Vellalars are a dominant caste of Tamil agriculturalists of Tamil Nadu, Kerala states in India and in neighbouring Sri Lanka. They are also found amongst the Tamil diaspora around the world. Like many other castes of Tamils they were also originally associated with farming, today they are found in all walks of life.


;OriginsMost Vellala subcastes share broadly similar origin myths that stress their links with the soil as agriculturists (as contrasted with artisans), their origin in the Ganga (Gangetic Valley) and migration from northern to southern India during the distant past, and their close relationship with the three ancient Tamil dynasties—Chera, Chola, and Pandya—in spite of the Vellalas' ineligibility for kingship. There is fairly strong literary and archeological evidence linking core Vellala subcastes with a group of chieftains called velir; the earliest references are found in the Sangam literature (first to third century A.D.). Until about the fourteenth century A.D., the velir were prominent in the Tamil polity, economy, and society, and they have been linked with virtually all the major ruling dynasties. They were autonomous and collectively wielded significant political influence. Although ineligible to be crowned as kings, they were bride givers to the three "crowned" kings. They were active militarily but also had a strong base as landholders of fertile, paddy-growing tracts. They were celebrated for their large and lavish charities and for their patronage of literature and poetry. In the post-Sangam period, velir autonomy decreased, although they continued as feudatories, with key civic and military positions. Their position as a landed elite with military and administrative power continued through the subsequent periods. The Vellala served as revenue officers, temple trustees and managers, magistrates, administrative agents, rentiers, village chiefs, and village accountants. The literary sources on the Vellala make a distinction between those "who eat by plowing the land" and those "who eat by getting the land plowed (through others)." Even now, this distinction serves as an index of internal hierarchical differentiation.

While the Vellalar shared a fighter quality with the Kallar, he also shared an interest in intellectual matters with the Brahman, according to the Vellalar stereotype. The Vellalar, too, looked upon scholarship as his domain. However, in contrast to the Sanskrit learning of the Brahman, the Vellalar was said to be the master of Tamil learning, representing an ancient Tamil scholarly tradition. Summing up the Vellalar, he was stereotypically presented as perhaps the unlikely peasant warrior with a scholarly bent. He was the member of a caste that upheld Tamil civilisation as farmers, warriors, and scholars.

;SettlementsThe Vellala live in all the districts of the state and in both urban and rural areas. In the latter, the settlement pattern is typically multicaste villages. Depending on the region, the Vellala may be the dominant caste, may share dominance with another caste, or may be a minority. In villages along the river basins, where wet rice cultivation is prominent, the dominant caste is often Vellala (of either category). Within a Village, each Vellala subcaste, as indeed every subcaste, tends to live in a separate street. In larger villages and towns, this pattern gets blurred. There is no one distinct style of Vellala housing because house style is a function of wealth and location (rural or urban).


The Vellala live throughout Tamil Nadu. Different subcastes are localized in different regions. For example, Mudaliar subcastes are prominent in Tondaimandalam (with a concentration in Chinglepet), Choliya Pilli and Karkattar in Cholamandalam (concentrated in Thanjavur), Kongu Vellala or Kavundar in Kongumandalam (concentrated in Coimbatore), and Saiva Pillaimar, Karkattar, and Nangudi Vellala in Pandimandalam (concentrated in Madurai and Tirunelveli). In general, the first category of Vellala (who often call themselves vegetarian Vellala) predominate in the paddy-growing river-valley regions.


Since the Vellala are heterogeneous and live in multicaste environments, an estimate of the population is difficult. Current censuses do not provide statistics by caste. In some of the British period census reports, caste figures were given for some districts, and the Vellala constituted about 10 percent of the population. However, the criteria for defining Vellala seems to vary and there is no clear basis for interdistrict comparison.

;Linguistic Affiliation

Among the living Dravidian Languages, Tamil has the oldest recorded history and classical literary tradition. It is closely related to Telugu, Kannada, and Malayalam, which are spoken in the neighboring states. (Dravidian languages are also spoken in small pockets in Central and eastern India, and in Pakistan.) The contemporary Tamil script is derived from the Brahmi script, which is also the source for the scripts of the Indo-Aryan Language Group. The Vellala speak a dialect that is common among high-caste non-Brahmans in Tamil Nadu. It is different from the highly Sanskritized language of the Brahmans and also from the Language of the lowest castes. The Vellala of different districts flavor their speech with the local dialects.

;Social Organization

The relation of the Vellala to other castes as well as Vellala internal ideology must be understood as both influencing all aspects of Vellala economic, political, religious, and kinship activities. The schematic division of Indian society into four hierarchical varnas (castes) — Brahman, Kshatriya, Vaisya, and Sudra—does not accurately reflect the situation in Tamil Nadu. While the Brahmans rank at the top and the Untouchables or Scheduled Castes at the bottom, between these two extremes are a wide range of castes and subcastes whose exact standing in relation to one another depends on the region and the village. Generally, a distinction is made between "clean" non-Brahmans, who adopt a Sanskritized life-style, and the others. The former are vegetarians, do not drink alcohol, eschew manual labor Including plowing (if they are agriculturalists), and have very conservative attitudes and customs regarding women. The other category of upper non-Brahmans conforms to the Kshatriya ideal, which emphasizes manual strength, a land base, command over labor, political authority, more interaction with other castes, and so on. Although there is a greater emphasis on warriorlike qualities than on ritual status, Concern with women's purity is high, especially in groups that were connected to royal dynasties of the past. In the twofold division of the Vellala, the second category (e.g., Kavundar, Nangudi Vellala, Tuluva Vellala) falls clearly into the Kshatriya model. The first category (e.g., Kondaikatti Vellala, Karkattar, Saiva Pillaimar) combines aspects of the two models: (1) high ritual status expressed through strict rules of interdining and intermarriage (according to a popular proverb, the Vellala are more orthodox than Brahmans), and (2) land base and political visibility (in traditional society). Thus the two Vellala categories occupy different structural positions in the social order.

;Political Organization

The Vellala were, in the past, prominent in political networks constituted by the court, temple, and caste councils. They maintained their Dominance through endowments to temples, charity to the poor, and patronage of the labor and service castes. In attempting to convert this prominence to secular political status, they have had mixed success. Often, they have been pushed out by lower castes, whose collective ethnic identity is perhaps stronger. The Vellalas' internal hierarchies and their fixed ideological positions have in part prevented the development of a unified political identity. One occasion when such an identity did develop was in the early twentieth century when the census classified the Vellala as Sudra. The Vellala responded angrily by citing evidence that as agriculturists they rightly belonged to the third varna (i.e., Vaisya). At about the same time, a journal, Vellālan, was also published for some years, focusing on the problems of the community and the need for educational and occupational advancement. Today many Vellala subcastes have their own associations, which are more social than political. The Justice party of Tamil Nadu, formed early in this century, was mainly a reaction to Brahman social and political domination. Considerable early support for the party came from Vellala subcastes. However, later developments based on Tamil linguistic identity (as exemplified by the D.K. and D.M.K. movements), blurred the distinctive Vellala component. In the state as a whole, the Vellala are politically weak, though they are very active in Certain districts.

Common titles

Common titles are Pillai, Mudaliar and Gounder. When southern parts of Tamilnadu came into the control of Telugu Nayak Chieftains, Vellalar were employed by them as accountants, hence they assumed the title Kanakku Pillai, in Kerala they use the title Karnam Pillai.

Major divisions

Major subdivisions are

In Kerala and Sri Lanka

In Kerala, there is a significant population of Tamil and Malayalam speaking Vellalar population. They are believed to have migrated to work in courts of the Travancore kingdom as accountants.

The Vellalars of Jaffna have been chronicled clearly in the Yalpana Vaipava Malai and other historical texts of Jaffna kingdom. These Vellalar chiefs claim descent from traditional minor-kings and chiefs of Tamil Nadu. They have been commanders of Chola and Pandya armies as well as respected ministers and administrators. From the 13th century when migration of Vellalar chiefs to Jaffna took place, Tamil Nadu has seen a decline in the traditional power of Vellars except in
Kongu Nadu. [ [ Yalpana Vaipava Malai] ]

In Sri Lanka, they are currently estimated to form over fifty (50)% of the population of the Sri Lankan Tamils in the Northern Province and Jaffna. (See also Hinduism in Sri Lanka and Caste in Sri Lanka). [ [ "Caste in Tamil Culture"] ] The Aaarunattu Vellar community also prevails in Sri Lanka. See the Ponnambalam-Coomaraswamy Family for the Ponnambalam-Coomaraswamy family centric rise of a Vellala elite in 19th century Sri Lanka.

aints in Hinduism

Nayanars (Shaivas)

;ThirunavukkarasarDetails of Appar's life are found in own hymns, Sekkizhar's Periya Puranam (the last book of the Tirumurai, which tells stories of the Nayanars) and also Cuntarar's Thiruttondartokai. He was born in Thiruvamur, on the banks of the river Pennai near Cuddalore in Tamil Nadu), to a Vellalar family. His parents both died while the poet was still a young child. His elder sister Tilakavathiyar went to serve at the temple of Lord Siva at Atikai ( Panruti). Marulnikkiyar travelled to nearby Patalipura to join a Jain monastery. He was given the name Dharmasena by his Jain teachers.

After a while, afflicted by a painful illness, Dharmasena returned home. At the Siva temple where his sister served he prayed for relief and was cured miraculously. He sang his first hymn Kurrayinavaru Vilakku. His reconversion prompted the Pallava king Mahendravarman I to subject Appar to a number of ordeals and torture. He overcame all of these apparently miraculously and converted the king himself.

;ArivattayaA rich Vellala by name Thayanar used to lived in in Kannamangalam in the Chola kingdom. He was leading the life of an ideal Grihastha (householder) . Thayanar was a great devotee of Lord Siva. His devotion took the form of a daily offering to the Lord of food prepared with red rice, a sauce made of red herb, and mango pickle. He considered this as an act of great devotion to the Lord. The Lord was highly pleased with Thayanar's devotion and blessed him with ultimate state of consciousness.;ViralmindaA Vellala by caste and a staunch devotee of Lord Siva, Viralminda Nayanar was born in Sengunru, a hilly place. Through grace of Shiva, he was free from ego. He had equal vision. He served His devotees and attained purity of mind. To him worship of Siva Bhaktas was equal, if not even superior to the worship of Lord Siva Himself. He felt that no one could get Siva's grace without first worshipping Siva Bhaktas. Before worshipping the Lord at the temples, he used to worship the Siva Bhaktas who might be found there. ;ManakancharaManakanchara was Vellala by caste and Senathipathi (war general) by profession, was born in Kancharur in Chola kingdom. People of the community had the highest regard for him. He was a contemporary of Sundaramurthi Nayanar. To him adoration of Siva Bhaktas was the highest form of worship of the Lord. He would read their minds from their look, and would serve them without their asking.;Muruga Muruga Nayanar was born in Tirupukalur, a place for many other Nayanars also. Daily he would wake up well before sunrise, take bath, wear the sacred ash on his forehead, do his Nitya Karmas, and go to the garden with a basket. Repeating the Panchakshara(holy chant) he would collect flowers, and as mentioned in the Siva Agamas, make colourful garlands and offer to the Lord. He got merged in the Divine Effulgence of the Lord finally.;SattiSatti Nayanar was a Vellala by caste. He was born in Varinjiyur in the Chola kingdom. He was a sincere devotee of Lord Siva and honoured His devotees. He could not tolerate anyone speaking ill of them. Lord Siva understood his pure inner Bhav and showered His grace on him. ;VayilarVayilar Nayanar belonged to Mylapore. He was a Siva Bhakta. He constructed temples mentally and did Manasic (mental) worship. He built the temple of non-forgetfulness, lit the shining lamp of Self-illumination, bathed the Lord in the waters of immortal Ananda (bliss) and worshipped Him with the elixir of supreme love. Thus he obtained salvation.;MunaiyaduvarMunaiyaduvar Nayanar was a great Bhakta of Lord Siva and His devotees. He was always the hope of the desperate, the weak and the vanquished.He used to feed Siva bhaktas and used to earn money by working as a professional fighter and hence he was called 'Munaiyaduvar'. Lord Siva was highly pleased with his devotion and blessed him. ;KotpuliKotpuli Nayanar was a Vellala by caste and was the Commander-in-Chief of a Chola king. He was highly devoted to Lord Siva. He was very pious and virtuous. It was his practice to purchase paddy out of his income and give it to Siva temples for the Lord's food. He achieved the state of ultimate bliss with his intense devotion to Lord Shiva.


External links

* [ Saivaneri Org website dedicated to saiva vellalar]
* [ Kerala Vellalars claim on Lord Ayyappan]
* [ Militarism and Caste in Jaffna by Taraki Sivaram]

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