Ahom religion

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Ahom Religion
Regions with significant populations
Lit Lai Peyn Kaka, Lai Lit Nang Hoon Pha, Lai-Phala, Phra-Long (Buddhist),
Ahom language
Ethnic religion of the Ahom people

The Ahom religion is the ethnic religion of the Ahom people. The Ahom people came into Assam in 1228, led by a Tai prince Sukaphaa, and admixed with the local people. The people who came into Assam included two clans of priests, joined later by a third, who brought with them their own religion, rituals, practices and scriptures. The religion is based on ritual-oriented ancestor worship [4] that required animal sacrifice (Ban-Phi), [5] though there was at least one Buddhism influenced ritual in which sacrifice was forbidden (Phuralung). [6] . Ancestor worship and the animistic concept of khwan are two elements it shares with other Tai folk religions. [7] There is no idolatry except for the titular god of the Ahom king [8] and though there is a concept of heaven or a heavenly kingdom (Mong Phi, sometimes identified with a part of Tian, China) [9] , there is no concept of hell. [10] It was the state religion of the Ahom kingdom in the initial period.

Ethnic religion Religion defined by the ethnicity of its adherents

In religious studies, an ethnic religion is a religion associated with a particular ethnic group. Ethnic religions are often distinguished from universal religions which claim to not be limited in ethnic or national scope, such as Christianity, Islam, Buddhism or Jainism. Ethnic religions are not only independent religions. Some localised denominations of global religions are practised solely by certain ethnic groups. For example, the Assyrians have a unique denominational structure of Christianity known as the Assyrian Church of the East.

Ahom people ethnic group

The Ahom, or Tai-Ahom is an ethnic group found today in the Indian states of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. They are the descendants of the Tai people who reached the Brahmaputra valley of Assam in 1228 and the local people who joined them over the course of history. Sukaphaa, the leader of the Tai group and his 9000 followers established the Ahom kingdom, which controlled much of the Bramhaputra Valley in modern Assam until 1826. Even though the Ahom made up a relatively small portion of the kingdom's population, they maintained their original Ahom language and practiced their traditional religion till the 17th-century, when the Ahom court as well as the commoners adopted the Assamese language, and Ekasarana dharma and Saktism religions.

Assam State in northeast India

Assam is a state in northeast India, situated south of the eastern Himalayas along the Brahmaputra and Barak River valleys. Assam covers an area of 78,438 km2 (30,285 sq mi). The state is bordered by Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh to the north; Nagaland and Manipur to the east; Meghalaya, Tripura, Mizoram and Bangladesh to the south; and West Bengal to the west via the Siliguri Corridor, a 22 kilometres (14 mi) strip of land that connects the state to the rest of India.

The Ahom kingdom expanded suddenly in the 16th-century and the Ahom peoples became a small minority in their own kingdom—though they continued to wield control. Subsequently, they slowly converted and by the early 19th-century, Ahom religion declined to be replaced by Hinduism. In the 1931 survey, all Ahoms listed Hinduism as their religion. [11] Nevertheless, since the 1960s and 1970s due to an Ahom revivalism movement, as well as efforts from scholars, many of the older practices of the Ahom religion are being resurrected.

Ahom kingdom Kingdom in the Brahmaputra Valley in Assam, India

The Ahom kingdom was a kingdom originating in Medieval India, in the Brahmaputra Valley in Assam, India. It is well known for maintaining its sovereignty for nearly 600 years and successfully resisting Mughal expansion in Northeast India. Established by Sukaphaa, a Tai prince from Mong Mao, it began as a mong in the upper reaches of the Brahmaputra based on wet rice agriculture. It expanded suddenly under Suhungmung in the 16th century and became multi-ethnic in character, casting a profound effect on the political and social life of the entire Brahmaputra valley. The kingdom became weaker with the rise of the Moamoria rebellion, and subsequently fell to repeated Burmese invasions of Assam. With the defeat of the Burmese after the First Anglo-Burmese War and the Treaty of Yandabo in 1826, control of the kingdom passed into East India Company hands.

The three priestly clans (Mo'sam, Mo'hung, Mo'Plong) of the Ahom people are the current custodians of the Ahom religion. [12]

Dam-Phi (ancestor worship)

Dam-Phi (Dam: dead; Phi: god) is the worship of ancestors as gods and it is performed either in individual households (Dam-Phi) or publicly ( Me-Dam-Me-Phi ). The dead in Ahom society becomes a Dam (literally, 'spirit of the dead'). [13] They are held in awe (fear, wonder, and reverence); worshipped and propitiated for protection. [14] After the fourteenth generation a Dam becomes a god (Phi) and is worshiped by the whole community. [15] There are three grades of Dams graded according to the generation (with the highest living generation numbered one) and the circumstances of death, and they progress from one grade to the next.


Me-Dam-Me-Phi is the most important Ancestor worship communal festival in the Ahom religion celebrated by the Ahom people on 31st January every year in memory of the departed. It is the manifestation of the concept of ancestor worship that the Ahoms share with other peoples originating from the Tai stock. It is a festival to show respect to the departed ancestors and remember their contribution to society.

Awe is an emotion comparable to wonder but less joyous. On Robert Plutchik's wheel of emotions awe is modeled as a combination of surprise and fear.

Griha Dam

The head of the household and his wife or the parents are called the Na Dam ("new Dam", 2nd generation), the next higher generation the Ghai Dam ("main Dam", 3rd generation) and the next higher generation the Chi rwan Dam (4th generation). Each Dam is complete only when both the husband and wife are dead. These three Dams constitute the Griha Dam. Those who die unnaturally, without children or unmarried are called Jokorua Dam and are not included in the Griha Dam and treated and worshipped differently. [16]

The household Dams reside in the North-east pillar of the kitchen, Pho Kam (Assamese: Dam Khuta), which is usually raised first during the construction of the house and is considered most sacred place in the entire house. [17] The Dam Phi rituals are directed at the Pho Kam. [18] The household deity, Sheng Ka Pha, is also worshiped at the Pho Kam. [19]

Chang Dam

The next nine generations of Dams (5th to 13th) constitute Chang Dam, the Dams who have been let out of the house into the threshold; [20] and are worshiped according to special rites, called na puruxor saul khua (feast for nine generations).

Chao Phi Dam

This is the final stage for Dams and in this stage, the Dams (14th and above) are considered to have become gods (Phi) and merged with original forefathers of the entire community collectively called Chao Phi Dam. In this class of Dams the two evil deities, Ra Khin and Ba Khin too belong, but they are worshipped with lower status and separately. [21] The Jokorua Dams in the fourteenth generation become Khin and join these two deities. [22]

Gods and cosmogony

As mentioned in Ahom Scripture Lit Lai Peyn Kaka At first, there was nothing besides the water of the ocean. Pha Tu Ching Which is an Omnipotent shapeless, impersonal God Almighty [23] ; opened his eyes to the void, and thus created from his breast the first deity—Khun Theu Kham. Freshly created, and finding nothing to lean on, Khun Theu Kham dove into the water and then laid on his back, and a lotus plant issued from his navel. This was followed by the creation of a crab, a tortoise and an eight-hooded snake that encircled the tortoise. The eight hoods spread in eight directions. Then a white elephant with long tusks and two mountains in the north and south were created, on which pillars were placed. Then a pair of gold-tinted spiders were created that floated in the air and dropped excrements, from which earth came about. The spiders then placed eight pillars in the eight corners of the wall and spun their web to create heaven. Heaven in Tai-Ahom Religion denotes Tien a part Yunnan In Southwest China [24] , known as Mong Phi.

Creation of gods

Pha Tu Ching also created a consort for Khun Theu Kham, and Lon Kām (four golden eggs) were born to them. Phā Tu Chin then created a Thaolung to warm the eggs—but the eggs would not hatch for many years. So he sprinkled ambrosia (nya pulok) on them and four gods emerged: (1) Pha-shang-din-kham-neyeu, (2) Sheng-cha-pha-kham, (3) Sheng-kam-pha, and (4) Ngi-ngao-kham (also called Phu ra). The fourth son, Ngi-ngao-kham stayed back to help create the world. The third son revolted and turned into an evil spirit, though his son Sheng Ka Pha became a household deity.

Worshipful gods

According to Ahom beliefs, the supreme, formless, omnipotent being is Pha Tu Ching, who is the creator, sustainer and destroyer of everything. [25] [26] The other gods and the universe are his creation. The Ahom pantheon of gods that generally receive oblations are Lengdon, Khao Kham, Ai Leng Din, Jan Chai Hung, Jashing Pha, Chit Lam Cham, Mut-Kum Tai Kum, Ra-khin, Ba-khin and Chao Phi Dam. [27]

The Pantheon of major Ahom Gods
1Khao KhamThe presiding deity of water
2Ai Leng DinThe presiding deity of earth
3Jan Chai HungThe master god of all natural powers
4LengdonThe ruler of the whole universe
5Chit Lam ChamThe presiding deity of seven powers
6Mut-Kum Tai-KumThe master gods of light: the sun and the moon
7Jashing PhaThe original wise forefathers, masters of language, culture, education and knowledge.
8Chao Phi DamThe forefathers above the thirteenth generation.
9Ra-KhinThe evil power that creates different diseases, pain, misery in the body.
10Ba-KhinThe evil power who creates diseases, pain in mind.

Chumpha: The Chumpha (Chumpha-Rung Seng-Mong, Assamese: Chum-deo), was the titular deity of the Ahom dynasty, represented by a relic and which symbolized the Ahom king's sovereignty. It accompanied Sukaphaa across the Patkai on his journey into Assam. [28] It used to be housed in the royal seat, till Suklenmung (1539–1552) moved it away and it played a prominent role during Singarigharutha ceremony. [29] The relic is said to have been brought down from MongPhi by Kun Lung and Kun Lai the ancestor of Sukaphaa rulers Of MongRi-MongRam (Now Xishuangbanna , China) [30] and could be worshipped and handled only by the king.

Other honourable Gods

There are many other Gods including Major Ahom Gods. The Tai-Ahom people and generally had numbers of gods and spirits. They believe that in this world of phenomena visible objects have invisible spirits [31] . Here are some of them [32] .


The religious aspects are inscribed in scriptures written in Ahom language in a kind of barks known as in Sanchi Bark. Ahom religion has various manuscripts on Divination, Prognostics, khwan calling, incantation, Phralung. The three priestly clans (Mo'sam, Mo'hung, Mo'Plong) widely use these scripts. Some prayer scripts are known as Ban-Seng were found from Habung. Some of them were brought from Yunnan, China.[ citation needed ]

Lit Lai Pak Peyn Ka KaThe Lit-Lai-Pat-Peyn-Ka-Ka is considered as the main scripture of Ahom religion. [34]
Most of the cosmology and Gods of Ahom religion derived from this vast scripture.
Khyek Phi Pha Nuru Lengdon
Lit Khamphi Lengdon Lanmung
These two texts enumerate the ritual worship of Lengdon
Ming Mang PhurālōngThis text enumerates the Phurālōng ritual worship.
Doya Phurā Puthi
Nemimang Phura Yao Ching Bong Phura
Urak Pha Phra
These three books list the Jataka tales of the Buddha.
Khyek Phi Umpha
Umpha Phi Kun An Lao
These books enumerate the ritual worship of Umpha
Dam-Phi-Chi-Phun-Kka-Rik Khwan
Khon Ming
Bar Phai
These books list the Rik-khwan ritual worship for longevity.
Lit Me-Dam Me-PhiThis book lists the ritual worship of ancestors.
Lai lit Nang Hoon PhaThis lists the ritual Ahom marriage ceremony called Cho-klong.
Jatak Phi An AkIncluded details of Rituals related to Birth Ceremony. [35]
Lit Ye Seng Pha:Included details of Rituals related to Ye-Seng-Pha (Ancestor Queen, Lord Of Knowledge and Arts). [36]
Kai Tham
Kai theng Muong
manuscript gives the ritual of sacrificing of a chicken by incantation without causing death by suffocation and slitting and gives the method of divination by studying the chicken bones or chicken legs. [37]
Pat nam Lai
Lit Aap tang
Books included the process of purifying water.
Pun Ko’ muongA manuscript that describes the genesis.
Phi Luong - Phi WanA manuscript is of Ahom astrology.


The Ahom religion is based on rituals, and there are two types of rituals: Ban-Phi that involve animal sacrifice and Phuralung that forbids animal sacrifice. Rituals could also be performed at the household level or at the communal level.

Communal ceremonies


Me-Dam-Me-Phi (Ahom language  : Me-worship; Dam-spirit of the dead; Phi-god) is one of the major ceremonies aMōng the Ahom religious rituals that is performed publicly, propitiating the spirits of the dead. In the modern times, this is held annually on 31 January. The rituals begin with the creation of a temporary structure with bamboo and thatch octagonal in shape, called ho phi. In it six raised platters on the main platform are placed for the following divinities: Jashing Pha, Jan Chai Hung, Lengdon, Chit Lam Cham, Mut-Kum Tai-Kum, Chao Phi Dam. To the left of the main platform the raised platforms forKhao Kham and Ai Leng Din are placed; and to the right the raised platters of Ra Khin and Ba Khin. [38]

Rik-Khwan Mong Khwan

The Rik-Khwan Mong Khwan (Ahom language  : Rik-to call; Khwan-Life/longevity/Soul; Mōng-Nation), [39] is a ritual to worship Khwan, to enhance or to call back the prosperity of the state or a person. The Rik Kwan is an important part of the Tai-Ahom marriage system described in the old Tai script Lai Lit Nang Hoon Pha. In early days Rik-Khwan Mung Khwan was performed by the Tai-Ahom kings on the victory of a war or the installation of the new kings. In the ceremony, devotee propitiates the god Khao Kham (the god of water) and invoke to restore the soul in the original normal place and to grant a long life. [40]

Non-communal rituals

Dam Phi

The Dam Phi rituals are specific to propitiating the Na Dam, Ghai Dam, Chi rwan Dam and the Jokorua Dam at the Pho Kam pillar inside the house. These rituals are offered on all auspicious occasion in the household—the three Bihus, the Na Khua ceremony (feast following new harvest), new birth in the household, nuai tuloni biya (female puberty ceremony), Chak lang (marriage), and annual death ceremonies. [41]

Similarities With Asian Religions

Ahom religion is primarily based on worshipping Deities called Phi and Dam (Ancestor Spirit). Ancestor worship and the animistic concept of khwan are two elements it shares with other Tai folk religions. [42] While the duality of the individual self Han (Phu) and Pu are concepts that probably came from Taoism Concepts Yin and Yang. [43] The custom sacred offerings consisting of chicken and Lao traditional rice beer, both in diluted (Nam Lao) and undiluted (Luok Lao) forms can be seen in other Tai folk religion too. [44]


  1. "639 Identifier Documentation: aho – ISO 639-3". SIL International (formerly known as the Summer Institute of Linguistics). SIL International. Retrieved 2019-06-29. Ahom [aho]
  2. "Population by Religious Communities". Census India – 2001. Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. Retrieved 2019-07-01. Census Data Finder/C Series/Population by Religious Communities
  3. "Population by religion community – 2011". Census of India, 2011. The Registrar General & Census Commissioner, India. Archived from the original on 25 August 2015.
  4. "The Tai Ahom religion is explained and interpreted by the scholars differently; yet the ancient religion of the Tai Ahoms, is in essence, the religion of ancestor worship. It is a ritual oriented religion and the rituals are primarily based on the cult of ancestor worship." ( Gogoi 2011 :17)
  5. "Ban Phi' is the sacrificial process to offer oblations to the gods and ancestors." ( Gogoi 2011 :47)
  6. "Although blood sacrifice is a must in the Tai Ahom rituals, yet the 'Phuralung' ceremony needs no shed of blood of any bird and animal." ( Gogoi 2011 :48)
  7. Tai Ahom religion is entirely based on the very cult of ancestor worship and Khon (Khwan) belief and these two are the common elements present in all the Tais spreading over the world.( Gogoi 2011 :XII)
  8. "There is no image worship or Idolatry in the Tai Ahom religion except for Chumpha rung sheng mung, commonly known as Chum Pha." ( Gogoi 2011 :21)
  9. "Heaven is here Tien a part Yunnan In Southwest China." ( Gogoi 1976 :14)
  10. "The concept of 'The Heavenly Kingdom' or 'Mong Phi' is there in the Tai Ahom religion. But there is no concept of hell in this religion" ( Gogoi 2011 :21)
  11. "The 1931 Census report of Assam recorded 249,434 Ahoms in Assam spread over in various districts and they all were returned as Hindus." ( Gogoi 2011 :11)
  12. ( Gogoi 2011 :70)
  13. ( Gogoi 2011 :26)
  14. "When his descendants propitiate him with the offerings he comes down to earth and partakes the offerings and keeps an eye upon them as their guardian spirit." ( Gogoi 2011 :42)
  15. "A person becomes a Dam after his death, and he gets oblation as a household Dam, when he becomes Phi after crossing the fourteenth generation counting from the living household then he remained no longer a Dam but he is considered to be a god and in no way concerned with the particular family and becomes a national spirit or ancestor god to the whole community." ( Gogoi 2011 :34–35)
  16. ( Gogoi 2011 :27–28)
  17. ( Gogoi 2011 :28)
  18. ( Gogoi 2011 :160)
  19. ( Gogoi 1976 :13)
  20. "(Chi ren Dam) are upgraded to the threshold or jakhala to heaven and are then lifted to Chang Phi Dam." ( Gogoi 2011 :28)
  21. "Along with the gods and the Chao Phi Dam, another two evil deities are worshipped namely, ‘Ra-Khiri and ‘Ba-Khiri. Yet they are not given the same status and veneration with the eight gods and Chao Phi Dam. They are worshipped by making a platform on earth far away from the main ground of ritual. A slightly thick wall is made to separate them from the main ritual ground." ( Gogoi 2011 :30)
  22. ( Gogoi 2011 :30)
  23. ( Gogoi 2011 :17,18)
  24. ( Gogoi 1976 :14)
  25. ( Gogoi 1976 :1)
  26. ( Gogoi 2011 :19)
  27. ( Gogoi 2011 :20)
  28. ( Gogoi 1976 :9)
  29. ( Gogoi 1976 :10)
  30. ( Gogoi 1976 :9)
  31. ( Gogoi 1976 :12)
  32. ( Gogoi 1976 )
  33. ( Gogoi 1976 :13)
  34. The Tai Ahoms have a number of sacred texts and Lit Lai Pak Peyn Kaka is the most important religious scripture which is called the Bible of the Tai Ahom religion." ( Gogoi 2011 :18-19)
  35. ( Gogoi 2011 :18-19)
  36. ( Gogoi 2011 :18-19)
  37. ( Gogoi 2011 :18-19)
  38. ( Gogoi 2011 :71)
  39. ( Gogoi 2006 :43)
  40. ( Gogoi 2006 :43)
  41. ( Gogoi 2011 :152-153)
  42. "Tai Ahom religion is entirely based on the very cult of ancestor worship and Khon (Khwan) belief and these two are the common elements present in all the Tais spreading over the world." ( Gogoi 2011 :XII)
  43. ( Gogoi 2011 :vii)
  44. ( Gogoi 2011 :288)

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Further reading