DAKKHANI SIKHS or Sikhs of the Deccan, a distinctive ethnic community scattered in parts of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka, are the descendants of Punjabi Sikhs who went to the South during the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries and permanently settled in what was then the princely state of Hyderabad. The first Punjabi Sikhs to travel to the South comprised the 300strong contingent which arrived at Nanded in 1708 in the train of Guru Gobind Singh (1666-1708).
The Guru was assassinated and cremated at Nanded in October 1708. Many of his followers returned to the Punjab but some stayed back. Those who stayed on established a shrine at Nanded commemorating the Guru and tilled the land around it for sustenance. They married local women willing to be converted to Sikhism and brought up their children and grandchildren as Sikhs. Nanded fell in the territory of AsafJah (d. 1748), a noble of the Mughal court at Delhi, who became independent and founded the dynasty of the Nizams of Hyderabad.
Several Sikhs found employment in the irregular force of the Nizam. During the time of the third Nizam, SikandarJah (1803-27), a Sikh force, 1200 strong, called Jami`at Sikhan was raised in 1810-11 on the recommendation of Raja Chandu Lal, a Punjabi Khatri and influential dignitary at the Nizam`s court.These men immigrated from the Punjab through arrangement made with Maharaja Ranjit Singh. Besides, some Punjabi Sikhs enlisted in the personal troops of Raja Chandu Lal and his brother, who was governor of Berar.
Around 1830, Maharaja Ranjit Singh sent 150 men under a sardar, Chanda Singh, for the construction of Gurdwara Takht Sachkhand Sri Hazur Sahib Abichalnagar at Nanded. Not all of them returned to their native land on the completion of the edifice. Further immigration took place during the time of the fourth Nizam, Nasir udDaula (1827-57). Most of them who settled in Hyderabad married local women, raised Sikh families, and built gurdwaras wherever they lived in sufficient numbers.
Later generations usually intermarried within the nascent Sikh community, mostly concentrated in towns such as Hyderabad Secunderabad, Nanded, Aurarigabad, Nizamabad, Karimnagar and Wararigal. According to Captain A.H. Bingley, Sikhs A Handbook for Indian Army, 1918, their total number, evidently based on the 1911 census, was 4,637. The Dakkhani Sikhs jealously preserved their religious and cultural identity, though they could not remain totally immune to local influence. To quote Captain Bingley again, “The Dekhani Sikh is distinguishable from his Punjabi confrere by his dress, which is still much the same as it was in the time of Govind Singh.
They wear the Jkacha or short drawers, and their head dress is a small tightly tied pag such as the Sikhs of the Punjab now wear under the turban. As true Govindi Sikhs they are careful observers of the five kakkas and conform strictly to the ordinances of the tenth Guru.” Until the accession of Hyderabad state to India in 1948, the economic condition of the Dakkhani Sikhs remained low and they were backward educationally, too. The situation has, however, improved considerably since.
Among other factors, the influx of Sikhs uprooted from what became Pakistan in 1947, mostly belonging to trading class, deeply influenced the way of life of the Dakkhani Sikhs. Today there are among them flourishing businessmen, contractors, transporters, industrialists, educationists, lawyers and progressive farmers. Socially, they are no longer a diaspora struggling to preserve their identity in an alien land, but form an important element of the Sikh mainstream.
1. Bingley, Capt. A.H., Sikhs -A Handbook for Indian Army. Calcutta, 1918