Damdama Sahib as a centre for the creation of Gurmukhi manuscripts

December 14, 2016

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 width
apart 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

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 BhaiRupa, 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
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

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