This is an edited extract from Zafri Mudasser Nofil’s book “The Identity Quotient: The Story of the Assamese Muslims” published by Har-Anand Publications Pvt. Ltd, New Delhi. The book is available on Amazon, Kindle, and with the publishers.
Bhupen Hazarika and Songs of Bonhomie!
By Zafri Mudasser Nofil
Bharat Ratna Bhupen Hazarika in his career sung a number of songs eulogizing amity between Hindus and Muslims and included a few qawwali numbers in his films too.
In the 1966 film “Loti Ghoti”, he sang this qawwali number with Mohammed Rafi:
Ramzan or roza gol, ulal Eidor joon;
Senehore mehfilote bohe aji kun?
Aji Eid majlisote eke loge bohise,
Aji Eid majlisote Rahim chachau bohise,
Aji Eid majlisote Sri Ram Kumaru bohise.
(Ramzan has ended and the Eid’s moon been sighted,
Who all will be there in today’s Eid mehfil?
In this mehfil, everyone’s sitting together
There is Rahim uncle so is Ram Kumar).
This song narrates stories of brotherhood besides acknowledging the contribution of Muslims to the Assamese society. It mentions about Azan Fakir, freedom fighters Farmud Ali and Bahadur Gaonburha, and poet Mofizuddin Ahmed Hazarika among others and goes on to ask a pertinent question:
’Ei behtarin dosti bhange hei dushman kun, hei dushman kun?’
(Who’s that enemy who dares to break this friendship?)
In this song, Hazarika also mentioned how Srimanta Sankaradeva respected Islam.
Hazarika sung a qawwali ‘Shamma thakile’ in his 1969 film “Chikmik Bijulee” besides another one ‘Aji Eidor ei mehfilot, Nafrator sin sab nai’ (In today’s Eid mehfil, there is no hatred) in 1986.
At the age of 13, he wrote his iconic song ‘Agni Jugor Firingoti Moi’ (I’m the spark in this fiery age). One of the stanzas read:
“… Let honey flow in the hearts of
Harijans, hillsmen, Hindus, Muslims,
Bodos, Kochs, Kacharis and Ahoms
Breaking down walls of prejudice
I will build a heaven of equality
I will build a new Assam.”
Hazarika also played a crucial role in popularising Zikirs. His Zikir ‘Saheb Jai Agote’ with iconic singer Mohammad Rafi is an example. Again in his popular song ‘Mahabahu Brahmaputra’, in which he eulogised the river as a pilgrimage of harmony, Hazarika mentioned how Azan Pir came from a faraway land to Assam and composed melodious Zikirs.
The Negeria or Drummer Family:
There is a Muslim connection to three famous temples in Sivasagar dedicated to Shiva, Vishnu, and Durga – the Shiva Dol, the Vishnu Dol, and the Devi Dol respectively.
The ancestors of Daullah family, a respected Muslim family in Sivasagar town, played the negera – a kind of drum – at the Dols or temples during the reign of the Ahom kings. They were expert drum players.
The Devi Dol, flanked by the Shiva Dol and the Vishnu Dol on the bank of the Sivasagar Borpukhuri (tank), is the centrestage of Shakti cult as animals are sacrificed during Durga Puja on Ashtami as offering to the goddess in keeping with a 300-year-old tradition.
Animals were sacrificed earlier on all the four days beginning from Saptami to Dasami but due to soaring prices of animals and active campaigns of animal rights groups, lesser number of devotees now turn up and animal sacrifice is now restricted to Ashtami only.
As a gesture of respect to people of other beliefs, the Sivasagar Dol Development Committee offers a sacrificial goat to the descendent of the Daullah family.
Monirud Daullah, who is in his late 70s, says his ancestor Kerkon Goriya was the first drummer from the family to play the negera at the Dols. The drums used to be beaten before the commencement of the puja and continued till the king arrived.
“During the British rule too, our family managed the affairs of the Dols. Then a committee was handed over the responsibility looking after these Dols. Since then this committee manages the day-to-day affairs of the Dols,” Daullah tells me.
From the days of the Ahom kings, the Daullah family is given a white goat, a xorai, and a prasad thali on Asthami after prayers at the Devi Dol.
“Also a rath yatra is held at the Vishnu Dol and after it, we are given a prasad thali.”
A few years ago, Assam sent out a strong message of how a religious structure can be preserved. The two-storeyed minaret of a century-old mosque in Puranigudam in Nagaon stood in the middle of the proposed four-lane national highway in the state. After authorities announced that there was no other way but to bring down the minaret for the highway expansion project, the locals – both Hindus and Muslims – started a campaign on social media to preserve the archaeologically important structure. A Jorhat-based firm then took interest in the matter and approached a Haryana construction company which immediately agreed to take up the challenging work of shifting the minaret without destroying it. So finally in 2019, the minaret was shifted nearly 75 metres away.