Zikir and Zari: A Melodious form of Assamese Sufi music

Sivasagar, Prangan Duarah: Traditional music is a part of cultures which reflect an image of a culture which gives a brief description of history of that culture including how people of that culture celebrate, play, worship, grieve, experience peace and make war etc. it is believed that traditional music is connected to the emotion of the people of that culture. Assam, the land of culture and tradition has a rich heritage of traditional folk songs. Zikir and Zari is one of the beautiful forms of folk songs. Although Zikir and Zari are sounded similar, they have different significance and different way of presentation. Zikir songs demonstrate the teaching of Islam, on the other hand, the tragic episodes of the Karbala tragedy are the base of Zari songs. The word Zikir is originated from Arabic word “Ziqr”, which means remembering or singing Allah’s name. And the word “Zari” is derived from the word “Jari”, which means “crying, groaning, and wailing”.

During the Bhakti movement of Saint Srimanta Sankardev (1449-1568), Zikir, started to be established in Assam. The 17th-century Sufi saint and poet Hazrat Shah Miran, who taught Assamese Muslim to recite “Azan”, a part of Muslim rituals for which he is popularly known as “Ajan Fakir”, “Azan pir”, and also as “Shah Milan”, was mainly composed and popularized the Zikir. Fakir and his brother Shah Navi came to Assam from Bagdad, and settled in Suwaguri Sapori, near present Sivasagar town. In Assam Azan pir was very influenced by the Vaisnavite thoughts, teaching and music of Sankardeva, along with the regional music of Assam such as the tone and spirit of other Assamese folk genre like Oja-pali and Deh bicarar geet. Azan pir composed one hundred and sixty Zikirs in Assamese. Zikirs were not written down, but handed over from mouth to mouth for generations until the middle of the last century. There was some kind of prejudice against writing Zikirs down. The purity of tune and poetry may not be exactly what Ajan Fakir had composed because of this oral transmission from generation to generation. The language of Zikir, except for a few Arabic and Persian words is colloquial Assamese. Along with Zikir, Zari, which is popularly known as “Jarigan”, is also an important part of Islam culture. Some of the Assamese Zari may be called independent ballads giving the stories of Haidar Ghaz. Zarigans are an important part of Muharram celebrations. With accompanied by musical instrument dotara, a traditional instrument, these songs are sung by men in the month of Muharram and has similarities with Oja pali, traditional folk dance, the performance of Assam. Lyric of these songs are Arabic, Persian and colloquial Assamese words, which reflect the cultural assimilation that has taken place over time in Assam. These traditional songs are an important part of culture and tradition of Assam. But, unfortunately out of hundred and sixty Zikir of Azan pir only very few amount is collected by the great Assamese writer and scholar Late Syad Abdul Mallik. We have to preserve this kind of unique traditional music because it reflects the tradition, history and the way of living in a beautiful genre.
(Source: Zikir and Zari: Sufi songs of Assam by Dr. Utpola Borah)