Ahom people

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Ahom boy and girl.jpg
Ahom man and woman in traditional clothing
Total population
c. 1.3 million
Regions with significant populations
    Assam1.22 million[1]
    Arunachal Pradesh85,000[1]
Assamese, Ahom (revived language)[2]
Ahom religion
Related ethnic groups
Khamti, Shan, Dai, Tai
Sukapha Kshetra

The Ahom (Pron: /ˈɑːhɒm/), or Tai-Ahom is an ethnic group from the Indian states of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. The members of this group are admixed descendants of the Tai people who reached the Brahmaputra valley of Assam in 1228 and the local indigenous people who joined them over the course of history. Sukaphaa, the leader of the Tai group and his 9000 followers established the Ahom kingdom (1228–1826 CE), which controlled much of the Brahmaputra Valley in modern Assam until 1826.

The modern Ahom people and their culture are a syncretism of the original Tai and their culture[6] and local Tibeto-Burman people and their cultures they absorbed in Assam. The local people of different ethnic groups of Assam that took to the Tai way of life and polity were incorporated into their fold which came to be known as Ahom as in the process known as Ahomisation. Many local ethnic groups, including the Borahis who were of Tibeto-Burman origin, 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, too were accepted as Ahoms. Currently, they represent the largest Tai group in India, with a population of nearly 1.3 million in Assam. Ahom people are found mostly in Upper Assam in the districts of Golaghat, Jorhat, Sibsagar, Dibrugarh, Tinsukia (south of Brahmaputra river); and in Lakhimpur, Sonitpur, and Dhemaji (north).

Even though the already admixed group[7] Ahom made up a relatively small portion of the kingdom's population, they maintained their original Ahom language and practised their traditional religion till the 17th century, when the Ahom court as well as the commoners adopted the Assamese language.


Statue of Ahom warriors near Sivasagar town, Assam


The Tai speaking people came into prominence first in the Guangxi region, in China, from where they moved to mainland Southeast Asia in the middle of the 11th century after a long and fierce battle with the Chinese.[8] The Tai-Ahoms are traced to either Mong Mao of South China[9][10] or to the Hukawng Valley in Myanmar.[8]

Sukaphaa, a Tai prince of Mong Mao, and a band of followers reached Assam in 1228 with an intention of settling there.[11] They came with a higher technology of wet-rice cultivation then extant and a tradition of writing, record keeping, and state formation. They settled in the region south of the Brahmaputra river and to the east of the Dikho river; the Ahoms today are found concentrated in this region.[12] Sukaphaa, the leader of the Tai group and his 9,000 followers established the Ahom kingdom (1228–1826 CE), which controlled much of the Bramhaputra valley until 1826.

Initial formation in Assam[edit]

In the initial phase, the band of followers of Sukaphaa moved about for nearly thirty years and mixed with the local population. He moved from place to place, searching for a seat. He made peace with the Borahi and Moran ethnic groups, and he and his mostly male followers married into them, creating an admixed population identified as Ahoms[7] and initiating the process of Ahomisation. The Borahis, a Tibeto-Burman people, were completely 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 Ahoms believed that they were divinely ordained to bring fallow land under the plow with their techniques of wet-rice cultivation, and to adopt stateless shifting cultivators into their fold.[13] They were also conscious of their numerical minority.[14] As a result, the Ahom polity initially absorbed Naga, Borahi and Moran, and later large sections of the Chutia and the Dimasa-Kachari peoples. This process of Ahomisation went on until the mid-16th century, when the Ahom society itself came under the direct Hindu influence.[15] That many indigenous peoples were ceremonially adopted into Ahom clans are recorded in the chronicles.[16] Since the Ahoms married liberally outside their own exogamous clans and since their own traditional religion resembled the religious practices of the indigenous peoples the assimilation under Ahomisation had a little impediment.[15][17]

Localisation and Loss[edit]

In the 16th and 17th centuries, the small Ahom community expanded their rule dramatically toward the west and they successfully saw off challenges from Mughal and other invaders, gaining them recognition in world history.[18] The rapid expansion resulted in the Ahom people becoming a small minority in their own kingdom, of which they kept control. Eventually, the Ahom court, as well as the Ahom peasants took to Ekasarana dharma, Shaktism and Saivism over the traditional Ahom religion;[19] and adopted Assamese over the Ahom language for secular purposes.[20] The modern Ahom people and their culture are a syncretism of the original Tai and their culture[6] and local Tibeto-Burman peoples and their cultures they absorbed in Assam.

The everyday usage of Ahom language ceased completely by early 19th-century.[21] The loss of religions is also nearly complete, with only a few priestly families practising some aspects of it.[22] While the written language (and ritualistic chants) survive in a vast number of written manuscripts,[23] much of the spoken language is lost because the Ahom script does not mark tone and under-specifies vowel contrasts.[24]


Though the first political organisation (All Assam Ahom Association) was created in 1893[25] it was in 1954 when Ahom connection to other Tai groups in Assam was formally established.[26]


Ban-Mong Social system[edit]

The traditional social system of Tai-Ahom people was known as Ban-Mong which was related to agriculture and based on irrigation.[27] The Ban or Ban Na is a unit composed of families that settled by the side of the rivers. While many Bans together forms a Mong which refers state.[27]

Ahom clans[edit]

Ahom clans, called phoids, formed socio-political entities. At the time of ingress into Assam, or soon thereafter, there were seven important clans, called Satghariya Ahoms (Ahoms of the Seven Houses). There were Su/Tsu (Tiger) clan to which the Chao-Pha (Sukaphaa) belonged; his two chief counselors Burhagohain (Chao-Phrung-Mung) and Borgohain (Chao-Thao-Mung); and three priestly clans: Bailung (Mo-plang), Deodhai (Mo-sham), Mohan (Mo-hang) and Siring.[28][29][30] Soon the Satghariya group was expanded—four additional clans began to be associated with nobility: Dihingia, Sandikoi, Lahon and Duarah.[29] In the 16th-century Suhungmung added another great counselor, the Borpatrogohain and a new clan was established. Over time sub-clans began appearing. Thus during the Suhungmung's reign, the Chao-Pha's clan were divided into seven sub-clans—Saringiya, Tipamiya, Dihingiya, Samuguriya, Tungkhungiya, Parvatiya, and Namrupiya. Similarly, Burhagohain clan were divided into eight, Borgohain sixteen, Deodhai twelve, Mohan seven, and Bailung and Siring eight each. The rest of the Ahom gentry belonged to clans such as Chaodangs, Gharphalias, Likchows etc. In general, the secular aristocratic clans, the priestly class, and the gentry clans did not intermarry.

Some clans admitted people from other ethnic groups as well. For example, Miri-Sandikoi and Moran-Patar were Sandikoi and Patar from the Mising and Moran communities,[31] while the founders of Chetias and Lahons were from the Chutia community.[32] This was true even for the priestly clans: Naga-Bailung, Miri-Bailung and Nara-Bailung.[28]


The Ahoms were literate with a writing system based on the Ahom script,[33] which fell into disuse along with the language. The Ahom script evolved from an earlier script of the Tai Nuea language[34] which developed further under the present Chinese Government.[35] There exists today a large corpus of manuscripts in this script on history, society, astrology, rituals, etc. Ahom people used to write their chronicles known as Buranji.[36] The priestly classes (Mo'sam, Mo'hung, Mo'Plong) are the custodians of these manuscripts.


The Ahom people used to use a lunar calendar known as Lak-Ni Tao-Si-Nga[37] with its origins in the middle kingdoms (Chung-Kuo). But is still in vogue in China and South-East Asian Tai people.[38]



Like the rural Thai people of Thailand, the house rural Ahom families have been made of wood and bamboo, and two roofs are typically thatched.[39] Families' orchards and ploughed fields are situated near their house. Houses are built in a scattered fashion within bamboo groves.[39] At one time, the Ahom built their house on stilts called Rwan Huan[39] about two meters above ground level.

Culinary traditions[edit]

Food is one of the important variables of the culture of Tai-Ahom. Most Ahoms, particularly in rural areas, are non-vegetarian,[40] still maintaining a traditional cuisine similar to other Tai people. Rice is a staple food. Typical dishes are pork, chicken, duck, slices of beef, frogs, many kinds of fishes, hukoti maas (dry preserved fish mixture), muga lota (cocoon seeds of endi and muga worms), and eggs of red ants.[40] Certain insects are also popular foods for the Ahoms. Luk-Lao or Nam-Lao (rice beer, undiluted or diluted) are traditional drinks.[39] They consume "Khar" (a form of alkaline liquid extracted from the ashes of burned banana peels/bark), "Betgaaj" (tender cane shoots), and many other naturally grown herbs with medicinal properties. However beef for the genral hindus and, pork for the Vaisnavites are avoided [41] During Siva Singha's reign, the people abandoned the free usage of meat and drinks.[42]

Ahom food specialties resemble Thai cuisine. Like the Thais, the Ahoms prefer boiled food that have little spices and directly burnt fish, meat and vegetables like brinjal, tomato, etc.[39] Some of them are Thu–dam (black lentil), Khao–Moon (Rice Frumenty), Xandohguri (a powder made from dry roasted rice), ChewaKhao (steamed rice), Chunga Chaul (sticky rice cooked in tender bamboo tubes), Til pitha (sesame rice rolls prepared from sticky rice powder), and Khao-tyek (rice flakes).[39] The process of preparation of this item was quite unknown to population other than the Ahoms and the Thais. Khao (unboiled soft rice prepared from a special variety of sticky rice with a unique technique), Tupula Khao (a kind of rice cooked and packed with a particular kind of plant leaf with good smell called 'tora pat' and preserved bamboo sauce are some of the favourite food[39] items of the Ahoms, which are similar to their traditional diet.



Cho Klong[43] is the main marriage ritual among the twenty marriage rituals of Tai Ahom people.[44] The name Cho Klong is derived from the Tai Ahom language [Cho=to combine, klong=ritual]. The ritual is described in an ancient Tai Ahom script Lai Lit nang Hoon Pha.[45] 101 ban-phai-s (earthen lamps) or lights are lit. The bride offers the groom a heng-dan (sword)[46] to protect her, their children, family, race and country. Sum of twenty rituals are performed in ahom wedding along with cho klong, including:

  • Ju-ron
  • Rik-Khwan
  • Aap-Tang [Aap=Bath, Tang=devine][47]
  • Chow Ban [worshipping sun]
  • Jon-ming [Blessing given by Moloung priests][47]


Most Ahoms today declare Hinduism as their religion, although there is an effort to revive the traditional Ahom religion. The Ahom religion started to decline since the days of Jayadhwaj Singha, he was the first Ahom king to adopt Ekasarana Dharma and to take initiation of the Auniati Mahanta. From Jayadhawaj Singha to Rantadhwaj Singha all were followers of Ekasarana Dharma. From Gadadhar Singha onwards the kings veered towards Shaktism. Siva Singha made the Shaktism the state religion, Suremphaa Rajeswar Singha (1751–1769) ordered Sanskritisation. All funerals were to be practised under the Hindu cremation rites, conducted by a Maithil Brahmin priest and a traditional priest.[48] Nevertheless, Me-Dam-Me-Phi is widely celebrated.

Religion percentage of Ahom people (2011)

  Hinduism (95.38%)
  Others (4.62%)


The Ahoms today use the Assamese language after the traditional language, the Ahom language, fell into complete disuse. The Ahom language, a member of the Tai branch of the Kra–Dai languages is now dead, with its tone system completely lost. Nevertheless, it is being revived by some Tai Ahom organisations.[49]

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.[50] 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.[51] The Ahom script also finds a place in the Unicode Consortium and the script declared the topmost in the South-East Asia category.[52]

Ahom people today[edit]

Ahom people today are categorised in the other backward classes (OBC) caste category; there is longstanding discussion and demand for Scheduled Tribe status.[53] The term "ethnic Assamese" is now associated by the Indian government with the various indigenous Assamese people.[54][55][56] According to Anthony Van Nostrand Diller, possibly eight million speakers of Assamese can claim genetic descent from the Ahoms.[51] 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.[54]

Notable people[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Ahom in India report 2021". Retrieved 15 June 2021.
  2. ^ Diller, A. (1993). Tai Languages. In International Encyclopedia of Linguistics (Vol. 4, pp. 128-131). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
  3. ^ "639 Identifier Documentation: aho – ISO 639-3". SIL International (formerly known as the Summer Institute of Linguistics). SIL International. Retrieved 29 June 2019. Ahom [aho]
  4. ^ "Population by Religious Communities". Census India – 2001. Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. Retrieved 1 July 2019. Census Data Finder/C Series/Population by Religious Communities
  5. ^ "Population by religion community – 2011". Census of India, 2011. The Registrar General & Census Commissioner, India. Archived from the original on 25 August 2015. 2011census/C-01/DDW00C-01 MDDS.XLS
  6. ^ a b "Conclusions" (PDF). Shodganga.
  7. ^ a b " The Ahom kingdom’s establishment, traditionally dated at 1228, was done by a group migrating from the southeast, large numbers of whom were male army members, who would have taken local non-Tai speaking wives." (Morey 2014:51–52)
  8. ^ a b (Terwiel 1996:275)
  9. ^ (Gogoi 2011:V)
  10. ^ "At present [Mong Mao] is known as Ruili in Chinese maps... The Mong Mao area is still predominantly Tai, who are called Dai (in Pin Yin), and they, together with the Singhpho, or Jingpho, form a dominant group, hence the whole zone is named as Dehong Dai-Jingpho Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan." (Phukan 1991:889)
  11. ^ " Sukapha and his band of Ahom migrants entered Upper Assam in 1228 with a view to permanently settling there." (Guha 1983:12)
  12. ^ (Terwiel 1996:276)
  13. ^ (Guha 1983:11–12)
  14. ^ (Baruah 1977:251)
  15. ^ a b (Guha 1983:12)
  16. ^ "Thus the illustrious Ahom family of Miri Sandikai was founded by one Miri (Mising), the adopted son of a Burhagohain. (Purani Asam Buranji) King Gadadhar Sinha (1681-1696) accepted two Naga princesses as his consorts. (Tungkhungiya Buranji) The new converts, if possessed of efficiency, were even recruited to important administrative posts. Thus the second Barphukan, the governor of Lower Assam, was the son of a Naga of Banferra clan. (Purani Asam Buranji) Queen Phuleswari, who took the regalia to her hand during the reign of king Siva Singha (1714-1744), appointed a Bhutanese youth as her page. Kancheng, the first Barpatra Gohain was born and brought up in a Naga family. (Purani Asam Buranji)" (Baruah 1977:251)
  17. ^ (Baruah 1977:251–252)
  18. ^ "During the sixteenth, and more so during the seventeenth century, the Ahom people, in a series of spectacular expansionist moves, gained dominance over virtually the entire Brahmaputra Valley. The story of how Ahom-led armies fought against Muslim invaders has gained them a place in international history." (Terwiel 1996:276)
  19. ^ "Not only at the Ahom court, but also among Ahom farmers, the Indian religion gained adherents: Saivism, Saktism, and Vaisnavism spread and largely replaced the old Tai Ahom religion. (Terwiel 1996:276)
  20. ^ "The Ahom language and Ahom script were relegated to the religious sphere, where they were used only by some members of the traditional priestly clans, while Assamese speech and writing took over in secular life." (Terwiel 1996:276)
  21. ^ "It seems that by early in the 19th century, everyday usage of Ahom language had ceased and that Ahom people all spoke Assamese as their mother tongue." (Morey 2014:50)
  22. ^ "Only in a few priestly families was the original Ahom religion not wholly forgotten." (Terwiel 1996:280)
  23. ^ "Tai Ahom is therefore usually regarded as a dead language, but it survives in three ways: (1) in vast collections of manuscripts, (2) as a ritual language in Ahom religious ceremonies, and (3) as a language undergoing revival." (Morey 2014:50)
  24. ^ "While the Ahom script marks all consonants, because it does not mark tones and under specifies vowel contrasts, the same written word can have a large number of meanings." (Morey 2014:55)
  25. ^ (Terwiel 1996:278)
  26. ^ "In 1954, at a meeting of Ahom people at Patsaku, Sibsagar District, the Tai Historical and Cultural Society of Assam was founded (linking the Ahom with Tai groups that had arrived more recently, such as the Khamti, Khamyang, Phakey, and Aiton)." (Terwiel 1996:278)
  27. ^ a b (Gogoi 1995:30)
  28. ^ a b (Gogoi 2006:9)
  29. ^ a b (Guha 1983:13)
  30. ^ (Gogoi 1976:15)
  31. ^ "For instance the Miri-Sandikoi and Moran Patar were the offices drawn from the Miris and the Morans"(Gogoi 2006:9)
  32. ^ "The founders of noted Ahom families, like those of Chetia and Lahon were Chutiyas." (Dutta 1985:30)
  33. ^ (Gogoi 2011:1.00)
  34. ^ (Gogoi 2011:V)
  35. ^ (Gogoi 2011:10)
  36. ^ (Gogoi 2011)
  37. ^ pp.271-278 in ABOURANJIK
  38. ^ Phukan, J.N.2006 pp.1
  39. ^ a b c d e f g (Phukan 2017:II)
  40. ^ a b "Inspite of becoming Hindu, the Tai Ahoms have not given up their food habits, i.e., taking pork, beef, chicken, and rice beer. Hence we find that even in the religious ceremonies pork and chicken are taken." (Gogoi 2011:227)
  41. ^ "The proselytizing function of the Vaisnavite monasteries helped the ongoing process of sanskritization of the Ahom and the tribal folk in the Brahmaputra valley. The Ahom were accepted as a low-ranking new Hindu peasant caste. The tribal neophytes, admitted first to the lowest rung of the caste ladder, had opportunities of upward social mobility through emulation of the higher castes. Individuals and groups did not only move from animism to vaisnavism, but also from tribes to peasant castes, from pile houses to mid-point house, from burial practice to cremation of the dead, from liberal food habits to abstinence from liquor, beef and pork, from a shifting to permanent cultivation, and so on." (Guha 1984:5)
  42. ^ A history of Assam. Thacker, Spink & Company, 1906. 1906. p. 184. ISBN 9780404168193.
  43. ^ Diller, Anthony; Edmondson, Jerry; Luo, Yongxian (30 November 2004). The Tai-Kadai Languages. Routledge. ISBN 9781135791162 – via Google Books.
  45. ^ Lailit nang hoon Pha, ancient Tai Ahom script
  46. ^ "Journal of the Indian Anthropological Society". The Society. 28 March 1981 – via Google Books.
  47. ^ a b Gogoi, Pushpa (28 March 1996). "Tai of North East India". Chumphra Printers and Publishers – via Google Books.
  48. ^ (Saikia 2004)
  49. ^ Dipima Buragohain. Issues of Language Contact and Shift in Tai Ahom
  50. ^ 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
  51. ^ a b "Ahom". Ethnologue.
  52. ^ "Ahom script finds place in Unicode Consortium". The Sentinel. 29 June 2018.
  53. ^ "AATASU reiterates demand for ST status to six communities". The Sentinel. 28 October 2017.
  54. ^ a b Yasmin Saikia (2004). Fragmented Memories. ISBN 978-0-8223-3373-9.
  55. ^ "ST status to Assam groups only from a national perspective". Retrieved 11 March 2009.
  56. ^ "Separatist strains". The Hindu. Retrieved 11 March 2009.


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]