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Heritage Sikhs In Assam, Ignored By Mainstream Sikhs


Jun 1, 2004
Yes they are Sikhs by Indu Kaur
Living in Assam for over 200 yrs, ignored by mainstream Sikhs

India is a vast country and there are certain groups and communities so small in size that their presence and existence goes almost unnoticed. The Assamese Sikh Community is one such group. They have lived in the northeastern state for more than two centuries, yet their existence has been ignored by every successive Government.

Although it is very difficult to locate the exact year in which the State of Assam came into contact with Sikhism, it has been held by B.P.L.Bedi in his work “Guru Baba Nanak” that Guru Nanak came to Assam in the first decade of the 16th century A.D. and visited the Kamakhya temple.

It is popularly believed that the first Sikh Sardar who came to Borkola to reside was Sardar Ram Singh. The Population of Assamese Sikhs in the State is at present about 5000.With his religion, being a proselytizing one, it was but natural that he had footed through the dense forest tracts of Assam and met various tribes in the course of his journey. The ninth Guru, Tegh Bahadur, was the next to come to Assam sometime in 1670. Guru Tegh Bahadur reached Rangamati and then came to Dhubri where the first gurudwara was established as a memorial of the Guru’s maiden visit to the land.

The Sikhs however began to settle permanently only after the battle of Hadirachaki. The Ahom ruler, Chandra Kanta Singha, built up defenses at Hadirachaki with armies under the command of the Sikh general Chaaitanya Singh, the Ahom general Charu, the Muslim general Mirdaulla and the Assamese general Krishnaram. It is said that the Punjab ruler Maharaja Ranjit Singh dispatched Chaitanya Singh to Assam in command of 500 soldiers to render military help to Chandra Kanta Singha. General Chaitanya, along with his army, fought gallantly against the Burmese in a pitched engagement at Hadirachaki, and laid down his life for the cause of Assam. Chaitanya, on the eve of the battle said to the Ahom King, “Moharaj, I shall lay down my life along with my army for upholding your cause.” This poignant saga has been clearly mentioned in the monumental novel ‘Monomati’ written by Rajani Kanta Bordoloi, a leading novelist of repute.

True to his words Chaitanya kept his promise. Assam remembers him with gratitude and honor even to this day. Following the loss of her dear husband in the thick of battle, Chaitanya’s widowed consort, accompanied by the remainder of the Sikh forces, proceeded upstream by the Brahmaputra and via Kajalimukh, passed through the Kapili river and the Titiamari Khuti, and encamped at Chaparmukh in the Nawgaon district. They carried with them a few copies of religious scriptures, two cannons and a number of swords (Kirpans). These articles have since been carefully preserved in the Gurudwara Mataji, Chaparmukh Singh Gaon, Nowgaon (Assam). Gurudwara Mataji is the second historical Gurudwara in Assam.

The Sikhs first settled at Chaparmukh and later on they moved to Barkola, Hatipara, Lanka (all in Nowgaon district of Assam). The largest numbers of Assamese Sikh families (about 150 families) now live at Borkola. It is popularly believed that the first Sikh Sardar who came to Borkola to reside was Sardar Ram Singh. The Population of Assamese Sikhs in the State is at present about 5000.

It would not be out of place to mention here that under the auspices of the Assamese Sikh Association, and able leadership of Dhyan Singh, President of the Association, the work of renovation of Gurudwara Mataji has been taken up with kind donations from gurpremi sadh sangat. The occasion of Guru Tegh Bahadur’s visit to Assam is celebrated every year at this historical Shrine.

The companions whom Chaitanya had left behind subsequently married Assamese women and fused with Assamese life and culture. The process of assimilation was so decisive; they embraced their land of occupation as their homeland. They played a significant role in their efforts to defend and serve the cause of the State at various levels from time to time.

Although the Assamese Sikhs have their own gurudwaras, they have been maintaining fraternal cohesion and amity with the people of other religious persuasions in their neighborhoods. Their participation in all Assamese festivals and institutions like Bihu (the most important and popular festivals in Assam, signaling the harvest and marking the advent of spring and autumn), the birth and death anniversaries of Shankar Dev and Madhav Dev, Rang Utsav, weddings and other festivals speak eloquently of their integrated life with the mainstream of the Assamese people.

Their turbans may not go well with their Mongoloid features and sp{censored} beards, and may even fetch belittling remarks from other Sikhs, yet they remain a proud race. “Our forefathers came to Assam centuries ago to rescue the Assamese people from foreign invasion and that makes us feel proud. As far as our religion is concerned, we have been following it with utmost devotion,” says one of the Assamese Sikhs. Ask any of the families in Borkola and you are likely to hear this line over and over again: “when Giani Zail Singh visited Borkola in 1975, he was surprised at the way we are following the Guru Granth Sahib.”

And these Sikhs don’t feel nostalgic about being away from Punjab, its culture and its people. “We are Assamese who are following the Sikh religion. We have adopted this place as our own, as we have been living here for generations.” Even the lady of the house looks like just any other Assamese married women — adorned with sindoor and clad in mekhla – chaddar, the traditional Assamese dress — till your eyes rest on the tiny Kirpan tucked under the chaddar.

“We have never felt that we are not a part of the Assamese society and at the same time we have been faithful to our religion,” says S. K. Singh, president of the Assam Sikh Association. “But it hurts us when we are called “duplicate Sikhs” or “second class Sikhs” by our counterparts in Punjab,” he adds.

In fact, in some respects, we are more staunch than the Punjabi Sikhs,” says Jaswant Kaur. “We may not speak the language but we follow our religious book very seriously. Most of us are Amritdharis, as it is our custom to partake of Amrit before we get married,” she adds.

Sri Himadri Banerjee who holds the Guru Nanak Chair in Indian History at Jadavpur University’s Department of History has been closely monitoring this minority Community fears that if proper care and support is not given by the Government this historical Community may even go extinct.

When I first reached one of these Assamese Sikh villages, I was surprised to discover that these men had maintained their Sikh identity over the centuries despite the tremendous distance from the Punjab and the prevalent non-Sikh culture around them. I found many who are confident of their Sikh identity. It is, therefore, unfortunate that Assamese Sikhs who have maintained their identity should still be referred to as kacha [incomplete] Sikhs by a section of Punjabi Sikhs of the region.

Considering all circumstances, problems, constraints and challenges the Assamese Sikh Community has been facing for ages, they are in the danger of becoming extinct. I have taken this task on myself to bring the facts into the limelight so that Government, people and organizations come forward to help and rescue this microscopic minority community.

For donation, seva or other information, please contact: Indu Kaur, C/O S. Shamsher Singh ADC Bordoloi Nagar, Near Arunachal Circuit House, Tinsukia-786125 Assam, Ph: 91-374-2303048/2301717/, indusing@yahoo.co .in

(Indu Kaur is a young Sikh woman whose parents were originally from Punjab and worked in an oil firm in Assam. She grew up knowing both the places pretty well. After completeing post graduation at PAU, Ludhiana, she married an Assamese Civil Services officer. The book she mentioned, Sikh Gurus, has been already translated in Assamese. This article is being published under special arrangement between the Amritsar Times and the author.)

Aug 17, 2009
WSN-Punjab News-Assamese Sikhs trace their Punjabi roots

Assamese Sikhs trace their Punjabi roots
AMRITSAR: Nearly two centuries after their warrior ancestors arrived in Assam, Sikhs from the state are currently on a visit to Punjab to discover firsthand the culture of their forefathers, and behold the most revered shrine of the faith, Harmandar Sahib, for the first time.

It was in 1820 that some 500 Sikh soldiers went to Assam at the initiative of Maharaja Ranjit Singh to help Ahom rulers in a war.
While some died and some came back to Punjab, a few stayed on and made Assam their home, raising families. Their descendants today —mostly concentrated in Nagaon district — are Assamese for all practical purposes, and none speaks Punjabi, but continue to maintain their Sikh identity and observe most tenets and traditions of the religion.
Dr Himadri Bannerjee on Assamese Sikhs
“When I first reached one of these Assamese Sikh villages, I was surprised to discover that these men had maintained their Sikh identity over the centuries despite the tremendous distance from the
Punjab and the prevalent non-Sikh culture around them. I found many who are confident of their Sikh identity. It is, therefore, unfortunate that Assamese Sikhs who have maintained their identity should still be referred to as kacha [incomplete] Sikhs by a section of Punjabi Sikhs of the region.”

Currently , they are in Amritsar, their first visit to the holy city. A group of 185 paid obeisance at Harmandar Sahib today . The Sikhs families are here on the invitation of SGPC president Avtar Singh Makkar, who during a visit to eastern states was surprised to learn that none had visited Amritsar. The expenses of the trip are being borne by the SGPC, which has also made arrangements for their stay and visit to nearby gurdwaras.
One of the guests, Makhan Singh, said: “Over 160 Assamese Sikhs from the Borkula, Lanka and Hojai areas of Nagaon district have come here for the first time, expecting to get a glimpse of the land and culture of their forefathers.” Leader of the group P.P. Singh said though Harmandar Sahib was regarded as the most important shrine for Sikhs, they had never had the fortune to visit it.
Papinder Kaur of Borkula said, “Most of us have seen the Golden Temple only on television or in movies. This visit is dream come true. I don’t have words to express my excitement.” For Kamaljit Singh, it was homage to ancestors. “I am here to get a feel of the lifestyle in Punjab.” Jodh Singh Bhandari, a local resident giving them information and the history of the city , said: “It pleasantly surprising to see that these people have maintained their Sikh identity over the centuries, despite living amidst an entirely different culture. And most of them are proud of their Sikh identity. Our youngsters here could take a lesson from them
Aug 17, 2009
The Assamese Sikhs

Today, many Assamese are concerned about their identity. Their concerns mainly arise out of the reality they see emerging before their eyes.

Over the last so many decades, we have witnessed mass migrations of Bangladeshis into Assam. During this same time, Assam has also seen migrants from other states in India who have come to Assam for jobs or business. This influx of people into the state has often been fractious, and sometimes resulting in tragic loss of life and property.

In the midst of all this, we sometimes forget certain minority groups of immigrants who have not only fully assimilated in Assam’s culture, but are Assamese for all purposes. One such group is a small minority group of Assamese, generally known as Assamese Sikhs or Oxomia Punjabi.

The first Sikhs came to Assam around 200 years ago, from the Punjab. However, the majority of them were supposed to have come during the battle of Hadirachaki (1820-1822).

They were the forefathers of the present generation of Assamese
Sikhs, and were invited by the Ahom ruler, Chandra Kanta Singha, to
defend Assam against the Burmese. A good many of these Sikhs were killed during battle. The survivors, however, stayed back and married into Assamese families. These Sikhs have become more and more Assamese and today they consider themselves fully Assamese, built Gurdwaras, and held on steadfastly to the Sikh religion.

Assamese Sikhs are unique from other immigrants to Assam. They are unique because, probably more than any other minority group in Assam, they have been very proactive in assimilating with Assamese culture and language.

Though they have ardently been following the Sikh religion, in all other
aspects, the Assamese Sikhs are very much Assamese. They speak Assamese, marry into mainstream Assamese
families, celebrate Bihu, and dance to melodious Bihu songs as any true
blooded Oxomia.

Himadri Banerjee of Jadavpur University, who has conducted extensive studies on the Assamese Sikhs, writes.
(Page 4Assam Society of America
November 2004)

“They participate in Gurpurabs [birth and death anniversaries of Sikh
gurus], Baisakhi [the harvest festival] as well as Assamese festivals. They speak Assamese and generally follow the local code of conduct regarding marriage, food, social discipline, anddress. They, however, are no less aware of their Sikh identity and do wear the five Ks. Their gurdwaras (often called namghars) follow some of the Sikh traditions and try to make room for the local style of worship as well.”

The Assamese Sikhs also have their share of problems. The mainstream Punjabi Sikhs do not generally consider the Assamese Sikhs of their own community. Indu Kaur, a young writer from Tinisukia, writes in one her columns in the Sikh News Network,

“The Assamese Sikhs speak Assamese and marry local girls from their own communities (generally Punjabi-speaking Sikhs do not give their daughters to them). I asked some of them why the Punjabi Sikhs do not give their daughters to them. They told me that they do not regard them as their equals. There is also a sharp break in their physical structure. The Punjabi Sikhs are well-built while the Assamese Sikhs have slighter physiques. The Assamese Sikhs are
mainly rice eaters while the PunjabiSikhs primarily eat wheat. AssameseSikhs are often closer to local Hindu rituals relative to the Punjabi Sikhs. “

Most of the Assamese Sikhs are concentrated in Nagaon District. They have formed the Assam Sikh Association to address some of their problems. They are often battling identity problems. The Association would like a minority status for theAssamese Sikhs, as well as representation in local and state political setups. All along these Sikhs have been farmers, but now, many of them are finding careers in other fields as well. These realities have opened up new opportunities as well as challenges for this small community.

Himadri Banerjee: “The Sikhs of Assam”, Sikh Times, 08/25/03.

Surjit Hans : “The Identity of North- E a s t
S i k h s ” . TribuneIndia.com/Spectrum, 08/24/03.

Indu Kaur: “The Assamese Sikhs”, Sikh News Network, 07/03/04.

By Ram Sarangapani, Houston, Texas Mahapurux Srimanta Sankardev?s Tithi Celebration in the Northeast
Oct 16, 2009
i have lived in Assam for almost 4 years and i found the Sikhs of Assam as hard working as anywhere else in this world.there was a gurudwara in the cantonment which was functioning under the army.i still remember there were few local converters one of them use to come to gurudwara regularly and was later recruited in the Sikh regiment(instead of Assam rifles) there were other Sikhs too who had shifted from Punjab who owned tea manufacturing units and of course lands some of them had married local girls and had kids who looked similar to Assamese the sulfas(terrorist group of Assam) who use to kill the marvadis(the traders from rajisthan and around) never dare to even touch a Sikh because of their influence and their personality and maybe bcz they were the few who could play with the guns:D

the other thing that i remember the most is the langar being served by me in the gurudwara as a kid i was one of the most enthusiastic person to serve the langar as most of the people were very poor there was a considerable sangat mainly of non-Sikh's
i always took the work of giving the chapaties and insted of "parshada ji" i use to ask them "chapati ji":eek: and most of them would reply chaartoo panchtoo cheetoo that is 4,5,6 please and i use to give them as much as they asked and wondered the next time they would ask the same amount of chapaties "how can someone eat so much":eek:
actually this was their collection of food for some days and then they waited for the next sunday.............

Gyani Jarnail Singh

Sawa lakh se EK larraoan
Jul 4, 2004
There is something that doesnt add up...in the Second Para...
The FIRST..Sardar to come to Assam is..Ram Singh...and then it says..THE "NEXT" to come is Ninth Guru Teg Bahadur Ji in 1670 !!

Actually the FIRST SIKH....to Arrive in ASSAM was GURU NANAK JI SAHIB. He came with Bhai Mardana on one of His Udassees !! The Next Guu to TOUCH BASE with the SIKHS of Guru Nanak ji was Guru Teg Bahadur Ji. The Travels of GURU TEG BAHADUR JI touching base with all the Sikhs converted by Guru Nanak Ji sahib about 150 Years EARLIER was in PREPARATION of the Call of ANANDPUR in 1699 that GURU GOBIND RAI JI were to make !! This Extenisve PARCHAAR TOUR of Guru Teg bahadur Ji was with the Motive of spreading Jagrata..AWAKEN the Sleeping SIKHS..that a Call from Anandpur would be forthcoming..and they better be ready...hence the huge crowd of nearly 80,000 that came to Ananadpur in 1699.

Sri Himadree Banerjee mentioned in the article was at the IOSS Annual Seminar in Chnadigarh which just Concluded ( 24/25th October, 2009) and He presented a Paper on the Assamese Sikhs. When I get my hands on this Paper I will be sure to publish it on SPN. This Year's IOSS Seminar ( which unfortuantley I coudlnt attend due to it being held too early to fit my calendar/travel plans for 2009) was on SIKHS OUTSIDE PUNJAB.

Gyani Jarnail Singh

Sawa lakh se EK larraoan
Jul 4, 2004
The Way Sikhosm is spreading..it will soon be a thing of the past to consider it as PUNJABI MONOPOLY ONLY.!!
There will soon be Sikhs of all hues and colours..mongloid looks, sp{censored} beards, dark sikhs, white sikhs, brown sikhs...all over the WORLD...just as Guru ji INTENDED.:happysingh:

Gyani Jarnail Singh

Sawa lakh se EK larraoan
Jul 4, 2004
Narayn Ji..
Yes it is...It was held over the past weekeend in Chandigarh. Lots of Good Papers presented..and Research shown...Interesting facts revealed all over..One Sikligar Child named Lallu..and Now Chattar singh came on stage and related his life and how he struggled to become a Good Sikh inspite of all the shortcomings and challenges...lots of donations poured in instantly ...I hope the people and organsiations involved will do less TALKING and MORE ACTION. These peole need action.
Another interesting fact that came out is that there are many many OTHER types of SIKHS..besides the known sikligars and vanjaras..satnamis, Araghar sikhs, assamese sikhs..etc etc..and all need help from the Panth.
I will be sharing the Valuable Papers read at the Seminar with SPN readers soon as i get them.:happysingh:
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