Nadar (caste)

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For other uses, see Nadar (disambiguation).
"Chanar" redirects here. For places in Iran, see Chenar.
Nadar Community
Regions with significant populations
Tirunelveli, Tuticorin, Tiruchendur, Virudhunagar, Madurai, Thanjavur, Chennai, Kaniyakumari, Trivandrum, Kollam
Tamil, Malayalam
Hinduism, Christianity, Ayyavazhi
Related ethnic groups
Tamil people

Nadar (also referred as Nadan, Shanar) is a caste of Tamil Nadu and Kerala, South India. The term, Nadar, in Tamil literally means one who rules the land.[1] Nadars are predominant in the southern districts of Tuticorin, Kaniyakumari, Tirunelveli and Virudhunagar.[2]

The Nadar community was not a single caste, but developed from an assortment of related subcastes and classes of different origins, which in course of time, came under the single banner Nadar.[3] Nadar climber was the largest subsect of today’s Nadar community.[4] A few subsects of the Nadar community, such as the Nelamaikkarars, were traditionally wealthy landlords and money lenders.[5] Historically, most Nadars were humble cultivators of palmyra trees and jaggery and a few were also involved in the toddy trade. Nadar climbers had historically faced discrimination from major upper classes in some regions.[6] The martial art of Southern Kalaripayattu was historically practiced by the Nadars.[7]

In post-independence India, the Nadars have made significant strides through their emphasis on education and entrepreneurship. The socio-economic development achieved by the Nadars in southern India has elicited academic interest.[8][9][10][11] They constitute 12% of Tamil Nadu's population.[12] Nadars are classified and listed as an Other Backward Class by the governments of both Tamil Nadu and India.[13][14] The Nadars today are a close knit, powerful community[15] who are financially strong and also politically influential in the southern districts of Tamil Nadu.[16]


The community was previously known as Shanar[17] but legally changed their name to Nadar in 1921.[18] The title Nadar is believed to be derived from the Nelamaikkarars, the aristocrats of the Shanar community who had previously used it exclusively. Nadars claim that the original name of the community was Shantror or Shandrar (noble one) which, in course of time, was corrupted to Shanar. Channar is a title used by the Ezhava community of Kerala.[19]


The origin of Nadars as a social group is uncertain. Hardgrave states that the Teri palmyra forests around today’s Tiruchendur must have been their original abode.[20] Samuel Sarugunar claimed that they are the descendants of those who ruled the Cheran, Cholan and Pandyan kingdoms and that when Nayak rulers captured the Pandya country, it was divided into several Palayams (divisions) for each of which Palaiyakkars were appointed as rulers. Sarugunar believes that the Nayak rulers of Tamil Nadu imposed Deshaprashtam (ostracism) on the ancient Pandyas (Nadars) to ensure that they would not rise.[4][19][21][22] The traditions followed by the Nelamaikkarars and the existence of the ruins beneath the Teri palmrya forests of Tiruchendur and the Pandyan capital city of Korkai, where the Nadar population is predominant, suggest they could very well be the heirs of the Early Pandyas.[23][24] Two inscriptions at Kalladaikurichi suggest that in medieval times the Nadars served as administrators and accountants in both the Chera and Pandya countries.[21][22] However, there is little evidence to support the community's claim to be descendants of the later Pandya rulers.[24] The identity or caste of the Pandyan kings remains a mystery.[25] This belief, that the Nadars had been the kings of Tamil Nadu, became the dogma of the Nadar community in the 19th century.[23]

The word 'Nadu' in Tamil language is a Country. The addendum 'Aar' or Aal comes from Aadchi or Alugai , meaning, to rule. The term Nadar itself means Lord of the Land. It is something like Bhoumik or Bhoomikar meaning, one who is the owner of the land, or the 'Authority' of the land. The term 'Naden' exists even before the great Sangam periods of the Tamils. This is a Casteless period of the great Dravidians. This period, according to Tamil literature, is assessed to go beyond 30000 to 60000 years(Tamil and Tamils, Prehistoric India, Archaeological Reports). But some of the Sanskritic thinkers assess this period to be around 3000 BC. The Chief of the Land, or the Protector of the country was addressed as 'NADEN'( Elamkulam). The people of the tribe was called NADAR, NADALVAR, ALVAR, NADALVAN, NADAVI etc. In Andhra Pradesh they are called NADAVA, NADAVARU and in Karnataka, as IDIGA, BUNT or BHILLS equivalent to the VILLAVA-Nadens of Travancore, GOUDA, etc (Karnataka Inscriptions). In the Northern and central parts of India, they are known in different names such as TALWAR, ALVAR, AHLWALIA, MADHVA, JNATRIKA, KALALR, JAYASWAL, CHODHURY, CHOUHAN, PATEL etc., and in more than 250 of such names classified according to the regional languages. Naden is an original Tamil term. After Saskritisation of the country, a new word is coined to equalize this word, Naden' as 'Kshetriya originated from the word Kshetra, meaning, a region where the King lives. Sanskritisation of Indian literature and culture had great impact on Nadars for the growth as well as for the downfall of the history of the Nadars. One of the earliest Inscriptions got by archaeological department of India, in ancient Tamil, was that of a "Toddy Tapper", of 6th century BC, linked up with the Nadars (Iravatham Mahadevan).

The history of the Nadalvars (Nadars) are written down in their Palm-Leaf Text, Valamkaimalai. This Text with all its narratives going back to about 3000 years is said to have been written in around 10th century AD, referring to early events. It describes the great wars that the Nadars had fought in Ujjaini and in many of the Northern provinces and also in Southern Sri Lanka. It also indicates that the Mana Dynasty of the Central India is an off-shoot of the Nadars from Tamil country, who went on Trade towards the North. This is confirmed by modern historical research also (History and Culture of Indian People, vol. I, II, III). There are several other off-shoots like this. Naden has also other epithets like Ko, Arasan, Ko-Naden, Thennavan, Vendan, Marra, Natta, Nayanar, etc.

The report of the emperor Alexander the great points out that the great warriors of Nadans and their Republican Sangha called Gana had fought to resist the inflow of the Alexanders army for a long period. These branches of the Nadars are called Kana or Gana (History and Culture of Indian People: vol III). They are found existing in South India, as seen in the records of Travancore. They are one of the 39 branches of the Kshatriya Nadans (Nattans) as notified in the State Manual of Travancore and also in the Census Report of India, 1901. The Manual of Administration of Madras Prasidency also says about these 39 branches. The Rajputs have only 36 branches. Among the original 39 branches of the Kshatriya Nadars, 9 warrior Gurukkal are marked with importance. They are: 1. Itanat 2. Illom, 3. Kana (Gana), 4. Karukkumattai (Karukkupattayar)=Talwar, 5. Kavara, 6. Kiriyam, 7. Mutta (mootha), 8. Natan. 9. Trippapur (Thiru Paappu). From these, the Kavaras are mostly found in the Andra Pradesh and Karnataka. The interpretations given to Karukkumattai differs between the Malayalam writer of State Manual of Travancore, Sri T.K. Velupillai, and the Tamil Brahmin writer, Sri Nagam Aiya, in the two different versions of the State Manual of Travancore. Out of these important 39 subdivisions, the branch called Trippapur (Thiruppappu Godly Care), were the last ruling tribe of the Travancore Dynasty. This is explained in the Census Report of India, 1901. The Mootha (Mutta) = Elder and the Trippapur branches are almost amalgamated in the Royal fold till to the last rule of the last King of Travancore. After almost from the 19th century AD, there are many matrimonial alliances mixing up with the few of the other tribes as is commonly observed among the Kshatriya classes of India. But the DNA test Reports say that the Nadars are the least mixed up races in India, or even in the world.

Nadars of the 20th century[edit]

Rao Bahadur T. Rattinasami Nadar, founder of the Nadar Mahajana Sangam

Nadar Mahajana Sangam[edit]

The separate Nadar associations of the six Ramanad towns were unable to support a community that was becoming more dispersed as many began to migrate to other parts of Madras Presidency. With the rise of the politically ambitious T. Rattinasami Nadar, a wealthy Nadar of Porayar in Thanjavur district, a new association was formed.[26] This resulted from Rattinasami Nadar inviting prominent community leaders to attend a plenary session in February 1910, with the intent of establishing an organization to represent the entire community. Rattinasami Nadar's uncle, V. Ponnusami Nadar, was elected to become the first president of the association, which was called the Nadar Mahajana Sangam. The association was open to any Nadar male of any subcaste or religion, and had as its general purpose the upliftment of the community. The early Sangam conferences were dominated by the Northern Nadars.[27][28]

Against toddy[edit]

The campaign against toddy was one of the first steps taken by the Nadar Mahajana Sangam to enhance the social advancement of the entire Nadar community. Though majority of the Nadar climbers were engaged in the production of jaggery, a significant number of Nadar climbers were also involved in the production of toddy. The Sangam urged the Nadar climbers to abandon their traditional occupation of toddy tapping and not to sell hard toddy. However many Nadar climbers were reluctant to give up their profitable occupation. The situation got out of hand when Nadar leaders tried to intimidate the climbers, by using tenets of their cult, to give up their occupation as toddy tappers. To ease the situation the district magistrate issued a proclamation restricting the climbers to sell hard toddy only in specific regions, where toddy can be legally drawn. However the Sangam's campaign was effective for only about a year.[29]

Prohibition of toddy act[edit]

The Sangam then in order to aid the depressed[clarification needed] climbers, sought to abolish the tax levied on palmrya trees. After the establishment of the Prohibition(of toddy) act in the Northern districts of Madras Presidency, the Nadar Mahajana Sangam along with its sister association,Dakshina Mara Nadar Sangam of Tirunelveli, sought to remove it to aid the depressed climbers. The British advisor government in turn suspended the act. However, the prohibition act was reintroduced after the independence. Under the rules of the act, the climbers could only tap between 4 am to 2pm and sell sweet toddy between 6am and 2pm. These procedures can also only be practiced by climbers who have license. The rigid government rules pressurized the depressed climbers. The two prominent Nadars Sangams constantly pressurized the government and eventually the enforcement of these regulations gradually eased. By mid-1950s, the government assigned cooperative societies to promote jaggery production.[30]

Nadar educational institutions[edit]

The Nadar community did not completely rely on the Backward Class Commission for educational advancement. In 1885, the Northern Nadars established the Kshatriya Vidhyasala High School in Virudhunagar by using the mahimai funds from the Nadar uravinmurai. Education was also the primary concern of the Nadar Mahajana Sangam from inception. In 1921, the Sangam began to provide scholarship loans to needy students, and by 1964 more than 3000 such loans were offered. Some students were given assistance for foreign studies. The Sangam also aided the establishment of village schools. Education formed the largest portion of expenditure by the Nadar Mahajana Sangam.[when?] The Nadar bank along with other cooperative societies gave 5 percent of their profit to the scholarship fund. The Nadar Mahajana Sangam also established a college, Senthilkumara Nadar College, in 1947.[31]

Resolution of inter-caste conflicts[edit]

In villages where there were few Nadar climbers, they were oppressed by those in the majority. The Nadar Mahajana Sangam acted in the interests of such climbers, using the strength and influence of the community at large. The climbers could ask the Sangam to intervene in inter-community issues, which would cause the Sangam to investigate the situation and determine the validity of any Nadar claims. Then, if necessary, the Sangam would request police intervention or support a claim in court. In situations where the matter went to court, the Sangam would not provide financial support for the Nadar claimant to contest the case, but would rather see that the claim is properly heard. After independence of India, the Sangam took advantage of the constitutional provisions encouraging a caste-less society and also supported government attempts to promote this vision. The support included urging their own community members to allow use of their schools, tanks, temples and wells by other communities. The name of the Nadar bank was changed to Tamil Nadu Mercantile Bank. These activities earned the Nadar community respect and recognition.[32][33]

Most of the shops in Ranganathan Street, Tamil Nadu's premier high street, are owned by the Nadars.[15]


In the 1920s and 1930s, Nadar Mahajan Sangam supported the non-Brahmin movement and Justice party.[34] W. P. A. Soundrapandian Nadar as the president of Nadar Mahajana Sangam led the effort to ally the community with Periyar E. V. Ramasamy's Self-respect movement. The Nadars joined the Justice party in its attack against Brahmins on cultural and religious front.[35][36] Nadars also practiced self-respect marriages during the non-Brahmin movement.[37]

However, in the late 1940s the Nadars' support shifted to Indian National Congress, in part because of the political success of K. Kamaraj, whose opinions had originally been disliked by his own community.[38] After the end of Kamaraj's era, the Nadars' political support has become diffused across various parties and the Nadar Sangam has become less politicized.[34][39]

Nadars today[edit]

The social and economical development achieved by the Nadars in independent India have evoked academic interest.[8] According to N.S.Ramnath,of Forbes, the Nadars are a close knit, powerful community.[15] The Nadars, who were once predominantly not allowed to enter Hindu temples built by castes above them, now occupy respected positions as Trustees in many Hindu temples of Tamil Nadu.[40] They are financially strong and are politically influential in the Southern districts of Tamil Nadu. A political observer points out that there is a Nadar leader in almost every political party. The community has influential Tamil media houses, such as Dina Thanthi.[16] Crawford Young has said that:

Today, the Nadars are recognized as an "advanced" community – a status reversal accomplished over the past century through caste horizontal mobilization of caste solidarity, challenge to servile traditional ascription through ritual transformations, effective utilization of modern opportunity through education and commerce, and skilful communal exploitation of the political arena.[41]


The legend of the origin of the Nadars tell of the birth of seven sons; with the death of two, the remaining five father the separate divisions of the community. There were five major divisions among the Nadars.[42]


The Karukkupattaiyathar are supposed to be the original inhabitants of the country around Manadu. This sub-division was later known as Mara Nadar. They claim to be the descendants of the Pandyans. It is the largest of the five subcastes and constitutes about 80 percent of the entire community, including the aristocratic Nelamaikkarars and the climbers beneath them. The Nelamaikarrars and the climbers are endogamous groups, forming sub-subcastes that each marry only among themselves.[43]


The term Mel-nattar comes from Mel-nadu (western country). Mel-nattars lived traditionally in the Southern Travancore and Western Tirunelveli districts. They claim to be descendants of the Chera kings who settled in the area of the Western Ghats after the fall of their dynasty. They can be found today mainly in Ambasamudram, Sankarankoil, Srivaikuntam, and Nanguneri.[44]

Tiruvarudi Vaihunda Nadan, the last Zamindar of Nattathi.


They are predominant in the village of Nattathi near Sawyerpuram, Tuticorin district. They are traditionally cultivators, traders and money lenders. Legendary accounts claim that the Nattathis are descendants born of the Pandyas and Cholas. The community is today predominantly Christian and remains an endogamanous unit. The overlord of Nattathi was a retainer of the Kattabomma Nayaka. The Nattathi overlord was invested with Zamindari rights under the British. The last of the Nattathi zamindars, Tiruvarudi Vaihunda Nadan, died in 1892. The properties of the Zamindar were eventually divided among a number of claimants.[44]


They are found in Ambasamudram and Tenkasi taluqs and traditionally palmrya climbers. They are supposed to have migrated to the Pandyan country from the banks of the Cauvery River in Tanjore to serve the Pandyan kings as their flag bearers.[45]


The Kalla Shanars were considered as the lowest division of the Nadar community. They are also known as Servai. The term kalla means "false". They are believed originally to have been palanquin bearers for the Pandyan kings or menial slaves of the Nelamaikkarar family, having descended from illegal unions within the Nadar community. They are traditionally toddy tappers.[45]

The subsect culture is not present today among the Nadars north of Tirunelveli but it still exists among those of southern Tirunelveli. The Karkuppatayathars, the endogamaous Nelamaikkarars and the Nadar climbers beneath them, are today known as A group or Mara Nadar, and the remaining four subcastes are known as B group.[46]

Christian Nadars[edit]

In 1680, the first congregation of Nadars was started at Vaddakankulam with the conversion of Nadar women and a church was built accordingly in 1685. A permanent mission was established in 1701. Some Nadars accepted Christianity through will and some accepted it due to their aversion to local beliefs.[47] In 1970, Christian Nadars numbered 150,000 as opposed to 1.5 to 2 millions of Hindu Nadars in Madras state.[48] Nadar Christians, like Hindus, marry within their caste.[49]

Religious customs[edit]

See also: Kuladevata

The Hindu Nadars, like other Hindus, have a variety of religious rituals and ceremonies. These include procedures relating to birth, adulthood, marriage and death. Every Hindu Nadar belongs to a kuttam (assemblage) through patrilineal descent, and each kuttam has a common family deity. During migration, families would often take soil from their family temple and enshrine it at their new home. Traditionally, all the members of a kuttam would assemble at least once a year at the family temple. With the birth of a child, the family would traditionally go to the family deity temple, where the hair of the child is shaved for the first time and offered to the deity. At the time of marriage the first invitation is presented to the family deity.[44]

The Hindu Nadars are almost entirely Saivite (only one kuttam is Vaishnavite). Of the deities, Murugan has been widely popular among the Nadars. Goddess Bhadrakali is the tutelary deity of the Nadar community. The Nadars also claim that they are the descendants of Bhadrakali. A Bhadrakali temple is usually at the centre of almost every Nadar settlement.[50]

The socio-religious movement of Ayyavazhi was pioneered and patronized by the Nadar community[51]

Martial Arts[edit]

The Nadars, along with the Nairs and Ezhavas, traditionally practiced the martial art of Kalaripayattu.[7]

Notable people[edit]

Further information: List of Nadars


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  • Hardgrave, Robert (1969). The Nadars of Tamilnad: the political culture of a community in change. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 81-7304-701-4. 
  • Templeman, Dennis (1996). The Northern Nadars of Tamil Nadu: An Indian Caste in the Process of Change. Oxford University Press, USA. ISBN 0-19-563788-7. 
  • Mandelbaum, David Goodman (1970). Society in India, Volumes 1–2. University of California Press. 
  • Immanuel, M. (2002). The Dravidian Lineages: The Nadars Through the Ages. A Socio-Historical Study. From Indus Valley Civilization to present time. 137/H-4 Bethel Nagar, Nagercoil-629004, Tamil Nadu, India: Historical Research & Publications Trust. 

Further reading[edit]