It is a pageant of rare Quranic manuscripts that not only provides an insight into the glory and richness of Islam but also sets back the clock of the religion's advent into Kashmir by almost a century.
A rare 1237 AD Quranic manuscript calligraphed by Fathullah Kashmiri, displayed at an exhibition here, is the oldest-known copy of the Islamic scripture prepared in Kashmir and reveals Islamic communities were present in the Valley much earlier than generally believed.
"This rare manuscript sets the calendar of Islam's advent in Kashmir back by a century. The manuscript contains Persian translation of the holy verses," said Khalid Bashir, secretary of the Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages that organised the exhibition, which ended Tuesday, in the academy's premises.
Khalid said the manuscript is autographed by the calligrapher and clearly depicts the date when it was written.
"This proves Muslims existed in Kashmir at least 83 years before they gained political power here," he asserted.
Most of the rare Quranic manuscripts on display are written on handmade Kashmiri paper.
"One of the manuscripts which dates back to 1594 is the only copy of Quran written in saffron ink in the world," said Khalid who has personally been supervising the preservation and protection of these rare manuscripts.
A huge four feet by four feet, 220-year-old copy of the holy book by local calligrapher Mohi-ud-Din Qureshi, is another marvel of calligraphic excellence. It also has its own wooden case.
Besides Quranic manuscripts, the exhibition had rare impressions of Prophet Mohammad's seal, impressions of the letter he wrote to the ruler of Persia inviting him to embrace Islam, impressions of the first Quranic verses written on a camel's bone and a letter written by King Solomon to Queen Sheba.
"The entire invaluable collection at display here could in fact be just one percent of what must be lying in homes of many local families. We request them to preserve this invaluable wealth using scientific methods of book preservation.
"But more important is the fact that such a national wealth must be shared with others. We are ready to render whatever assistance is needed to preserve these manuscripts," said Khalid as he conducted visitors to a 1666 Mughal-era Quranic manuscript with ornamental gold plated folio.
A rare scroll, 25 feet long and 2.5 inches wide, has 99 attributes of Allah calligraphed on it with selections from the Quran in the background.
The certificate of genuineness that accompanies the scroll has been signed by prominent citizens of the period when the scroll was given as a present by Kashmiri saint Sheikh Hamza Makhdoom to local merchant Miram Bazaz.
Kashmir Valley has a population of seven million, a majority of them Muslims.