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Ayar was an ethnic group of India and were possibly related to the historic Yadava people mentioned in the Puranas.[1][2][3][need quotation to verify] In the early sangam literature, the Ayars are described as having occupied the mullai or 'forest region'. The word Ayar is derived from the Dravidian word "A" meaning 'cow'. However, they are also known by other names, including Kon, konar and Idaiyar.In the Tamil land they were also called as Pothuvar or Commons (from the Dravidian word podhu meaning common) apparently because they possosed friendship to the nagas and Tamil alike. Originally they appear to have had their own petty kings, in the Chola country, but Karikal- Chola os said to have exterminated their line of kings. The Ayar in the Pandyan domminion had a tradation that they came into the Tamil land, along with the founder of Pandyan family.

Dr. V. Manickam in his path-breaking work Kongu Nadu gives an expanded version of his doctoral thesis submitted to the university of Madras as follows, "It was noted that the pastoral people (Ayar) of the mullai land in Kongu formed the major component of the velir clan. However, We come across references to Idaiyar of Kiranur, alias Kolumam Konda Cholanallur (SII : 5:283), Kon from the same place (SII : 5: 265,267,269), and Yatavar in two epigraphs from Chevur (Eye Copy 94,98). Further, there are also references to Tiruvayappadi nattar, which indicate the supra-local activities of the herdsmen discussed in chapter 15. The presence of the herdsmen, with the titles as found in the macro region, may be explained as survivors of the pastoral people of the pre-chola period who were reluctant to integrate themselves in the new setup or new additions.

Important line of chieftains of Tamilnadu during the sangam period with whom Lord Krishna was intimately associated was the Ayars. Sangam literature mentions a tradition relating to migration of ayars from Dwaraka with sage Agastya. There were many velir chiefs in the tamil country during sangam period. They had Ay prefix and prominent among them were Ay-andiran and Ay-Vel. They had their capital as Ay-Kudi and ruled the potiya region. The Ay chieftains cherished their yadava lineage and their settlements were known as Ayarpadi.

Legends of the cowherd Krishna and his dances with cowherdesses are mentioned in the Sangam classics. The term Ayarpati (cowherd settlement) is found in Cilappatikaram (Iyer, 1950). It is argued that the term Ayar has been used for the Abhiras in ancient Tamil literature, and V. Kanakasabha Pillai (1904) derives Abhira from the Tamil wordAyir which also means cow. He equates the Ayars with Abhiras, and Suryavanshi (1962:17-18) treats this as evidence of migration of the Abhiras to the south in the first century A.D.

Thus, linguistic evidence is used to support the argument that the Abhiras spread to different parts of India, and that they retained different but related cultural traditions. The most common denominator, as was pointed out earlier, was a descent from the Yadu dynasty and their association with cattle.[4][5][6]

Ay velirs and krishna[edit]

Another important line of chieftains of Tamilnadu during the sangam period with whom krsna was intimately associated was the Ay-velirs. The cow-herds were known as ayars in tamil even as they were known as Ahirs and Abhiras in North India.Tradition says that the Ahirs in Pandya country came to Tamilakkam along with the ancestors of the Pandyas(Kalithogai,verse 104:4-6). Potiya mountain region was known as Ay-kudi.The capital of that region is also called Ay-kudi.

In his commentary on the prefatory sutra to the tholkappiyam, nachinarkiniyar describes a tradition relating to the migration of the yadava race as follows: the sage Agasthya repaired to dwaraka and taking with him 18 Kings of the line of krsna,18 families of vels or velirs and others ,moved to the south with the aruvalar tribes. They settled forest areas(mullai region). Later there, he had the forests cleared and built up kingdoms settling therein all the people he had bought with him.kapila, a poet probably of the 2nd century A.D., addresses the reigning velir chief as the 49th descendence from the original founder of that dynasty.

M.Srinivasa Iyengar points out that allowing the usual 25 years of each generation, the above kingdom must have been established about B.C. 1075 and this may be assumed as the probable date of the migration of Ay velirs to South india. There were many Velir chiefs in the tamil country during sangam period. They had ‘Ay’ as a prefix or a suffix to their names, such as “Ay-andiran” and “vel-Ay”. The latter had his capital in Ay-kudi and ruled the Potiya region. Many Sangam poets has glorified his bravery and charitable qualities. Poets like Uraiyur Enicheri,Mudamosiyar,Turaiyur Odaikilar,Kuttuvan Kiranar,umattur Kilanmaganar,parankorranar,paranar and karikannanar have composed poems in praise of this king and his region. One of the Aykudi rulers was Ay-andiran.Once he defeated kongars and drove them to western side.

A Purananuru verse says, “without the southern Aykudi in the world will be in chaos”. Pegan, one of the seven Velir chieftains(kadai-elu-vallals) of the Sangam period belonged to Aviyar kudi. He was addressed by kapilar as ‘ Aviyar kove’ M.Raghava Iyengar held that the popularity of the worship of krsna in the ancient Tamilakam might be partly due to the influence of the Velirs who are often referred to in the Sangam works.He has clearly shown that the Velirs referred to in the sangam works belonged to the 18 Kudi-velirs of the descendants of the Yadu-kula to which krsna also belonged, and that the Velirs migrated from Dwarapati, and settled in different parts of south-india. The Ay-Velir kings of later period also mention in their copper plate charters that they belonged to the Yadu-kula of krsna The Ay dominion was situated between Kerala and Pandya Nadu and it comprised the parts of the present kanyakumari district of tamilnadu.

The Sangam literature portrays the Ay rulers as independent sovereigns in the region around Potiya hill. The early Ays hold special position among the Velir chieftains ruling in several parts of the Tamil country. The Parthivasekarapuram inscription of Kokkurunandakkam – the Ay ruler claims that he belonged to the line of the Ayar or Yadavas People who lived in the mullai region were called as Ayars, kolayars and idaiyars. In tamil land division mullai is placed in the mid-region between the hills(kurinchi) and the plains(marudham). As mullai enjoys the idai(middle) position,the people of that region were called Idaiyars. There are references to idaiyars in Sangam works. The name of one of the poets was Idaikkadanar. The name denotes that the poet belonged to mullai region. Even now idaiyar is the most commonly used word for the cowherds in Tamil. According to the Tholkappiyam, presiding diety of the mullai region was Mayon i.e krsna or Vishnu. Another name for the ayars was pothuvar, meaning common.


  1. ^ T Padmaja. Temples of Krishna in South India: History, Art and Traditions in Tamilnadu. University of Mysore. p. 35. 
  2. ^ By M. van Bakel, Renée Hagesteijn, Piet van de Velde. Pivot politics: changing cultural identities in early state formation processes. University of Leiden. p. 165. 
  3. ^ Travancore Archaeological Series. University of Travancore. p. 3. 
  4. ^ Neolithic Cattle-Keepers of South India page 101. Cambridge university press. p. 101. 
  5. ^ Religious festivals in South India and Sri Lanka page 128. Manohar publications. p. 128. 
  6. ^ Journal of Indian history, Volume 7. University of Kerala. p. 86.