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Tibetan Calligraphy

August 24, 2010

The word "calligraphy" literally means beautiful
writing. Contemporary international calligraphers
have broadly categorized different types or
styles of calligraphy into three main streams:
(1) Western or Roman, (2) Arabic, and (3) Chinese or Oriental.

In ancient times, Tibetan calligraphy and
Buddhist wisdoms of our great masters have
impressed even the Emperors of China, when Sakya
Dorgon Chogyal Phagpa was invited by the Mongol
Emperor to invent a new script for the purpose of
writing the Mongolian language. Emperor Kublai
Khan, who established Yuan dynasty of China, was
so impressed by Phagpa's performance that he
declared Buddhism the state religion, awarded him
the Chinese title of imperial preceptor and
presented him the ruler ship of the three provinces of Tibet.

Drogon Chogyal Phagpa, the great Sakya master
lived from 1235 to 1280 C.E. Unfortunately today,
Tibetan calligraphy is an endangered art.

The former director of Library of Tibetan works
and Archives, Dharamsala Mr Gyatsho Tshering
expressed his regret that with the computer-age
Tibetan calligraphy is fast becoming a lost art.
“Tibetan calligraphy has power. It has energy.
That is something that I miss. But what can we do? The times have changed.”

Before the invention of the printing press some
500 years ago, volumes of rich Buddhist teachings
were written by expert Tibetan calligraphers on
lettering style called U-chen with bamboo reeds
and pens. Later wooden blocks were created based
on the U-chen calligraphy and printed books to
spread knowledge to the masses.

Tibetan calligraphy refers to the calligraphic
traditions used to write the Tibetan language. As
in other parts of East Asia, nobles, high lamas,
and persons of high rank were expected to have high abilities in Calligraphy.

A variety of different styles of calligraphy existed in Tibet:

The u-chan (Wylie: dbu-can, "headed") style of
the Tibetan script is marked by heavy horizontal
lines and tapering vertical lines, and is the
most common script for writing in the
Tibetan  language, and also appears in printed
form because of its exceptional clarity. When
handwritten, it is the most basic form of
calligraphy, and must be mastered before moving onto other styles.

Today all the great Buddhist scriptures including
the two great cannons, Kagyur and Tengyur
manuscripts are found on wooden blocks which are
now being preserved and further distributed with
the help of digital techniques.  Tibetan fonts
with smooth outlines and solid coloring have been
produced for using in computer displays and
printed hard-copies. However, aesthetic
properties of the characters produced by
calligraphers could not be simulated at all.
U-chen is thus traditionally used for writing the
religious scripts and has limited style.



The drugtsa (Willie: 'bru-tsha) style is a
version halfway between u-chan and u-me. Drug-tsa
style of calligraphy is traditionally used for
writing titles, name plates, signboards, Logos,
headlines and more of decorative in nature. Some
modern Tibetan calligrapher promotes this style for Tatoos also.
An example


U-med was used for communicating such as writing
notes, letters, office orders etc.

U-med has more scope for expressing individual
character, grace, power and beauty of the writer.
Its free flow, flexibility and artistic quality
can never be standardized or computerized since
each writer expresses in different manner.
Sometimes it is a matter of making variations of
the same design many times until a favorite materializes.

The tsugtung (Willie: tshugs-thung) style is
shortened, abbreviated variant of u-me, traditionally used for commentaries.

The kyugyig (Willie: 'khyug-yig, "fast letters")
is a highly abbreviated, fluid, cursive version
of u-me. It is a common form of handwriting for notes and personal letters.

The Chinese calligrapher Wang Hsi-chih said,
"Writing needs meaning, whereas calligraphy
expresses itself above all through forms and
gestures. It elevates the soul and illuminates
the feelings." In this respect calligraphy is
very close to painting and they have the same
beginning. Prehistoric mark-making used
powerfully evocative, primitive written forms.
Tibetan calligraphy, therefore, must receive the
same dignity and support as the Chinese calligraphy or the Islamic calligraphy.

An example at

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An example at
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