Ahom people

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Tai Ahom
আহোম সকলৰ ফুৰালুং পূজা.jpg
Ahom people practicing Furalung, their traditional religion
Total population
3 million (2011 est.)
Regions with significant populations
    Assam 3 million
    Arunachal Pradesh 50,000
Ahom(almost extinct), Assamese
Theravada Buddhism, Satsana Phi, Furalung
Related ethnic groups
Shan, Thai, and other Tai groups, Indigenous Assamese people,

The Ahom (Pron: /ˈɑːhɒm/, Assamese: আহোম, people of Assam) are the descendants of the ethnic Tai people who accompanied a Tai prince, Sukaphaa, in his migration from what is now the frontier regions between Myanmar and Yunnan Province in southwest China into the Brahmaputra valley in 1228. Sukaphaa and his followers established the Ahom kingdom (1228–1826), which controlled the Bramhaputra Valley and the territory of modern Assam until the British gained control of the region through the Treaty of Yandabo after their 1826 victory in the First Anglo-Burmese War. In the early days of the Ahom kingdom, although the Ahom made up a relatively small portion of the kingdom's population, they maintained their original Tai language and practiced their traditional religion. Over time however, the kingdom adopted the lingua-franca of the region the Assamese language as their mother tongue, and the royal court eventually converted to the dominant local religion, Hinduism.

The modern Ahom people and their culture are a syncretism of their original Tai culture and the cultures they interacted with in Assam. Some local ethnic groups, including the Tibeto-Burman speaking Borahi, were completely subsumed into the Ahom community, while members of other communities, based on their allegiance to the Ahom kingdom or the usefulness of their talents, were accepted as Ahom. Currently, they represent the largest Tai group in India, with a population of nearly 4 million in Assam, and are the majority ethnic group in the North Bank and Upper Assam Division.

The name "Ahom" is an exonym applied by local Tibeto-Burman groups to the ahoms.


Statue of Ahom warriors near Sivasagar town, Assam

In the early 13th century, Mong Mao was a small kingdom of Tai people, related to the Shan, along the borders of Myanmar and Yunnan Province, China. In 1228, the Mong Mao prince Chaolung Sukaphaa began a journey to the Brahmaputra Valley with about 9000 followers, mostly men.[1] He crossed the Patkai Hills and reached the Brahmaputra valley in 1228. He moved from place to place, searching for a seat. He made peace with the Borahi and Moran, and his depleted followers married into the . The Borahis, a Tibeto-Burman people, were subsumed into the Ahom fold, though the Moran maintained their independent ethnicity. Sukaphaa established his capital at Charaideo near present-day Sivasagar in 1253 and began the task of state formation.

The Ahom kingdom then consolidated its power, building their kingdom for the next 600 years. The first major expansion weakened the dominant power in the Bramhaputra valley, the Chtiya kingdom, which was partially annexed in 1524 under King Suhungmung. The conquest reflected changing cultural norms within the Ahom kingdom. Suhungmung was also the first Ahom king to adopt a Hindu name: 'Swarga Narayan', and he and his successors were named 'Swargadeo,' meaning 'Lord of Heaven in Assamese, and were crowned in the Singarigharutha ceremony. In 1536, they took over the Kachari capital of Dimapur, thus giving them control of all of present-day eastern Assam. The late 17th century saw another expansion of Ahom territory. After the 1682 Battle of Itakhuli, that marked the end of the Ahom-Mughal conflicts, much of the control of Koch Hajo fell into the hands of the Ahoms. By bringing the various indigenous Assamese ethnic groups and regions under one ruler and one governing polity the Ahoms are considered the architects of modern Assam.

However, the Ahoms gradually mixed with various other indigenous Assamese communities. Their rulers converted to Hinduism and spoke the dominant local language of the region, Assamese, instead of their native Ahom language.

In 1769, various marginalized ethnic groups like the Moran, Motok, Bodo, Keot(Kaibarta) etc who were resentful of the Paik labor system and the persecution of followers of Mahapuruxiya Dharma, launched the Moamoria rebellion against the Ahom kingdom, and from 1788 to 1794, the rebels took over and administered the Ahom capital of Rangpur (now Sivasagar). It was only with the help of the East India Company that the Ahom king was able to take back his capital and defeat the rebels in 1805. The Moamoria rebellion left Ahom severely weakened and vulnerable to invasions, and due to the rebellion, the Ahom king moved the capital from Rangpur to Jorhat in 1794. In the first part of the 19th century, the Burmese army invaded the Ahom kingdom, took over the capital and set up a puppet Ahom king. The Burmese were defeated by the British in the First Anglo-Burmese War resulting in the Treaty of Yandabo in 1826, which paved the way for the British to convert the Ahom kingdom into a principality, marking the end of the Ahom rule. Assam was then annexed by British India as part of the Bengal Presidency, and would later become a state as the Ahom were gradually subsumed by the dominant Assamese culture.



Most of the Tai Ahoms practice Hinduism today, but some Ahom practice their traditional religion, known as Faralung, albeit syncretized with Hinduism. This religion involves reverence for a pair of entities: Fra and Lung. Fra is Fra, it is nothing and it is everything. Fra symbolizes the nature and condition of the universe, especially the creation of the universe, while Lung symbolizes the forces present in the universe. Faralung closely resembles Taoism.

Given the non-dogmatic nature of Indian religious traditions, an adherent may identify with both Faralung and Hinduism. Similarly, many among the Ahom people practice Buddhism as well. However, with the merging concept of Neo-vaishnavism in 15th century, founded and spread by Saint Sri Manta Shankardev and Saint Sri Kantha Madhabdev in Assam, some groups of Ahom People started following Neo-Vaishnavism. It was King (Sargadeu) Rudra Singha who for the first time started following Neo-Vaishnavism. He also founded many Satra, Sacred,Spiritual places which are the centres of Neo-Vaishnavism religion, in Majuli Island and other parts of the entire Ahom kingdom.

Mohung, Changbun, and Moplong are the three priestly classes of the Ahoms.

Funerary rites[edit]

One of the important non-Hindu customs among the Ahoms is that the dead body is not burnt but kept in a coffin-like box, which they refer to as "Maidam".

Its usage declined during the reign of Swargadeo Rajeswar Singha, who ordered Sanskrisation. All funerals were to be practiced under the Brahmanical Hindu cremation rites, conducted by a Maithil Brahmin priest and a traditional Deodhai priest.

Ancestor worship[edit]

The Tai Ahoms worship their deceased forefathers as they are the guardian deities of the house holders. They believe that their ancestors must be duly worshipped so that they being satisfied keep them safe. There is a saying among them that “Neither the wall nor the roof, no other gods can protect the house holders, if the god of the household do not. Neither the serpent bites, nor the tiger eats, even the god of death is afraid when the household deads protect,”

The Tai Ahoms worship their ancestors individually by the family as well as community. The Tai Ahom priestly families worship their dead ancestors in the occasion of marriage, festivals like Bihu, before and after harvesting, feast of new paddy, birth and death ceremonies etc.

The Tai Ahoms believe that after death a person becomes a Dam Phi, or a god, who goes to reside in the heaven in the same way as he was in his earthly life. He is worshipped and propitiated as a god with the offerings made by the descendants but not as a revengeful ghost.

The Tai Ahoms offer their first seasonal crops, vegetables and fruits to the ancestors and they could take these only after offering these to their ancestor gods. The priestly families worship their ancestors in a very clear way making different grades to each kind of Dam. These are Ghai Dam, Chi Ren Dam, Na Dam and Jokorua Dam.

Ghai Dam: 'Ghai' means ‘main’ and 'Dam' means ‘Dead’, hence Ghai Dam means dead grandparents of the living householder.

Chi Ren Dam: 'Chi' means ‘four’, 'ren' means a ‘house’. Thus Chi Ren Dam means the fourth generation of the parents of the dead grandfather of the living householders.

Jokorua Dam : The word ‘Jokorua’ is used in a collective sense to mean all the dead ones who died without having a male child, who died in childhood, who died without getting married and also who died with physical and mental abnormality. This kind of Dam is propitiated in the house of the eldest member of the living generations.

Na Dam: 'Na' means ‘new’. The recent dead in the household, whether the head of the family or his wife or his parents, is called Na Dam.

All these kinds of Dams are altogether called Griha Dam, who are worshipped annually. The Jokorua Dam are not included among the Griha Dam.


The Ahom language, until recently, was known by approximately 400-500 members of the Ahom priestly class. Almost all the Ahoms speak Assamese as their mother tongue like various other indigenous Assamese communities like Moran, Motok, Rabha, Deori-Sutiya, Koch-Rajbongshi, Keot(Kaibarta),various Kachari communities etc. who have lost their original language and have accepted Assamese (an indigenous language formed by a mixture of Non-Aryan Austric, Dravidian, Tibeto-Burman, Tai and Aryan) as their mother tongue. It is being revitalised by Tai Ahom organisations by establishing various Tai schools in Upper Assam. Many institutes like P. K. Buragohain Institute for Tai and South East Asian Studies, Guwahati, Central Tai Academy, Patsaku, etc. have come up in recent days. In coming days more Tai schools are planned to be established across Assam[2]

Starting in the late 20th and continuing into the early 21st century, there has been renewed interest among the Ahoms in their culture and language leading to increased study and attempts at revival.[3] The 1901 census of India enumerated approximately 179,000 people identifying as Ahom. The latest available census records slightly over 2 million Ahom individuals however, estimates of the total number of people descended from the original Tai-Ahom settlers are as high as eight million.[4]

The Ahom people[edit]

The Tai Ahoms who came into Assam followed their traditional religion and spoke the Tai language. They were a very small group numerically and after the first generation, the group was a mixture of the Tai and the local population. Over time the Ahom state adopted the Assamese language. Except for some special offices (the king and the raj mantris), other positions are open to members of any race or religion. They kept good records, and are known for their chronicles, called Buranjis.

One of its greatest achievements was the stemming of Mughal expansionism. In the celebrated battle of Saraighat, the Ahom general Lachit Borphukan defeated the Mughal forces on the outskirts of present-day Guwahati in 1671.

Ahom people today[edit]

Varna Not Applicable
Religions Hinduism,
Languages Assamese, Ahom(almost extinct)
Populated states Assam, Arunachal Pradesh.

The Tai-Ahom were historically seen as "Assamese" people. The term "ethnic Assamese" is now associated by the Indian government with the various indigenous Non-Aryan ethnic groups like Austric, Dravidian, Tibeto-Burman and Aryan Brahmins, Ganaks and Kayasthas indigenous Assamese people of the Brahmaputra valley.[5][6][7] According to Anthony Van Nostrand Diller, possibly eight million speakers of Assamese can claim genetic descent from the Ahoms.[4] However, historian Yasmin Saikia argues that in pre-colonial times, the Ahoms were not an ethnic community, but were a relatively open status group. Any community coming into the socio-economic fold of the Ahom state could claim the Ahom status with active consent of the king.[5]

Ahom people are found mostly in Upper Assam and North Bank districts of Golaghat, Jorhat, Sibsagar, Dibrugarh, Tinsukia, Lakhimpur, Sonitpur and Dhemaji. They are also an important ethnic group in Karbi Anglong. Tai Ahoms are also found in large numbers in Lohit District of Arunachal Pradesh.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gait, Edward. A History of Assam. Thacker, Spink and Co. Calcutta, 1906. pg 96
  2. ^ Dipima Buragohain. Issues of Language Contact and Shift in Tai Ahom
  3. ^ Sikhamoni Gohain Boruah & Ranjit Konwar, The Tai Ahom of India and a Study of Their Present Status Hiteswar Saikia College and Sri Ranjit Konwar, Assam Forest Department
  4. ^ a b http://www.ethnologue.com/show_language.asp?code=aho
  5. ^ a b Yasmin Saikia (2004). Fragmented Memories. ISBN 978-0-8223-3373-9. 
  6. ^ "ST status to Assam groups only from a national perspective". Retrieved 11 March 2009. 
  7. ^ "Separatist strains". The Hindu. Retrieved 11 March 2009. 

Further reading[edit]

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