Zikir of Assam

Zikir of Assam is a devotional songs in Assamiya. Famous Muslim preacher Azan Pir popularized this form of devotional song which is continued to be performed by Muslims of Assam.

See below an example of Zikir song, bidding goodbye to someone going for Hajj.

You can become a fan of Azan Fakir on facebook.

Here is a Zikir sung by Md. Rafi and Bhupen Hazarika:

Another Azan Fakir zikir, sung by Hafeza Begum Chowdhury

Nine styles of writings

By Amir Khusro

From his book Rasail al-Ijaz

From the beginning of my youth, I had the desire that I should produce among my fellow writers an epistle, more embellished and rhetorical, and more attractive than the cheeks of the beloved. Following the tradition of the beginners, I was eager to benefit from the writings of both the earlier and contemporary writers and learn, like the students conclusions drawn by the masters till I was able to ascertain with keen insight what had been produced by way of writing, covering both the categories of the sophisticated and the trash. I discovered that most of the Persian writings popular amongst the men of learning comprising the fundamental books as well as the books meant for the masses, consist of nine styles of writings. Now each one of these writings I display in the interior part of the paper and also outline the tenth way of writing which is my own, the product of my genius as it hardly resembles the conclusions reached by others. Further, the subtleties of this (way of) writing betray the qualities of the writer very accurately and then it may be manifest to all that is an original creation, coming straight from the point of my pen, trickling down the compass of the paper and the purity of its essence bears witness to its authenticity.

Current among most of the people, comprise of nine modes. The first mode is that of the mystics, the second is the one adopted by the learned men, the third that of epistle writers, the fourth that of expert physicians, the fifth that of preachers, the sixth that of teachers of children, the seventh that of people in general, the eighth that of persons holding official, professional or carrying on some kind of trade and industry, and the ninth that of mere jesters.

Amir Khusrow surrounded by young men. Miniature from a manuscript of Majlis Al-Usshak by Husayn Bayqarah. [Photo: Wikimedia Commons]

Mystic path:

This style has two subdivisions: first, of those whose explanations of truth are based on glimpses of reality, and the other of men of affairs and spiritual ecstasy. The style of men or reality is in such a fashion, that the manner of treading the mystic path and its various stages are specified in a language that is peculiar to themselves. When the one who traverses of the path, on account of his materialistic inclination, gets stuck in the mire of the world, how may his spiritual guide extricate him from this adhesive soul and help him reach his real destination. Of books dealing this is the Persian book, Kashf al Mahjub and Saluk al-Muridayn and all others of the earlier and later investigators, and this is the practice which has reached us from them.

The other mode of writing is represented by discourse about the state of ecstasy, as outlined in the hair-splitting speculations of Khwajah Ahmad Ghazzali, and in the acute observations of Ain al-Qudat Hamaddani. Other discourses that are initiated in the circles of the Sufis, even the slightest point of which cannot penetrate the head of the turbaned scholastic theologian and that of an uncouth jurist and of a formal sufistic theoretician, for there is a difference between the formal initiation into these matters and intuitive comprehension of these by the soul. Hence if the weavers of mandates and conveyers of ideas, in exercise of their inner sharpness, smoothen the point of their pen a hundred time and wish through this device to render the tresses of the pen only, ultimately the hair will get entangled in the head of their pen.

Learned scholars:

Observe the references of knowledge and the possession of knowledge here; this mode is something like this that the pursuer of the path of knowledge confers luster on the fountain of his writing so that he infuses life into the dead hears (of his readers) as are the Persian writings of the most profound scholars, Maulana Bahr al-Mu’ani, Muhammad Ghazzali and the translation of Ihya-i-Ulum al-Din the erudite scholar, Majd al-Din Jajrami. Such is the fluency of his writing as if ideas have been very adequately formalized and its subtleties gives the impression as if it is the product of the pearl scattering words having been sifted a thousand times.

Epistle writers:

This has the reference of consummation of subtleties and the process of their being sifted; this method is like this, that the delicate composers of subtle writings use the scale of the pen in weighing these. They cause to ferment the sobriety (and lucidity) or the Arabic word with the mature and perfect subtleties of the Persian language in such a way that it gets kneaded with perfect grace and delicacy. Here the operation of immature weighing is of no avail, and the un-sifted process of raw and immature writers cannot be made into a perfect whole. This is so because there are such delicate and subtle ideas that the weightless time brings out much from out of the grain of the hearts of those who are hair-splitting researchers. It is not like the flour of barley and wheat which is kneaded by people with the blow of their fist. In fact, a lot of toil and hardship has to be undergone before only a bit of it is kneaded, and then a lot of intense fire is needed in the furnace of the heart so that ferment’s material is cooked and refined. These acts of cooking and kneading for preparing fermented material cannot be accomplished except by persons like the authors of Kalila and Dimma (Arabic translation of Panchtantra) and Baha-e-Baghdad, who were men of taste and wit.

Philosophers and wise men:

Reference regarding minting of coins and standardization; this system is as follows: from the divine treasury, the house of memory and the mathematical table, and act of standardization based on logical analysis, they produce the impression-less coins of ideas and then produce the coin of writing on the minting apparatus which is made so that words and phrases get written correctly and they acquire the status of purity and perfection.


Matters regarding the art of Naqshbandi practiced by the Naqash. This has two varieties: one is figurative and the other is simple. The first one requires that the writer embellishes accessories of his writing with all sorts of artifices and the simple one requires that the master preacher adorns the board of the pulpit with verses of the holy Quran, (extracts from) the Islamic Sciences, the commentaries of the Quran and the tradition of the holy Prophet (sallallaho alaihe wassallam) without any mean tricks of decoration which are alluring only for the children.

Simple school teachers:

Matters regarding masonry and the implements thereof. This way may be defined thus: An awkward mason, not knowing how to use his digger, rolls down on the highway of his writing, laying big stones or words, in and out of proper context, and the result is that perceptive men avoid that route. And the impercipient, on the contrary proceed and accept them (uncritically) and hence they tumble down. As the former ones may have already committed blunders they see nothing wrong in those uneven ways and they regard them as easy and usual. And if some sincere and pure-hearted person wishes to remove those big stones (from that path) to some extent and remove those fissures on the analogy of hidden secrets, that lover (of good actions) brushes aside the wall before him and the wise mason gathers up the needed bricks from there.

Commons people:

Reference regarding months, years, days and time; this mode may be characterized thus: The common people of the city, while engaged in traveling, send their condition and happenings day by day, month by month, first day by first day and last day by last day, clearly detailing circumstances, with dates, in simple and plain language, and express their demands from each place, city and town.

Men of action and of various occupation:

Reference regarding traders and men of vocations; the way signifies that each group of bird-catchers, brokers, goldsmiths, musicians, drum beaters, and other groups have their own terminology for conveying their ideas. If an innovator wishes to introduce some sort of novelty, it is certain that his elegant writing will be devoid of the flavor of the usual form of expression.


Reference regarding wit and humor in abundance; the style of this group is like this, that men of wit and jesters, capable of provoking laughter and witticism displaying something of their hidden self, for the sake of enlivening the atmosphere of the company around them, use words and phrases which stimulate mirth and laughter. Thus youthful persons are inclined towards it, appreciate it and are humored and their minds are refreshed with deliciousness and agreeableness of that talk and they feel elated. The ribaldry and jeering that is produced by them is befitting their sense of appreciation and is productive of magical effects. They have added one diacritical point to the equivalent for magic and thus converted it into the equivalent for the word laughter and buffoonery. Even on this art of wit and humor they have published books which are like collections of blooming roses which are a source of enjoyment and delight among the people. Some persons take away some of its fragrant flowers which serve as fragrant bunch of roses for the assembly. What a jugglery is this that sometimes they throw calumny, attributable to the deer, or to the musk-bearing bladder of the deer. And sometimes they chastise the surrounding area of darkness of the bladder and find fault with it (accuse the deer of possessing the bladder). They call the rose, with torn and disheveled petals, a jester (one who laughs too much) and make a chain (white in color ) out of the black-leaved wood.

Let it be known that the subtleties of the (above mentioned) nine modes of style whose dictates rules over everything, whether black or white and which have thoroughly been discussed in the preceding lines, I now offer the tenth way which exclusively pertains to me and which should be scrutinized into deep insight so that it becomes clear that the subtle kind of style of writing is unique and modern style and it transcends the limitations of the older tradition and that formerly no scholars had any knowledge of this science (style). It seems as if the write of Destiny had purposely invented this for my sake.

Since this style (of epistle-writing, devised by me) places the epistle writer in a helpless condition, and the epistles written in this style are like miracles emanating from that style, hence it may be conceded that the title of this book of epistles, Rasail al-Ijaz; has descended from the heavens.

[The Writings of Amir Khusrau-I published by The Islamic Thought and Science Institute in 2007]

Aurangzeb in Banaras Hindu University

So most of the people guessed it right in our Quiz about a Mughal firman poll. Yes, indeed it was Aurangzeb who issued that firman and that too just months after becoming the Emperor of India.

But the most interesting thing about this firman is that a copy of is on display in a museum in Banaras Hindu University (BHU).

Copy of the original firman in Persian.

Translation in English and Hindi.

Thank you BHU for displaying this firman, but can’t you get his name right? Its Aurangzeb and Hijari, just switch the letters.

Now read the two translations and see if you notice any difference between the two:

Wedding songs: Men singing

There was a time that no wedding will be complete without sessions of wedding songs sung by professional singers and not-so-professional singers. Professional singers gave way to relatives and friends of brides and grooms who tried to put up their best performance. In recent years, it has been either Bollywood songs or wedding-song CDs played out while different wedding customs are being performed.

Amir Khusro has penned a number of wedding songs that continue to be popular traditional wedding songs. Some of his songs are –kaahe ko biyaahi bides, ye hari hari chooriyan, banna mera eid ka chand, chandni mein aiyo miya banner, etc.

A newly married Muslim couple of Tamil Nadu. [Photo by David.]

But this post is not about Amir Khusro’s wedding songs. This is about an unusual video that I stumbled upon recently. Unusual because it is a video of a wedding song which is sung by men, I am not aware of any culture where wedding song is sung by men so I was pleasantly surprised. The video informs us that it was performed in Tenkasi in Tamil Nadu in 2008. I enquired with a few contacts in Tamil Nadu and they said it is not so common anymore. Unfortunately, no one has been able to translate the words but what I have learned is that song is addressed to the groom and a reminder about his responsibilities now that he is married.


Are there other examples of men singing wedding songs? Please point it out and if someone can translate this song that will be wondeful.

Quiz: A Mughal firman

We all are familiar with famous Mughals. So let’s play a quiz and see if you can figure out which emperor may have issued this royal firman. Translation is below the picture.

… therefore in accordance with holy law we have decided that the ancient temples shall not be overthrown but that new one shall not be built.

In these days of justice, information has reached our noble and most holy court that certain persons activated by rancour and spite have harassed the Hindu resident in the town of Banaras and a few other places in that neighbourhood.

And also certain Brahmins, keepers of the temples, in whose charge those ancient temples are, and that they further desire to remove these Brahmins from their ancient office (and this intention of their causes distress to that community) therefore our Royal command is that after the arrival of our lustrous order you should direct that in future no person shall in unlawful ways interfere or disturb Brahmins and other Hindus resident in those places.

So that they may remain in their occupation and continue with peace of mind to offer up prayers for the continuance of our God-given empire that is destined to last for all times.

Consider this as an urgent matter.

Vote your choice and add comments to explain, if you so wish.

[poll id=”7″]

Being Makbool Fida Hussain

“What’s your name?”
“Kashif,” I replied.
Before I could repeat my name, his friend intervened.
“Makbool Fida Hussain,” he said, emphasizing each of the three words of the famous painter, as he turned towards his friends, laughing.
[Lucknow University, 1993]

May be he was trying to tell his friend that this guy’s name is as foreign as MF Hussain. What difference it makes whether he is named Kashif or Maqbool Fida Hussain, at the end of the day both are foreign names. You don’t need to waste your time trying to understand and properly pronounce these names. No matter how much they claim to be Indian they will remain foreigner to us. So a famous painter or this stranger in front of us can be lumped together and understood just on the basis of their name.

Much water has flown in river Gomti since then but situation is not much different. MF Hussain, born in British India but couldn’t die in Independent India. Just like Bahadur Shah Zafar, he was denied death and burial in country of his birth and inspiration.

First time I saw his painting was in Jamshedpur. It was late 1980s, Tata Steel has commissioned Hussain to paint for their annual calendar. It was my first exposure to modern art and I was impressed by those simple lines and colors and how they were spread out to depict figures and ideas. It was uniquely modern and Indian.

Hussain is rightly described as super star of Indian art scene. His fame gave exposure to Indian modern art and artist. He was son of the soil that India should be rightly proud of.

MF Hussain thought himself as an Indian and painted figures from Hindu mythology that being an Indian, he correctly identified as his heritage too. But in the end Hindu fanatics prevailed and made it clear that MF Hussain is just Maqbool Fida Hussain, a painter with a foreign name, a Muslim.

Sufis of the Indus region – I

He is Abu Hanifa and He is Hanuman,
He is the Koran and H e is the Vedas,
He is this and He is that,
He is Moses, and He is Pharaoh
– Sachal Sarmast

Tombs at Makli Hill, Thatta, Sind(Pakistan)

The regions of Sind and Punjab, nurtured by the waters of Indus, have produced one of the the greatest sufi saints of this subcontinent. Some time in 905 the great mystic like Halaj, probably sat on the very banks of this river to discuss theological problems with the sages of Sind. The people of this region were travellers and traders, farmers and shepherds. Apart from Sindhi, many Sindhi sufi poets used Siraiki, a northern dialect of Sindhi which transits into Punjabi. Sindhi and Punjabi are both strong expressive languages, ideal for expressing mystical feelings. Like Kabir the sufi poets of the Indus regions used the symbol of weaving cotton, the threads are our thoughts, words and deeds with which we weave a net around ourselves….. The Sindhi and Punjabi sufis wove motifs from everyday life of these simple folk to portray the various shades and subtleties of passion of a lover separated from her beloved – the individual soul yearning for annihilation and unity with the Eternal: blending cultural traditions with Islamic mysticism.



Among the wilderness heights,
where not a bird can perch
burns the dhuni of yogis……..
– Shah Latif

In the 18th century the mighty Indus river chartered a different course; it carried more water and its banks and valleys were a lot greener than they are today. In the region of Sindh or Mehwar, as it was called then, the river was, and still is, flanked by the hills of Gorakh, Ganjo, and Kinjher, and by Hinglaj in Baluchistan. Among the pristine slopes of these hills roamed one of the greatest sufis of Sindh: Shah Abdul Latif.

Through, valleys, hills and along rivers he wandered… seeking the company of Nath Yogis, following their dhunis (ritual fires) which they would set alight among the highest and remote peaks of these hills.

Though born into a family of sufis, it was in the company of these yogis that Shah Latif grasped the mysteries of life and reality. He would also live among farmers and shepherds, weaving great mystical truths into their folklore and ballads. Shah Latif was an uwaisi mystic i.e. he had no predecessor or master and therefore did not belong to any of the formal sufi orders or tariquaas.

‘Hal qurban, mal qurban’

According to Shah Latif, on the Path, both bliss of the mystical states and worldly possessions have to be sacrificed. The Path is difficult and the mountains too steep to weigh down your mind with any burdens or attachments.

Shah Abdul Latif was born in 1689 in Hala, near present day Hyderabad (Sind, Pakistan). He is believed to have roamed in the company of yogis for three years and travelled as far as Baluchistan, Rajasthan, Kutch and Kathiawar. The collection of his mystical poems titled, ‘Shah jo Risalo’ (The book of Shah). It comprises of more than 1200 pages and contains 30 surs based on different ragas. Some of these ragas are from Indian classical music and some were originally composed by Shah Latif himself. The Risalo begins with Sur Kalyan: it describes the One God and its various manifestations and the suffering that the Seeker has to endure on the path of devotion. This is followed by Sur Yaman Kalyan and Sur Khanbhat….Sur Sarirag and Sur Samundi, the latter describes the trials and tribulations of a seafarer on his final Journey. In some of his surs, Shah Latif has dealt exclusively with the traits/signs of the true men of God: Sufis and Yogis. Above all, Shah Latif emphasises the importance of Ikhlas:sincerity and adab: right behaviour or conduct for the tavellers of the Path.The Risalo uses a combinations of metaphors, symbols and folk tales to reveal the secrets of the Path. Among the most popular of his poems, which were composed in the form of Kafis or Ways and Bayts, are those based on the folktales of legendary lovers like Sohni-Mehanwal, Sassai-Punhun and Nuri-Tamachi.

‘Surrender all actions to the Glorious whom you seek’

Without grief or thought and His grace will bring to you
what you need…..’

Shah advises the estranged lovers to forsake greed and become humble, tauba or repentance is essential on the path to the Beloved, taming of the nafs (the lower soul or the ego)symbolised by the camel and constant wakefulness, tawakkul:trust in God and complete surrender to the will of God, sabr: patience and rida: contentment advised for the lovers, travellers and seafarers.

‘Nothing that comes from the beloved is bitter
all is sweet if you taste it with faith’

Sassui, a washer man’s daughter, separated from her lover Prince-Tamachi, wandering alone in the desert, lonely and hopeless – symbolic of the various stages of the separated soul before it can be one with God: hope, longing, fear and annihilation…She finally realizes that Tamachi is no longer apart from her, but within her own heart and the outward journey is transformed into a journey within…… and finally the destination, the state fana: annihilation in God is realised. But this Path , according to Shah Latiff, is treacherous:

‘the company of the Yogis is not for the weak….only those who are predestined to wear the cap of the Sufis can walk this Path…..’

In his later years, Shah Latif settled at Bhit, not far from Hala, and spent the rest of his life in the company of his disciples. His beautiful shrine at Bhit Shah is as exquisite as his poetry.

The land of Sind also harboured other sufi saints like Lal Shahbaz Kalandar who lived on the west bank of lower Indus besides a Shiva lingam. This lingam still stands besides his tomb today at Sehwan.

Achal Sarmast who is known as the ‘Attar of Sind’ and many more. At Makli Hill near Thatta are buried 125,000 saints of Sind. Even the Hindus of Sind came under the influence of these great sufis. Hindu writers used Mulim imagery in thier mystical poems and in the Ta’ziya during the Muharram mourning of the Shia community of Sind.

Marsiya : a form of Urdu poetry

I am happy to see this news about opening of a school to revive/preserve the art of marsiya writing.

Marsiya is a fully developed form of Urdu poetry and it is wrong to think that is just a lamentation for the dead in Karbala. Karbala, of course, has an important place in Islamic history and therefore in Muslim literature. Almost all Urdu poets use Karbala as a symbol of great tragedy or epic battle between good and evil.

Probably the most famous and often-quoted sher about Karbala is from Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar:

Qatal Hussain asl meiN marg-e-Yazid hai
Islam zinda hota hai har Karbala kay bad

Majlis-e-marsiya are organized in Lucknow during Moharram.

The usual form of marsiya is four lines of same radef/qaafiya and two lines of different radeef/qaafiya. The marsiya is well-developed form of poetry. The intensity of pain and suffering described in a marsiya is unparallal in any other literture.

Meer Babar Ali Anees [1800-1874] and Mirza Salamat Ali Dabeer [1805-1875] are the biggest names of marsiya-nigaari.

Zia Mohyeddin reciting Anis’s marsiya

But marsiya is not merely Urdu poetry, it is also a performance art where emotions of the words need to be conveyed to the audience so that they visualize the battlefield, feel the pain of sufferings, and learn the lessons of Karbala.

In three-parts is a wonderful recital of marsiya by Zulfiqar Ali Bukhari:

Marsiya continue to be practiced but probably all poets now old. Here is a recording of a majlis-e-marsiya in Lucknow. Feel the poetry:


Found another video that shows more prominently the story-telling component of marsiya. In two parts:

My friend Afzal Usmani informs that Allama Shibli Nomani wrote a book comparing the poetry of Mir Ali Anis and Mirza Dabeer: “Mawazina-e-Anis-o-Dabeer” ( http://shibliacademy.org/publications )