab al-Masq, a manual of penmanship, attributed to Mir Emad.

Nastaʿlīq typesetting

Nastaʿlīq Typography first started with the 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 never used other than by the college library to publish its own books. State of Hyderabad Dakan (now in India) also attempted to develop a Nastaʿlīq Typewriter but this attempt miserably failed 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.

An example of the Nastaʿlīq script used for writing Urdu

An example of the Nastaʿlīq script used for writing Urdu

Modern Nastaʿliq 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). 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.

Nastaʿlīq electronic Publishing and DTP

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 a software development team- Concept Software Pvt Ltd- led by Rarendra Singh and Vijay Gupta, with the input and help of a UK company called Multilingual Solutions (Limited) led by Kamran Rouhi. 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 Faiz Lahori Nastaliq font with Kasheeda has been added to it along with compatibility with OpenType Unicode fonts.

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.

Published - March 2011

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