GUWAHATI, Aug 5 - Jikir, the hymns penned and set to tune by Sufi saint Ajaan Fakir in Assamese to spread the message of spiritualism and humanism, is a unique cultural heritage of the people of Assam. Though predominantly based on the ideals of Islam, these hymns are sung by the troupes that comprise the Muslim as well as the Hindu performers. However, there are divergent views among the performers on the authenticity of the Jikir melodies.
These are some of the findings of a research work presently being carried out by two Delhi-based Assamese scholars. The two scholars – Shaheen S Ahmed and Shakya Samik Kar Khound – describe Jikir as a syncretic heritage of the Assamese people, which has become inseparable from the Assamese cultural identity.
The research project being carried out by Shaheen and Shakya is an attempt at drawing an outline of the cultural and social history of the Jikir tradition, besides the socio-cultural history of the indigenous Assamese society. Despite it being a unique tradition, Jikir is yet to be narrated in performance studies research or scholarly work in a desired manner, they said while talking to this newspaper.
Though Jikir has its roots in the Islamic tradition of Dhikr or Zikr, in which individuals or groups recite prayers silently or aloud, Jikir has oral narratives, music and specific clothes attached to it. It is unique to Assam and has an intricate relation with the history of the State’s indigenous people.
The Jikirs are the products of the teachings of Ajaan Fakir, who came to Assam in the 17th century from Baghdad, Iraq. His influence on the socio-cultural milieu of the State is such that Assam is often referred to as the land of Srimanta Sankaradeva and Ajaan Fakir. While Srimanta Sankaradeva was the initiator of the neo-Vaishnavite religion and culture in Assam, Ajaan Fakir used to preach Islam.
To Shaheen and Shakya, preservation of the Jikir tradition is crucial for keeping intact the brilliant syncretic heritage of the Assamese people. Their Jikir research project is funded by the India Foundation for the Arts through its Arts Research Grant meant for 2016-2018.