DAKKHAṆĪ SIKHS or Sikhs of the Deccan, a distinctive ethnic community scattered in parts of Āndhrā Pradesh, Mahārāshṭra and Karnāṭaka, 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 Hyderābād. The first Punjabi Sikhs to travel to the South comprised the 300-strong contingent which arrived at Nāndeḍ in 1708 in the train of Gurū Gobind Siṅgh (1666-1708). The Gurū was assassinated and cremated at Nāndeḍ in October 1708. Many of his followers returned to the Punjab but some stayed back. Those who stayed on established a shrine at Nāndeḍ commemorating the Gurū 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. Nāndeḍ fell in the territory of Āsaf Jāh (d. 1748), a noble of the Mughal court at Delhi, who became independent and founded the dynasty of the Nizāms of Hyderābād. Several Sikhs found employment in the irregular force of the Nizām. During the time of the third Nizām, Sikandar Jāh (1803-27), a Sikh force, 1200 strong, called Jamī'at Sikhāṅ was raised in 1810-11 on the recommendation of Rājā Chandū Lāl, a Punjabi Khatrī and influential dignitary at the Nizām's court. These men immigrated from the Punjab through arrangement made with Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh. Besides, some Punjabi Sikhs enlisted in the personal troops of Rājā Chandū Lāl and his brother, who was governor of Berār. Around 1830, Mahārājā Raṇjīt Siṅgh sent 150 men under a sardār, Chandā Siṅgh, for the construction of Gurdwārā Takht Sachkhaṇḍ Srī Hazūr Sāhib Abichalnagar at Nāndeḍ. 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 Nizām, Nāsir ud-Daulā (1827-57). Most of them who settled in Hyderābād married local women; raised Sikh families, and built gurdwārās wherever they lived in sufficient numbers. Later generations usually intermarried within the nascent Sikh community, mostly concentrated in towns such as Hyderābād-Secunderābād, Nāndeḍ, Auraṅgābād, Nizāmābād, Karīmnagar and Wāraṅgal. 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 Dakkhaṇī 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 kachh 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 Gurū. "
Until the accession of Hyderābād state to India in 1948, the economic condition of the Dakkhaṇī 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 Dakkhaṇī Sikhs. To-day 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.
Nirvair Siṅgh Arshī