People of Assam

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Total population
31,169,272 (2011)
Regions with significant populations
 India 31,169,272
 Bangladesh Not estimated
 Bhutan Not estimated
Assamese Bengali letter A (red).png Assamese (and its dialect variants: Kamrupi, Goalpariya) • Bangla.JPG Bengali Bodo• Minorities: Mishing (1.7%), Karbi (1.58%), Dimasa (0.38%)
Om.svg Hinduism45th Infantry insignia (swastika).svg Traditional, PanentheisticAllah-green.svg IslamKhanda.svg Sikhism
Related ethnic groups

AhomAssamese BrahminsKalitaSutiyaKoch RajbongshiBodoDimasaKarbiMishingDeuri

Surname Families:

Barman •Barooah (and its variations) • Bharali • BorahChakraborty (and its variations)ChaudharyDasDekaDutta • Gogoi • Gohain • GoswamiHazarikaKalitaPhukan • Rajbongshi • Rajkhowa • Saikia • SarmaSutiya
Map showing the zones of assimilation of the people of Assam

The people of Assam inhabit a multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic and multi-religious society. They speak languages that belong to three main language groups: Indo-Aryan, Austroasiatic and Tibeto-Burman. The large number of ethnic and linguistic groups, the population composition and the peopling process in the state has led to it being called an "India in miniature".[1]

Populating Assam and social formations[edit]

Geographically Assam contains fertile river valleys surrounded and interspersed by mountains and hills. It is accessible from Tibet in the north (via Bum La, Tse La, Tunga), across the Patkai in the Southeast (via Diphu, Kumjawng, Hpungan, Chaukam, Pangsau, More-Tamu) and from Burma across the Arakan Yoma (via An, Taungup). In the west both the Brahmaputra valley and the Barak valley open widely to the Gangetic plains. Assam has been populated via all these accessible points in the past. It has been estimated that there were eleven major waves and streams[2] of ethnolinguistic migrations across these points over time.


The earliest settlers were Mon-Khmer speakers (currently identified with the Khasi and Pnar people) (Wave 1) originating in Southeast Asia. These people settled in the foothills but were pushed up into the hills (Khasi Hills, Garo Hills, and Karbi Anglong and North Cachar Hills) by different Tibeto-Burman speakers (Wave 2) migrating from Tibet and South China. These people are today identified as the Monpa and Sherdukpen peoples of Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh; the Mishings and Deuris of Upper Assam; the Bodo-Kachari people scattered all over Assam; the Tiwa (Lalung) and Rabha peoples in East Assam; Sonowal Kacharis and Thengal Kacharis in Upper Assam and Dimasa people in Dima Hasao district.[citation needed]

Proto-historic and ancient[edit]

Further information: Indo-Aryan migration to Assam

The third major ingress into Assam are attributed to the Indo-Aryan speakers from North India (Wave 3) into the Brahmaputra Valley after 500 BCE,[3] and around the same time, from the Gangetic Delta of Bengal into the Barak Valley. This signaled the dawn of the proto-historic period and this immigration continued into the ancient and Medieval periods. At the end of the ancient period (c1205), the first Muslims (Wave 4), captive soldiers of the defeated Bakhtiar Khilji, settled in the Hajo area.


The next major immigrants were the Ahoms (Wave 5) when Sukaphaa lead his group into Assam via the Pangsau Pass in the Patkai from South China. The Ahoms were followed by other Tai peoples who were Buddhists (Wave 6): Khamti, Khamyang, Aiton, Tai Phake and Turung peoples, who settled in Upper Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. This continued well into the colonial times. At the end of the Medieval period a small contingent of Sikhs gave rise to a minuscule but prominent group.[4]

Colonial and post-independence[edit]

In the beginning of the colonial period in Assam after the First Anglo-Burmese War and the Treaty of Yandaboo (1826), the political instability led to the immigration of Kachin and Kuki people (Wave 7) into the region across the Patkai and Arakan Yoma. They constitute the Singphos in Upper Assam, and the Kuki-Chin tribes in Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao. The beginning of tea plantations in Assam (1835) by the British led to settlements of Mundari speaking people (Wave 8) (Munda, Santal, Savara, Oraon, Gond etc. tribes). The beginning of British administration also led to a large influx of service holders and professionals from Bengal, Rajasthan, Nepal, etc. (Wave 9). To increase land productivity, the British encouraged Muslim peasants from Mymensingh district of present-day Bangladesh (Wave 10) to settle in Assam that began in 1901. The last major group to immigrate are the Bengali Hindu refugees, especially from the Sylhet district of Bangladesh following the Partition of India (Wave 11).

Inputs from these and other smaller groups have gone towards the building of a unique multi-ethnic socio-cultural situation.

A temporal model of Peopling of Assam based on ethnolinguistic groups[1]
(The numbers in brackets indicate "waves" as described in the text)
Austroasiatic Sino-Tibetan Tai-Kadai Indo-Aryan
Period Tibeto-Burman Shan people Indo-Aryans (Assamese Brahmins)[5]

Aryo-Dravidian, Mongol Dravidian[6]

Pre-historic (1) Austronesian peoples
   - Khasi people
   - Pnar people
(2) Tibeto-Burman
   - Eastern Himalayan
   - North Assam
   - Bodo-Kachari people
   - Karbi people
Proto-Historic (3) Hindus - Assamese Brahmins
  • 6th century AD as per Nidhanpur copper plate inscriptions.[5]
  • Settlements of Brahmins of various Gotras and Shakha for promotion of Vedic religion and culture.[5]
Medieval (5) Ahom
(6) Later day (Buddhist) Tai
(4) Muslims
Colonial (8) Munda peoples (7) Kuki people, Kachin people (6) Later day (Buddhist) Tai (9) Hindus
   - Bengalis
   - Marwari people
   - Gorkhas
(10) Bengali Muslim peasants
Post Independence (11) Bengali Hindu Refugees

Social formations[edit]

The process of social formation in Assam has been marked by simultaneous sanskritization and tribalization (de-sanskritization) of the different groups of people that have settled in Assam at different times, and this process of social formation is best studied in three periods: (1) Pre-colonial, (2) Colonial and (3) Post-colonial periods.[7]

Ethnic groups[edit]

Assam is acknowledged as the settling land for a lot of civilizations. A number of tribal grouping have landed in the soils of Assam in the course of diverse directions as the territory was linked to a number of states and many different countries. Negritos, Dravidians, Tibeto-Burmans as well as Aryo-Dravidians and Mongol-Dravidian speaking Indo-Aryan languages had been the most important traditional groups that arrived at the site and lived in the very old Assam. They were well thought-out as the ‘aborigines’ of Assam and yet at the moment they are an essential elements of the “Assamese Diaspora”.

Tai-Ahoms were historically the dominant group of Assam and were the ethnic group associated with the term "Assamese". Along with Tai Ahoms, they were other prominent groups that ruled Assam valley during the medieval period, those belonging to the Koch and Sutiya communities. The former ruling western Assam from 1515 to 1949 while the latter from 1187 to 1673 in the eastern part of the state. Bengalis are another major group of Assam and are a majority in the Barak Valley. Bodos are the dominant group in Bodoland. They mostly speak the Tibeto-Burman Bodo language and live in Bodoland. Many Bodos want to politically separate from Assam and want the creation of a separate state.

Though some people with political aspirations have tried to spread the notion in the people of the rest of the world about the Ahoms being the defining element of Assamese society, that is far from being true. Assamese language and culture started to take roots more than a millennium before the arrival of the Ahoms. Even though the word "Assam",the present name of the state, has been ascribed to the word "Shyam/Siam" (which was how the Ahoms were referred to in the earlier days). Ahoms along with Sutiya and Koch are still regarded as semi-tribal groups who have nominally converted to Hinduism even though keeping alive their own tribal traditions and customs. Ahoms like all the Sino - Tibetian groups in Assam are outside the caste system.

As per latest development Tai Ahoms, Koch and Sutiya have realised the above-mentioned points and have applied for ST status along with Moran, Mottack and the Tea tribes.[8] This will make Assam a predominantly Tribal state having wider geo-political ramifications.

Migration of Hindus to Assam started very early in history. According to some historians Hindus started migrating to Assam from North India as early as the 4th century BC. The first Hindu group to have arrived in Assam were the Kalitas. They brought the Indo-European speech Assamese to the Brahmaputra Valley. They are regarded to have introduced Hinduism in the North-East. Before the arrival of the Vedic Brahmins, the Kalitas used to perform the priestly duties. Though the exact places from where the Kalitas came has not yet been ascertained, there are various theories.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Taher 1993
  2. ^ Taher 1993. Waves are migrations at a particular point of time, whereas streams were continuous migrations over time, at albeit different rates
  3. ^ Guha 1984, p75. The Indo-Aryans brought with them a system of wet rice cultivation (sali), iron, plough and cattle. The later myths on Parashurama, Bashistha and Narakasura attest to this colonization.
  4. ^ Assamese Sikhs in search of their roots, Indian Express Newspaper, March 13, 2009.
  5. ^ a b c North-East India: Land, People and Economy, page #390
  6. ^
  7. ^ Bhagawati 2002
  8. ^


  • Bhagawati, A C (2002) "Ethnic Identities in North-East India", N K Bose Memorial Lectures. Vihangama, IGNCA Newsletter, Vol II, March–April 2002
  • Taher, Mohammad (1993) The Peopling of Assam and contemporary social structure in Ahmad, Aijazuddin (ed) Social Structure and Regional Development, Rawat Publications, New Delhi
  • Guha, Amalendu (1984) Pre-Ahom Roots and the Medieval State in Assam: A Reply, Social Scientist, Vol 12, No. 6, pp70–77