Impressed by dancer Zakir Hussain’s passion for Vaishnavism, the priests gave him the crown that adorned Mahaprabhu enshrined at Prabhaas.

The other day, as I was reading a write-up on the Muslim devotees of Sriman Naryana in Silpasri, a scholarly journal of the 1930s and ’40s, I was interrupted by a call from a senior Bharatanatyam dancer. He wanted to show me the unique crown that adorned the Mahaprabhu enshrined at Prabhaas, near Somnath, the place which is worshipped as the final resting place of Lord Krishna after Jaara, the hunter, brought him down with his arrow.

The dancer was Zakir Hussain, who had made a mark in the field in the last two decades with his devotional productions such as ‘Sri Ranga Vaibhavam,’ ‘Madhuram’ and others, for which he gained admiration from rasikas across the country and abroad.

His love, devotion and surrender at the feet of Sri Andal and Sri Rangamannar of Srirangam, and his passion for Vaishnavism drove him to visit most places of worship associated with Krishna.

During his recent visit to Prabhaas, the priests at the temple there were so pleased with his bhakti that they offered him the crown of the Lord, which was usually removed at the time of re-decoration, and the old one handed over to a deserving devotee.

Sharing experiences

Thus Zakir Hussain felt blessed to have received it from the temple, and had been showing it to many in Chennai who could keep it in their residence for a few days and have the satisfaction of receiving the Lord at home. Giving that opportunity to this writer too, Zakir happily shared some of the experiences of his spiritual journey into the realms of Vaishnavism and the layers of his devotional pursuit of his favourite Sri Nachiyar and Sri Rangan.

It was amazing to observe Zakir’s deep knowledge of Vishnu Bhakti, and made one wonder if he was an ‘Azhwar’ reborn or an ‘Arayar’ making his Vinnappam to Emberumaan!

Zakir’s incessant outpouring of Nachiyar Tirumozhi or the Vyakhyanams of the different Paasurams, as he narrated his ecstatic experiences at different stages of his life, themselves were a concise compendium of Vishnu Praabhaavam.

Born in a Sunni Muslim Sheik community, which follows the orderly, daily Namaz, Zakir also prayed to Allah during his younger days ; on another track, as a student of the local school, he was guided into the aesthetics of Tamizh literature, particularly the Aimperunkaappiam (the five great Tamizh epics). Soon, he became familiar with most of the verses of these great works including the Tirukkural verses, 500 of which he mastered by the age of 10. Zakir remembered his Tamizh teacher Palanisami with gratitude for introducing him to these treasures. At some point he learnt to do abhinayam for a Tamizh song from a family friend and became attracted to dance.

Later, after watching his first Bharatanatyam performance (Malavika Sarukkai), Zakir realised his interest in this art-form and soon reached his destination under Chitra Visweswaran.

He also found his foster-mother in the multi-faceted artist, Revati Sankkaran, who nurtured his ambition and penned the script for most of his productions.

Zakir’s constant search for higher elements in the artistic sphere transferred him from the level of a performer to a seeker.

At some point, when he started working for the thematic presentation on Sri Ranganatha, his passion grew in the study of Vaishnavite texts, the Pancharaatra and Vaikhanasa Agamas. He started analysing deeply, the preachings of the different Aachaaryaas.

He met with several scholars of Vaishnavism to learn and grow further. Prof. M.A. Venkatakrishnan, the renowned scholar, accepted him as his disciple and there was no looking back.

He straddled the spheres of performance and discourses, particularly on Nachiyar Tirumozhi in the last couple of years, which won him recognition.

He has been invited by several renowned organisations propagating Vaishnavism and departments of universities to give lectures on Vaishnavite Hasta Mudras (hand gestures).

The priests of Srirangam and Sri Villiputhur appreciated his devotion. In fact, Zakir had personally offered an exquisite golden pendant of 20 sovereigns for Sri Andal, decorated with the image of Sri Azhagar and studded with gems.

Zakir is also busy as a choreographer, apart from designing his own devotional programmes, orations and demonstrations. He also composes group productions and stages shows with various themes. The recent one he has been engaged in, was the timeless story of Cinderella composed as a dance-musical opera, performed to Indian music (orchestral) with classical movements but contemporary in approach, which was staged in Dubai.

But all the while, Zakir has kept up his passion for the literary and artistic pursuits aimed at that ‘One Lord,’ for he knows all that he displays towards Him or about Him, goes back to Him, “Sarvam Kesavam Pratigachchati”.