It was the Arab traders, who first brought Islam to India. Go to Kerala and you will find India’s oldest mosque, built by an Arab merchant way back in 629 CE. With the faith came the Holy Book, The Quran, but it's only much later when the Islamic dynasties were established in the North, starting the 13th century CE, that the Holy Book became much more than a simple text. Grand and elaborate Qurans began to be made for the Islamic aristocracy. These Qurans were often richly embellished, with jewels, exquisite calligraphy and workmanship.
India boasts of being home to some of the finest Qurans in the world. Here is a look at some
One of the most unique Qurans in India and in fact in the entire Islamic world is in the collection of Rampur Raza Library at Rampur, Uttar Pradesh. This Quran is a unique manuscript attributed to Hazrat Ali who was the first cousin of Prophet Muhammad and who married the Prophet’s daughter Fatima. It said to have been written by Hazrat Ali in the 7th century CE and was brought by Nawab Kalbe Ali Khan of Rampur (1865-1887 CE) from his Haj pilgrimage in 1872 CE. It is a simple manuscript and is written on parchment, a writing material made from the untanned skin of animals.
– The Quran measures just 2 cm by 3 cm
Another very interesting manuscript is the miniature handwritten Quran at the Salar Jung Museum in Hyderabad. Three generations of Hyderabad’s famous Salar Jung family collected rare Qurans and manuscripts. The Quran dating back to the 9th century CE represents rare calligraphy work especially significant as it is a miniature! The Quran measures just 2 cm by 3 cm. It is printed in 31 folios and has detailed workmanship. There are only two such small Qurans in the world – one at the Salar Jung Museum and the other in Iran.
– The Quran of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb is quite grand
In contrast to the simple Quran at Rampur, the Quran of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb is quite grand. Emperor Aurangzeb was known to make handwritten copies of the Quran and distribute the money raised through them, to charity. But in 2010, at an auction in UAE, a private collector put on sale a Mughal Quran, said to have belonged to Emperor Aurangzeb. The Quran was written in ink made from valuable minerals and had inlays of rubies, lapis lazuli and garnets. It is believed that Aurangzeb had himself inscribed several passages of the manuscript and had allotted a special section in his palace for the artists who completed it. The manuscript had golden insets and consisted of sheets of paper handcrafted from rice and natural minerals. This Quran remains in a private collection.
Another rare Quran is one which is painted on cloth and is considered to be a unique example of Mughal craftsmanship. A scribe by the name Munshi Abd Khan al Qadiri, painted a cloth with the verses of Quran. It took him two years to get this Quran ready. We also have the exact dates – 31 July 1718 CE to 11 July 1720 CE. The Quran was presented to the then Mughal governor of Allahabad, Amir ‘Abdallah.
This Quran, painted in cloth was exquisite and large. Measuring 9.5 ft x 5 ft, what is very interesting is that the ink was made of gold, silver, powdered gems and semi-precious stones, and even the mother-of-pearl was used on this cloth-Quran. This Quran is now on display at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto.
These are just some of the exquisite Qurans that have survived and we know of. There may be many others in private collections.