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The lost art of Eid greeting cards

Updated Jun 26, 2017 11:03am
From the Priya Paul Collection, New Delhi.
From the Priya Paul Collection, New Delhi.

This blog was first published in July, 2015.

Eidul Fitr celebrations come in a multitude of unique forms in our society. As the month of Ramazan approaches its last leg, markets all across the country are glittered with Eid paraphernalia: confectionery, clothes, bangles, mehendi – all typical associations with this festive occasion.

However, one particular trend has dwindled over the years: the practice of sending out Eid cards.

It was once a routine for most families to spend time appropriately selecting, purchasing, writing and posting Eid greeting cards to friends and families. But now, it has become a rarity.

Salutation of a young girl to her elder sister. Eid card printed by Eastern Commercial Agency, Bombay. From the Priya Paul Collection, New Delhi.
Salutation of a young girl to her elder sister. Eid card printed by Eastern Commercial Agency, Bombay. From the Priya Paul Collection, New Delhi.

Especially for children. Eid card produced by Shabbar T. Corp. Bombay. From Omar Khan's collection.
Especially for children. Eid card produced by Shabbar T. Corp. Bombay. From Omar Khan's collection.

Especially for children. Eid card produced by Shabbar T. Corp. Bombay. From Omar Khan's collection.
Especially for children. Eid card produced by Shabbar T. Corp. Bombay. From Omar Khan's collection.

While the custom of Eid greetings has not entirely vanished, the mode has changed. People neither get the time to visit card stalls like before, nor line up for the postage. On the eve and day of Eid, mobile phones services, however, do experience a sudden onslaught of heavy traffic owing to a blitz of Eid wishes being SMSed back and forth.

Read on: Eid cards, not e-cards

In this era of mobile and social media connectivity, where handwritten letters have lost their utility, it is be interesting to revisit the trend of Eid cards, particularly in its early days, when the practice was first introduced to our region.

For that purpose, we have selected some unique examples from the collections of Yousuf Saeed, who runs Tasveer Ghar and is a filmmaker, author and archivist based in Delhi; Ally Adnan, a Dallas, USA-based engineer; writer and antique collector and Omar Khan who is running Imagesofasia.com, a collection of vintage postcards and lithographs.

In the Indian subcontinent, the tradition of sending greeting cards on Eid started in the late 19th century. Although many well-off Muslim families were, since centuries, accustomed to sending calligraphic and artistically decorated greeting messages on Eid, the mass availability of Eid cards and its mailing by post originated only by the late decades of 19th century.

We presume there are two reasons behind that: the expansion of the railway network and the advent of new printing facilities.

Eid card distributed by Hafiz Qamruddin & Sons, Lahore. From the Priya Paul Collection, New Delhi.
Eid card distributed by Hafiz Qamruddin & Sons, Lahore. From the Priya Paul Collection, New Delhi.

The railway network had increased to 25000 km in 1880 from just 34 km in 1853, when the first passenger train service was inaugurated in India. With the expansion of railway, people began travelling far away from their homes, for employment and business. It also improved the postal service. And the relatively advanced printing facilities revolutionised the trend of Eid cards in terms of quality of production and availability.

Also read: A fading tradition

From the examples available, we can see that the early cards were basically European-made Christmas cards which were being modified and used as Eid cards after the requisite stamping, printing or handwriting.

Eid greetings stamped on an image printed in Europe. Basically it was European-made Christmas cards which were modified and used as Eid cards. From the Priya Paul Collection, New Delhi.
Eid greetings stamped on an image printed in Europe. Basically it was European-made Christmas cards which were modified and used as Eid cards. From the Priya Paul Collection, New Delhi.

Eid cards with Indian-specific images and illustrations began being produced in the early years of the 20th century. Hafiz Qammaruddin & Sons, H. Ghulam Muhammad & Sons and Muhammad Hussain & Brothers in Lahore, Mahboob Al Matabah in Delhi and Eastern Commercial Agency Shabbar T Corporation and Bolton Fine Art Lithographers in Bombay were amongst the earliest companies that came into the business of printing Eid cards in India. Although the postcards with Indian Muslim architecture, produced by Raphael Tuck in London were also used for Eid.

A floral Eid card. Published by Hafiz Qamruddin & Sons, Lahore and posted from Lahore on 24 December 1935. From the Priya Paul Collection, New Delhi.
A floral Eid card. Published by Hafiz Qamruddin & Sons, Lahore and posted from Lahore on 24 December 1935. From the Priya Paul Collection, New Delhi.

A post card originally produced by Raphael Tuck, London. From the collection of Tasveer Ghar.
A post card originally produced by Raphael Tuck, London. From the collection of Tasveer Ghar.

No discussion of these vintage Eid cards would be complete without a note on the specific type of Urdu poetry that is found on them, which was clearly penned especially for the occasion of Eid.

میرے یاروں کو مبارک عید ہو غمگساروں کو مبارک عید ہو عاشق و معشوق رندو پارسا آج چاروں کو مبارک عید ہو

Eid greetings to my friends,
Eid greetings to my sympathisers,
Eid greetings to the lovers and the beloveds, the drunks and the pious,
Eid greetings to all four of them today.

ہماری عید تو جب ہے کہ دیکھیں تیرے آبرو کو ہلال عید کو اے مہ جبیں دیکھا تو کیا دیکھا

Eid is when I see your eyebrows
Just seeing the crescent, my dear, is no Eid.

سب لوگ تو دیکھتے ہیں کھڑے چاند عید کا مشتاق ہوں میں رشک قمر تیری دید کا

While everyone is interested in sighting the moon,
I only desire to see your face.

یہ شام عید ہے اے میرے ناقہ محمل چمک کے چل کہ دیار حبیب تک پہنچیں

It is the eve of Eid, o my camel,
Run fast and take me to the city of my beloved.

Also read: Musharraf’s quote makes way into Eid cards

The tradition of Eid cards remained at its peak till the end of the previous century, and diminished with the surge of mobile and online communication. Obviously, technology had made it more affordable, convenient and maybe even attractive for people to share their greetings.

Yet, those of us who have lived the joy of handpicking, writing, sending and receiving Eid cards cannot find its substitute in the click of buttons.

An Eid card illustration by Mustafa. Published by H. Ghulam Mohd & Sons, Lahore. From the collection of Omar Khan.
An Eid card illustration by Mustafa. Published by H. Ghulam Mohd & Sons, Lahore. From the collection of Omar Khan.

Urdu couplets on the message side of an Eid card published in Lahore. From the Priya Paul Collection, New Delhi.
Urdu couplets on the message side of an Eid card published in Lahore. From the Priya Paul Collection, New Delhi.

Postcard with the image of CROTONE – Piazza Umberto I War Memorial. Printed in Italy, distributed by Hafiz Qamruddin & Sons, Lahore with adaptation of Eid greetings and Urdu couplet on the address side. From the Priya Paul Collection, New Delhi.
Postcard with the image of CROTONE – Piazza Umberto I War Memorial. Printed in Italy, distributed by Hafiz Qamruddin & Sons, Lahore with adaptation of Eid greetings and Urdu couplet on the address side. From the Priya Paul Collection, New Delhi.

Eid card featuring celebrated sub-continental singer Kajjan Begum. Distributed by Sultan Husen Bookseller, Bombay. From the collection of Reena Mohan.
Eid card featuring celebrated sub-continental singer Kajjan Begum. Distributed by Sultan Husen Bookseller, Bombay. From the collection of Reena Mohan.

Eid Mubarak card distributed by Sultan Husen Bookseller, Bombay, featuring an unidentified Indian actress. From the collection of Reena Mohan.
Eid Mubarak card distributed by Sultan Husen Bookseller, Bombay, featuring an unidentified Indian actress. From the collection of Reena Mohan.

"Guldasta-e Eid" – title of the chapbook published by Rashid ul Khairi in Mahboob Al Matabah, Delhi.
"Guldasta-e Eid" – title of the chapbook published by Rashid ul Khairi in Mahboob Al Matabah, Delhi.

One of the more popular Eid greeting cards.
One of the more popular Eid greeting cards.

One of the more popular Eid greeting cards.
One of the more popular Eid greeting cards.

One of the more popular Eid greeting cards.
One of the more popular Eid greeting cards.


This blog was first published on Dawn.com on July 20, 2015