Xatra, Assamese Muslim Xatra
Our father’s family are followers of the xakta cult but my grandma’s that is my father’s maternal clan are baishnab. The belong to a Goxai family who have their Xatra in a place named Phulbari, north of Teok in Jorhat district. My preliminary knowledge about the Xatras were acquired from my grandmother. Being a daughter of a baishnab family grandma was highly opposed to the very concept of animal sacrifice. Right in my childhood days, I came to know of many things of the Xatras. The Xatra’s disciples or Xis, the Khataniars, the Medhis, the Xatradhikars and even of the elephants kept in many Xatras. Although most of the disciples or Xis of the Phulbari Xatra were Assamese, they also had some Naga disciples. These Naga Xis generally used to come down to the plains at least once a year to offer tributes to the Goxai. The Xatra’s Medhi also used to make trips to the Naga dwellings. After the spread of Christianity in the Naga hills these Naga disciples ceased to come.
It is not only Phulbari many other Xatras of Assam had their disciples among the hill tribes in the surroundings of Assam. One such notable Xatra is the Chaliha Bareghar Xatra of Nazira. This Xatra had sizeable followers in the erstwhile NEFA ( present Arunachal Pradesh). In the years just after the independence of India, Government of India pursued a deliberately well planned anti-Assamese policy in NEFA. It is because of the machinations of such policy that Hindi was imposed on the indigenous people of NEFA or Arunachal Pradesh in place of the Assamese language which was there naturally. Assamese Xatradhikars were barred from preaching in NEFA. The Chaliha Bareghariya Xatradhikar was arrested and fined while going to NEFA in religious pursuit. Perhaps a solitary instance of a religious leader being arrested and fined just for the crime of preaching his religious sermons, in so called secular independent India.The entire story of the anti-Assamese activities of the Indian government and its agencies and its agents are documented in the book “ THE OUTLOOK ON N.E.F.A “. The book was published in 1958 by Asam Sahitya Sabha. The book was compiled by extraordinary cultural and political personality of the Assamese people (Late) Parag Chaliha, he was helped in the translations by Mr Hassan Mohammed Wazir Ali and Mr Manick Borgohain of Sibasagar. The episode of the Chaliha Bareghariya Xatradhikar’s arrest in NEFA is to be found in page 47 of the book in the body of a memorandum. The said memorandum was submitted to the Home Minister of India and the Governor of Assam. Signatories were Nalinbala Debi, Hem Barua, Satyendranath Sarma, Harendranath Barua, Atulchandra Hazarika, Maheswar Neog, Benudhar Sarma, Parag Chaliha and Jatindranath Goswami.
Full form of NEFA is North East Frontier Agency, Late Muktinath Sarma Bordoloi coined another name for NEFA ie. No Entry For Assamese.
During my college days I had the privilege of having personal interaction with a Xatradhikar through my college student friend Lohit Deka. He was Late Srijut Karunamoy Haripada Deva Goswami. He had established a Xatra at Soibari-Botabari near Tangla. This area is populated mostly by people of Rabha and Boro tribes. With Goxai’s well intended endeavours the people were considerably benefited at the intellectual level. But the Christian missionaries active in the area brought in many hindrances before the Goxai in his works. They even managed to humiliate him many a times by inciting innocent villagers to insult him. The Goxai himself was however a very broadminded person. He had maintained good friendship with many Assamese Muslim persons of Tangla. They often used to visit him in his Xatra and used to partake food in Goxai’s kitchen.
It is not that Assamese Hindus only had their Xatras, there was a time when Assamese Muslims too had their own Xatras. About these Assamese Muslim Xatras it is mentioned in a well described note in page 86 of the Census of India 1891, Assam in the Report part. The compiler of this report was none other than Edward Gait, the writer of the Assam‘s history. As per that note the Assamese Muslim Xatras were structured in the lines of the Assamese Hindu Xatras. Each of these Assamese Muslim Xatras were headed by an Assamese Muslim Goxai. The original names of these Goxais were of Arabic or Persian extraction, but they were mixed up with Assamese often beyond recognition. Some of them took the title of Dewan. Some of their names were derived from their place of permanent residence or from the first Pir of their line. The successors suffixed the name Deka after their names. The note in the report gives example of some of the following names Halungapuria Goxai ( he resided permanently at Halungapur), his name was Akon Deka father’s name Kurpul Deka, Bakirpiria Goxai ( name of the first Pir of the line was Bakir) , his name was Aoul Deka. One Goxai’s name was mentioned as Xak Khowa Dewan, he was a vegetarian. His successor’s name was Dewan Deka.
In the Assamese Muslim Xatras, Goxais had their follower Bhakats. Unlike in many Assamese Hindu Xatras none of these Bhakats were governed by celibacy. Gaonburas used to collect tributes from the outlying disciples on behalf of the Goxai and in this work they were assisted by one functionary called Barik. The Gaonburas were bestowed with this duty by a ceremonial presentation of a turban by the Goxai. The Gaonburas did not get any emolument for this service but used to get high positions in religious and social functions. The location of the abovementioned Xatras was given mostly in the Jorhat subdivision of the old undivided Sibasagar district.
To see the text of the Census Report note of Edward Gait in PDF format please click on this link : Census Report 1891- (Assamese Muslim Xatras)
From these facts it is quite obvious and clear that complete indigenisation of the Islam religion took place in Assam in the ancient times which prevailed up to the beginning of British era. This sort of phenomenon was seen in many other parts of the world. In Kashmir there was once a tradition of Muslim Rishis. In Indonesia and Malaysia, Islam got blended with preexisting Hindu and Buddhist heritage. The greatest of assimilation took place in Persia (Iran) where pre-Islamic traditions and Persian words got imbibed into the Islamic milieu. Words like madrassah, namaz, pak etc. which are very commonly used in Islamic parlance are all pre-Islamic.
When the aggressor Mir Jumla stepped into Assam, he was accompanied by a scholar named Shihabuddin Talish. Talish had written a book named Fatiya-Ibriya or Tarikh-e-Asham on Assam in Persian language. He commented there on the Assamese Muslims that they are in all aspects like the Assamese Hindus and he did not see any tendency towards their fraternising with alien Muslims. In 1826, once Assam came under British Raj many unopened flood gates got opened on the western frontiers, and varieties of pan-Indian influences started to flood Assam. These influences engulfed Assamese Hindus and Muslims alike. The effects of such alien influences started to show up in religious, cultural and linguistic spheres of life. Assamese Hindus took to performing many pujas and rituals not previously observed by their ancestors. In the Assamese Muslim society number of alien clergymen increased rapidly and in the present times the Assamese Muslims among the priestly class are in an absolute minority. The entire machinery of the Assamese Muslim Xatras broke down. Today people have forgotten the very fact that there existed Assamese Muslim Xatras in Assam. Previously also many preachers and clergymen had come to Assam from outside, but then they adjusted and became indigenised and now the opposite happens. Up to a very recent times Bor-Suriya (Dhuti) was one of the main dress of both the Assamese Hindus and the Muslims. Nowadays it has lost it’s popularity among the Assamese Muslims and is seldom seen used. It’s place has been taken over by the lungi.
By : Dr Satyakam Phukan