Home Art/Culture Zikir-Zari mahotsav organized at Sivasagar in Assam

Zikir-Zari mahotsav organized at Sivasagar in Assam

By Dr. Syed Ahmed, for TwoCircles.net ,

Sivasagar(Assam): Sangeet Natak Akademi organized 3-day Zikir-Zari mahotsav at Sivasagar Natya Mandir in Sivasagar, Assam, from 18th -20th December 2011 to promote zikir and zari, the devotional songs of the renowned 17th century Muslim saint and preacher Azan Fakir. Performances of zikir and zari were given at the mahotsav. A seminar was also organized to find ways for promoting the art forms.

Addressing the seminar, north-east in-charge of Sangeet Natak Akademi, Dulal Roy urged the performers of zikir and zari to prepare the devotional songs for a larger audience by improving the standard of the songs without losing its essence. He also suggested starting the tradition of guru-shishya to promote and develop this indigenous folk art form.

He said, “We should try to establish a guru-shishya tradition and some persons should qualify to the level of guru. This is a big art and demands professional activism for it to come out onto the world stage–‘When Srimanta Sankardev Award was presented to Satyajit Ray he said he did not even know who Srimanta Sankardev was and why this award was being given to him’– If we cannot practically take this to neighboring states but dream of a world stage then we will not succeed in our mission. We should prepare ourselves in such a way that the uniqueness of the zikir and zari is retained and universality of its message is widely accepted.”

After listening to the presentations of zikir and zari, Dulal Roy observed that the performances lacked the essential quality of devotion while singing a Zikir and failed to render distress while singing a zari. He said, “The great humanism, idea and content of Azan Pir should be conveyed to the audience. Shallow and superficial singing will not do. We are still amateurs and need to bring professionalism into the singing; we need to perfect the art of presentation and synchronization. The attire, too, should be considered as stage presentation differs from a normal show. The Sangeet Natak Akademi has initiated the first step. You will have to work out how you bring in change without breaking with convention – grow, sustain and survive.”

Tufail Zilani, Assistant Professor of Kakojan College, Assam; Bhubaneswar Deka of Baihata Chariali and Ismile Hussain of Guwahati were among the speakers. It was suggested that a day should be observed as Zikir Divas in the state.

Azan Fakir

Hazarat Shah Miran, popularly known as Azan Fakir or Azan Pir, is one of the most renowned Muslim saint and preachers who came to the north-eastern part of India. He is said to have migrated to Assam from Baghdad accompanied by his younger brother Nabi Pir in 1634/35. It is said that he first came to Delhi where he became a disciple of the celebrated Chisti saint, Shaikh Nizamuddin Auliya. Azan Fakir is believed to have first stationed at Hajo near the dargah of Pir Ghiyasuddin Auliya, on the Gaurachol hills. Hajo was then the head-quarters of the Mughals.

Later Azan Fakir shifted to Chunpora, a Muslim village near the Ahom capital in Sivasagar. He first started preaching the precepts of Islam and its basic duties as adherents among the Muslims, who were then imbued in various un-Islamic practices. He is said to have helped in building a mosque in the village with the help of the villagers. As he gave the azan (the call for prayer) at the mosque regularly the Muslim villagers of Chunpora gave him the title Azan. He married the daughter of a Muslim named Syed Usman Gani, a resident of Khandokar village in Rangpur. He is also said to have translated the Quran in Assamese. In course of time, Azan Fakir roamed from village to village preaching and spreading the message of Islam through the devotional folk-songs – zikir and zari – which he himself composed. He became popular far and wide.

Rupai Gariya, an Assamese Muslim who served as armour-carrier of the Ahom king, Gadadhar Singh (1681-96), became jealous of the growing popularity of Azan Fakir. He, in 1685, brought open charges against Azan Fakir before the king alleging that he was a spy of the Mughals. The king, however, paid least attention to the allegation. But, after repeated complaints, the king suggested Rupai to take action which he deemed best, however he was cautioned to act with utmost care and tact, avoiding any misjudgment on the part of the royalty and also unnecessarily hurting the sentiments of the Muslim subjects. Rupai Gariya after having the king’s permission, arrested Azan Fakir and gauged his eyes. It is said that the event led to mysterious consequences. Suddenly, there was turmoil in the waters and earth began to shake. A zikir corroborates the incident thus:

Do not throw my eyes on the earth/ They will get wild and destroy the people, O Allah/ Do leave my eyes/ On the brink of the Dikhou, O Allah/ When the eyes were thrown into the Dikhou/The Dikhou went wild/ It started flowing against the current…

The king soon realized his mistake and released Azan Fakir. Rupai Gariya was put to death. The king settled Azan Fakir at a place called Huaguri near the bank of river Dikhou by rewarding land and property. A khanqah [hospice] was also built for him. He lived at the khanqah along with his 120 disciples. He died in 1690. The dargah of Azan Fakir is located at Saraguri Chapori, at Dikhowmukh, about 22 km from Sivasagar.

The dargah is held sacred by people of all religious communities. Annual urs is also held at the dargah to commemorate the Fakir. Thousands of people from far and wide gathered at the dargah to pray during the urs.

The dargah was in the news recently when a group of around 20 women offered the Friday afternoon prayers [juma namaz] inside the dargah for the first time at the initiative of Governor of Assam, J.B. Patnaik and his wife Jayanti Patnaik.

Some of the old Assamese Sayyid families claim they are decent from Azan Fakir and his brother. Azan Fakir is said to have survived by three sons. Their descendants are now known as Saraguria Dewans. Nabi Pir, brother of Azan Fakir, took up his residence near Simaluguri in Sibsagar, in the vicinity of the old Ahom royal palace in Nazira. His descendents are still found there.

The late renowned author and Sahitya Akademi award winner, Abdul Malik had done extensive studies on zikir. In 1955-54 Asam Sahitya Sabha and Department of Tribal Culture and Folklore Research, Gauhati, entrusted Syed Abdul Malik to gather zikirs. In 1958, Abdul Malik published a book entitled, Asamiya Zikir Aru Zari. Another Assamese scholar Muhibul Hussain made the first major collection of zikirs in his book Hajarat Ajan Pir, published in 1954. Besides these many scholars too have published explanatory articles on zikirs in various journals. An Assamese film on the life of the Azan Fakir, titled “Ajan Faquir Saheb,” was released in April 2008. The film was directed by Asif Iqbal Hussain and produced by Bani Kalita.

Zikir and Zari

Zikir and Zari, the Islamic devotional compositions of Azan Fakir, are sung by the Muslims in Assam even today and form one of the most important oral traditions of Assam and occupy a distinct place in Assamese literature both for its lyrical beauty and theme. These songs also contain the essence of friendship, fraternity and brotherhood. The language used in composing the songs is simple and direct and set in harmony with the rural atmosphere of Assam by employing indigenous themes and imagery. These songs, sung in group on socio-religious occasions, have been handed down from one generation to another orally.

Zikir, derived from the Arabic word Zikr, meaning singing or remembering God’s name, is a popular terminology in the sufi circles. Zikir has the influence of Assamese folk songs like ojapali, bihu, bianam, husuri, etc. Azan Fakir is believed to have written around 160 zikirs. So zikir is also otherwise referred to as azan phakirar geet. Many of the zikirs are also believed to have been composed by his disciples namely, Majnudil Fakir, Syed Murtaja, Bandar Fakir, Husain Ali and others.

The main theme of all the zikirs rests on two types of teachings: one for the practical life and the other for the spiritual life. The first is meant for the common Muslims, whereas the second type is only for those who pursue the highest path of salvation. Besides upholding the glory of Allah, teachings of the Quran and the traditions of Islam in a simple manner many of the compositions of zikir give the message of communal harmony and brotherhood.

Some zikirs:

Ei dunit thakote behaila mukuta/pabi goi amayar than /Aruto nepabi manabi janam/allaoi nakara kan [Accept the pearl in the trade of life while you are in this world then only you would reach to the abode of Allah (remember), you cannot have this human life again (once you die) (oh! you fool !), you are not taking heed of the Allah.]

Gosha: kewal namme kewal nam,/kewal namme ratee,/dine rathi laba nam/nakriba khati/Pad: kewal namme kewal nam/kewal namme sar,/duchku muddile Bandar/dinte aandhaar./Kichhunai kichhunai/kichhunai sar,/kekorar mati shene/kumar bhewar./Jar nam pallo Allah/tar nam leilo,/sar nam nepalloAllah/charne bhajilo.

[Prologue: Take His name always without fail. It is His name only that counts. Song: Only the name is absolute. It is Your name (God, Allah) that guides me. Or else even this benighted world appears dark and incomprehensible. It is only by taking Your name that one can be guided on to the path of deliverance.]

Zari is different from zikir in content and style. Zaris are mainly based on the tragedy of Karbala. The term Zari means ‘lamentation’ and is sung in a group and in the saddest possible tone; beats marked by clapping. It is sung mostly during the annual Muharram festival. Along with the narration of the historic tragedy these songs also preach Islam among the unlettered Muslim folk.