Assam’s acclaimed scholar Dr Bhubaneswar Deka was originally a science graduate. Later, he did BA (Bachelor of Arts) and a triple MA (Masters of Arts). Even after completing his higher studies on science and arts, his thrust for knowledge was not quenched.
Born a Hindu, Dr Deka had an ardent desire to understand Islam as a religion and philosophy of life particularly in the context of Assam. His curiosity eventually made him Assam’s only Ph.D on 'Zikir & Zari', devotional songs prevalent among the indigenous Muslims of Assam. Ten years ago, the Gauhati University conferred Dr Deka with PhD for his comprehensive research project titled “Assamese Zikir & Zari: A Critical Study”.
Speaking with Awaz-The Voice Dr Deka said he has been listening Zikir since his childhood and his fascination for devotional songs has only increased with each listening. He said Zikir took its root in Assam during the 17th century within the socio-cultural framework instituted by the Bhakti movement of Vaishnavite Saint Srimanta Sankardev (1449-1568) and under the patronage of Ahom (1200-1800) kings.
Young women giving a Zikri recital
Even though Zikir and Zari are similar in tune, Zikir embodies the teaching of Islam mentioned in the holy Quran and Hadith whereas the Zari songs are based on the tragic episodes of the Karbala war tragedy. Zikirs were composed and popularized by the 17th century Sufi saint and poet Hazrat Shah Miran, popularly known as Ajan Fakir. Ajan Fakir came to Assam from Bagdad in Iraq.
Dr Deka said while the lyrics of Zikir initially highlighted the spiritual aspects of the Quran and Hadith, Azan Fakir later started composing the same by incorporating the philosophy of “embracing all” propagated by Srimanta Sankardev.
“Zikirs were originally misconstrued to be spiritual songs of Islam and were kept hidden by some people. Since people of those ages were mostly illiterate, the Zikirs probably remained an oral tradition leading to the loss of many of them in due course of time. In the course of time Zikirs were tuned on the line of Assamese folk songs such Biyageet, Aynaam, Dhainaam and Tokari Geet etc. Borgeet composed by Srimanta Sankardev and Srimanta Madhavdev had also influenced Azan Peer while writing lyrics and giving tones of Zikir,” Deka said.
Describing the relevance of ideals of Srimanta Sankardev and Azan Peer Dr Deka in the present context Deka cited the example as how Assam remained peaceful after demolition of Babri Masjid. He said there were communal clashes in majority of areas in India after the Babri masjid was demolished.
The troupe presenting Zikri in Guwahati
“Assam was an exception to the violent reaction it evoked in many parts of the country and abroad. With no incident of communal clash the people of Assam had proved that they live in the land of Srimanta Sankardev and Azan Peer. But not a single namghar or temple was destroyed in Assam after demolition of the Babri masjid,” Deka said.
Another aspect that has been lately talked about is that some singers, nowadays, perform zikir in their tune and music at different stages. However, no one is authorized to change the tune, lyrics, or instruments of zikir.
Unfortunately, this is happening and pushing the zikir to the brink of extinction.“It is high time for the Assam Government to introduce chapters on zikir & zari and Azan Peer in school, college syllabi so that the present generation knows its value, learn the song and preserve it for future,” Dr Deka said.