Damdama Sahib as a centre for the creation of Gurmukhi manuscripts
Updated: May 24
The following is an excerpt from Giani Balwant Singh Kothaguru's book on the Nirmala Sikhs under the section "Damdami Gurmukhi Likhaareeaa Di Taksal"
The Damdami School of Gurmukhi Calligraphy (from Nirmal Panth Di Gaurav Gatha – Giani Balwant Singh Kotha Guru)
A late 19th century lithographed Guru Granth Sahib which has the script known as "Damdami", developed and perfected by the scribes of Damdama Sahib.
Guru Ki Kanshi (Damdama Sahib, Bathinda) was the centre of Gurbani Calligraphy alongside the teaching of Gurbani Santhia and Arth. Guru Gobind Singh Ji started the tradition of ‘Likhaee’ in Guru Kanshi with the writing of the Damdami Bir. Although the calligraphy of Gurmukhi Granths took place at many other places aswell, the writing style of Damdami Gurmukhi was known as uniquely elegant and clear. The training to become a ‘Likhari’ i.e. a calligrapher was all given at Guru Ki Kanshi. The techniques of writing each Gurmukhi letter individually in the Damdami Script were expertly taught to the students. In particular the way of looping and forming the letters in the Damdami style to make them stand out from other Gurmukhi scripts. For example: Oorra = in the shape of a peacock’s egg Airraa = in shape of a horse’s bridle Haaha = in the shape of a drum barrel Kakkaa = in the shape of a pied wagtail’s eye
In this manner each letter was taught in a specific way. The letters of the Damdami Script were so clear that readers had no difficulties in identifying them due to their uniformity and structure. Kashmiri paper was used by the Damdami calligraphers. To make the paper useable, it was first burnished using the back of shells, which made the paper smooth enough to write upon. To make sure that the writing was in straight lines, a simple but clever method was used. A wooden frame would be made with string running across it, the same widthapart as would be needed for lines to write on. On those frames 10-15 sheets would be placed and weight would be applied on top. Due to the weight, an impression of the lines would form onto the paper. The Damdami calligraphers also had methods to deal with ink going through pages, or spelling mistakes. A fixed amount of crushed shells and glue were mixed with water and placed in a ‘sippi’ for some time. Once ready this would be spread over the spelling mistake (similar to modern Tipp-ex). After this was dry, it was possible to write over the mistake. Correction was also made utilizing turmeric, which formed a yellow correction mixture. Ink was prepared in the Guru Ki Kanshi itself rather then brought from outside. Red Inks were also used made using mercuric sulphide/cinnabar. In Granths such as Dasam Granth Sahib, where they were used for titles, numbers, endings of chapters etc., however this was not used in Adi Guru Granth Sahib manuscripts. The skill of binding Sri Guru Granth Sahib volumes was taught at Guru Ki Kanshi. Due to Guru Granth Sahib being a large volume, to make sure Angs did not fall out of the Saroop, endbands were sewn into the Saroop to make the binding extra strong. Alongside this Chola Sahibs were also made to measure, which helped preserve the binding and give the Granth a long life. Ramala Sahibs were sewn to size and hand made stitching for decoration was also done here. Chaur Sahibs made from peacock feathers were a speciality of Guru Ki Kanshi. Sant Isher Singh ‘Munishar’ of Bunga Mastuana, (born at village Bhai Rupa, a great scholar of Vedanta) was a famed for his skill of crafting these Chaur Sahibs which he donated to each Gurdwara in the vicinity of Damdama Sahib. It was astonishing seeing the range of activities not only taking place at Guru Kanshi, but also being taught. All activities such as teaching the manner of writing the Damdami script, making ink, making ‘hartaal’ (a substance with similar use to tipex), making Chaur Sahib, preparing, sizing and burnishing paper, making Rumala Sahibs, preparing the binding of Saroops, were of a higher level of quality then the top education centres of the time such as Vikramshila, Takshila, Varanasi etc. The Nirmala saints played an integral role in keeping Gurbani calligraphy alive. In those times where the Saints taught the pronunciation and exegesis of Scripture, they taught calligraphy alongside. Those who created original works were known as ‘Lekhak’ and those who made copies of these original works were known as ‘Likaris’. These likharis were great Saints, who were respected far and wide for their skill.
Some famous Likharis:
1) Tapo-Nidhi Swami Bhagat Singh wrote 5 Saroops of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji.
2) Sant Wadhawa Singh of Lehra Khana (Bathinda) wrote 5 Saroops of Sri Guru Granth Sahib. Sant Wadhawa Singh Ji used to write make Gutkas of Jap Ji, Sukhmani and other Banis and hand them out to the congregation.
3) Sant Mahant Hira Singh of Likhari Bunga (Damdama Sahib) was famed for his clear and beautiful calligraphy. When the process of printing Gurbani first started, out of all the different scripts (i.e. Damdami, Kashmiri, Amritsari), the Damdami script was chosen, and Sant Hira Singh’s written letters were used to base their printing on. 4) Sant Haiba Singh Gurusar Batindha 5) Sant Dal Singh Bhucho Kala 6) Sant Narain Singh Giani Sekhwa Wale 7) Mahant Vir Singh Daudhar 8) Mahant Gurbakash Singh of Bunga Likharia Damdama Sahib 9) Pandit Shyam Singh Mangwal 10) Sant Bala Singh Khadur Sahib 11) Pandit Nanu Singh 12) Mahant Jai Singh Dera Sada Singh 13) Sant Bhoop Singh 14) Sant Naudh Singh BhaiRupa 15) Mahant Mahna Singh BhaiRupa 16) Sant Aghar Singh Tutomazara 17) Mahant Pratap Singh Dera Chaunk BabaSahib Amritsar 18) Sant Bhagwan Singh Giani Dera Manuke