Vanniyar (Tamil: வன்னியர்), refers to a very larger social group of people spread all across South India. Vanniakula Kshatriyas are a feudal caste and descendants of the Kadava dynasty and Pallava empire that ruled Andhra, Northern Tamilnadu and Southern Karnataka, with their capital at Kanchipuram. Nowadays, they primarily live in modern Tamil Nadu where they speak Tamil, while in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka they speak their native South Indian Dravidian languages namely, Telugu and Kannada respectively.
The name Vanniyar is derived from the
Tamil word Vanni which means fire or Agni in Sanskrit. It also means Valour or Strength.
They were originally known as Pallis in South India to called as Padaiyachis. The
word Palli means "village". Padaiyachi means "commandant of the group or army"
At Sirkazhi Vaideeswaran Temple,
Inscriptions about Vanniyar Puranam are observed. It denotes that at ancient times
there were two Asuras known as Vatapi and Mahi, who worshipped Brahma and obtained
immunity from death and subsequently they garrisoned the Earth. At the request of
Gods and Lords, Jambuva Mahamuni or Sambu/Jambu Maharishi performed a Yagam, or
sacrifice by his yogic powers. Soon armed horsemen sprung from the flames, named
VanniRaya; they undertook twelve expeditions and destroyed the Asuras and freed
the Earth. Their leader then assumed the government of the country under the name
Rudra Vanniya Maharaja or Veera Vanniyan, who had five sons,the Ancestors of Vanniyar
Caste. This Tradition alludes to the destruction of the city of Vatapi by Narasimhavarman,
the King of Pallis or Pallavas.
2. Historical References
The Vanniar caste has close to 92 subcastes
among them. The titles are awarded to them based on their contribution to the society.
The Titles," Indicating Authority, Bravery and Superiority," assumed by them are
Padaiyachi (Head of an Army), Goundan/Gounder, Naicker/Nayakar, Kandar, Sambuvarayas,
Kadavarayas, Kalingarayas, Mazhavarayas, Samattiyars, Udaiyars, Varma, Kondiyars,
Nainars, Sozhaganars, Munaiarayas and Kachirayas to name a few. Some say that they
belong to Chennai and as such, they should be called as Chembians and the caste
history is well known from the Mahabhartha epic at the moment of the birth of Draupathi
from Agni kunda.
3. Caste titles or Surnames
The Vanniyars are
officially classed belonging to Vanniakula Kshatriya caste in Tamil Nadu . Depending
upon the location and status, the members of the Vanniyar caste use titles such
as Padayatchi, Gounder, Naicker or Nayagar, Reddiar, Kander/Kandar, Palli and many
other titles in Tamil Nadu, Vanniar Gounder, Reddiar,Padayatchi etc in pondicherry,
in Karnataka they are called Tigala / Thigala, or Thigilaru with a common suffix
of Gowda, Hebbar or Hebbe and Nayakar. In Andhra Pradesh, Vanniars are usually known
as Palli, Agnikula Kshatriya, Vanniyakula Kshatriya, Vanne Kapu or Vanne Reddy.
In Kerala, they are called Vaniya pillai, Vaniya nair and Reddiar. There are 92
different names or sub caste/sub titles given for Vannia Kula Kshatriya community.
4. Vanniar Sangam Research
This can be
seen in the book written by A.K.Natarajan of Vanniyar Sangam in the 1980s. The sub
caste like Padaiyaachi, Gounder, Reddiar, Naicker, Kandar, Vanniya Pillai, Vaniya
Nair, Raju, Palli e.t.c.
5. List of Vanniyar subcaste
Tamil Nadu:- Vanniakula Kshatriya
( including Vanniyar, Vanniya, Vannia Gounder, Gownder,Gounder or Kander, Padayachi,
Palli and Agnikula Kshatriya,Naicker, Nayakar , Reddiar, Rayar, Mazhavarayar, Kalingarayar.
Pondicherry:- Agnikula Kshatriya, Pallekapu, Palloreddi,Vannekapu
Vannereddi, Reddiar,Tigala (Tigla), Vanniyakula Khatriya including Vanniar or Vanniyar
Gounder, Kondar or Vannia Gounder and Vannikandar (other than Vella Gounder belonging
to Vanniyakula Kshatriya Caste).
Andhra pradesh:- Agnikulakshatriya Palli Vadabalija Bestha Jalari
Gangavar Gangaputra Goondla Vanyakulakshtriya Vannekapu Vannereddi Reddiar Pallikapu
Pallireddi Nayyala Pattapu Vanniar Vannikula-Kshatriya.
Karnataka:- Tigala,Thigala, thelagaru , dharmarajukappu,VahnikulaKshatriya,
Vanniya, Vanniyar, Reddi,Gowdaru ,halli Gowdaru, Gounder, Gownder, , Kander,Shanbhukula
Kshatriya, AgnikulaKshatriya, Dharmaraja Kapu,
Kerala:- Vaniar, Vanniar, Reddiar, Vaniya Nair, vaniya pillai
Orissa:- Palli, Pallia, Agnikula Kshatriya
6. Demographic spread
The Vanniyar caste
live in an area where three South Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra and Karnataka
intersects. In these latter two Indian states they are in sizeable mass primarily
due to migration of other sects from outside and vice versa. In Tamil Nadu, the
Vanniar live predominantly in the north, east, central and parts of north western.
These areas cover more than 13 districts and traditionaly called as the Vanniar
Belt. It comprises the following districts in Tamilnadu: Chennai, Kancheepuram,
Villupuram, Cuddalore, Nagapattinam, northern Thanjavur, Ariyalur, Perambalur, northern
Trichy, Tiruvallur, Vellore, Tiruvannamalai, Dharmapuri, Krishnagiri, Salem, parts
of Namakkal and northern Erode.
Vanniyars constitute 33-35% of the population of Tamil
Nadu and 60-65% of the population in Pondicherry, 15-20% of Andhara, 7-10% of Karnataka
as per the 1931 Caste based Census. In terms of population they are the largest
caste among the most backward classes listed in Tamil Nadu and Pondichery.They
are one of the very earliest caste to be socially well organized and today they
are the most politically mobilized and well-informed caste from Tamilnadu.
7. Vanniyar in Sri Lanka
Vanniar or Vannia
is a title of a feudal chief in medieval Sri Lanka who ruled as a tribute payer
to any number of local kingdoms. It was also recorded as that of a name of a caste
amongst Sri Lankan Tamils iin the Vanni District of northern Sri Lanka during the
early 1900’s. It is no longer used as a name of a caste or as chiefs in Sri Lanka.
There are number of origin theories for the feudal chiefs as well as the caste as
coming from modern Tamil Nadu state or as an indigenous formation. (see Pandara
8. Vanniyar outside India
migrated to South Africa, Malaysia, Singapore, Seychelles, Mauritius and Fiji as
part of the Tamil diaspora. Variant Vanniyar titles such as Govendar, Naicker and
Padayatchi are used amongst their descendants.
9. Vanniyar Charities
may be linked in tradition to the vanni tree (prosopis spicigera), a holy tree in
Hindu tradition.Kulasekhara,one of the early travancore kings,and one of the most
renowned alwars reverenced by the srivaishnava community belongs to them.Vanniyars
celebrate his anniversary in Parthasarathy temple Chennai even now.The Vanniyars
have the right to present the most important camphor offering of the Mylapore Kapaleeswarar
Temple.The Ekambaranathar Temple at Kanchipuram built by them. The later kings of
Kerala, Banapperumal or Vanipperumal closely related to Kulasekhara Alwars are Vanni