Just like many Marathi families settled in Tanjore during the time of rule of Marathas at this place, many Sikhs opted not to return to their native land but to settle in the Assam itself. These Sikhs trace their genealogies to few hundred Sikh soldiers which arrived in Assam to help the Ahom rulers in the year 1820. These Sikhs were sent by Ranjit Singh as a friendly gesture.
Many of them perished but many among those who survived chose to settle down there. Many of them married the local girls. Most of the descendants are mostly concentrated in Lanka in Nagaon district of Assam living there for Sikhs for approximately two hundred years.
In the earlier times, the year 1505 to be precise, the first prophet of the Sikhs, Guru Nanak Dev had visited Kamrup (Assam). This fact is recorded in the documents concerning the numerous journeys undertaken by Guru Nanak in various stages of his life. It is said that, he had Srimanta Shankardeva (the founder of the Mahapuruxiya Dharma) as the Guru traveled from Dhaka to Assam.
After this journey by the first Guru, Ninth Guru or prophet of Sikhs Guru Tegh Bahadur also visited Assam in 1668. This was the time when armies of Aurangzeb tried the best to cross the Brahamputra river and enter the Assam. They were thoroughly routed by the Ahom general Lachit Borphukan. Guru visited the the place called Dhubri. A famous for the Sikh Gurudwara was constructed to commemorate his visit. Every year Sikhs from all over India and foreign visit this holy place.The grateful Ahom King invited Guruji to the Kamakhya shrine, where he was honoured.
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.
Barely a few days ago, I happened to be watching a TV program called “Mysterious North East”. In fact this a an interesting series on North Eastern states of India made by Bhupen Hazarika and Kalpana Lajmi. In that particular episode, he showed a Gurudwara and a village inhabited almost totally by Sikhs. These descendants of original Sikhs although follows all the Sikh tenets, many of them keep the hair, they resemble the Mongolians. This had happened due to their mingling and marrying into Assamese families. Most of these Sikhs are farmers. In fact, there was scene of extracting sugarcane juice in a machine rotated by Bullocks. It was a familiar scene in the villages of Punjab during my childhood and still now.
During a period two centuries, they have assimilated and integrated the Assamese culture into their own original culture. They speak fluent Assamese and forgotten to speak Punjabi the mother tongue of their forefathers. They call themselves as Assamese Sikhs.
Their are other classes of Sikhs living in Assam which don’t mix up with these Sikhs. In fact, these Sikhs do not marry their girls with the Assamese Sikhs and consider them as inferior class forgetting the very basic tenet of their Gurus teachings which preached the equality of all human beings.
Some research says that the Assamese Sikhs may have their roots in Bihari Sikhs which to some extent seems logical given the vast distance between Punjab and Assam. It is not easily understood, how the Ahom kings has corresponded with Mahraja Ranjit Singh as there were numerous states between these two places. How the soldiers might had reached the Assam after treading the whole distance of thousands of miles without getting into problems along the route. How they had overcome the temptation to enroll themselves into the service of better off intervening kingdoms?
Unlike the Maharashtrians who chose to remain in the Tanjavore, the Sikhs in Assam depended mainly on the agriculture or manual labor. This is due to the fact that Assam was virtually outside the realm of mainstream India due to geography of the area. It was almost inaccessible and so suffered from the lack of education and other amenities. Whereas, the Tamilian Maharashtrians, when they lost their respected position after the decline of Maratha rule, took to educations and excelled in the field and many of them are prominent people in the Government echelons.
Sikhs in Assam have been forgotten by their cousins in Punjab. Unlike the Sikhs which arrived in India after partition settled in many places of the country and by the dint of hard work became prosperous, the Assamese Sikhs live miserable lives. The indolence which must have inherited from their Assamese hosts may be one factor responsible for this. It is this feature of being satisfied with whatever is available and lack of initiative which is the bane of Assamese people.