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For other uses, see Vellalar (disambiguation).
Classification Feudal lords, Landlords, Scholars, Farmers
Religions Saiva Siddhantam, Hinduism
Languages Tamil
Related groups Kings, Velirs, Tamil people
‡ Shared by other groups

Vellalars (also, Velalars, Vellalas) were, originally an elite caste of Tamil agricultural landlords in Tamil Nadu, Kerala states in India and in neighbouring Sri Lanka; they were the aristocracy of the ancient Tamil order (Chera/Chola/Pandya/Sangam era)[1] and had close relations with the different royal dynasties. Literary, archeological sources trace the origin of the Vellalars to a group of royal house chieftains called Vel or Velir. According to old Hindu, Tamil texts, the Velirs were warriors from the Yadu Kshatriya clan (Chandravanshi lineage); they came to south from the city of Dvārakā in north India under the leadership of the Vedic sage Agastya. The Vellalar were during ancient and medieval period landlords and part of the elite caste who were major patrons of literature.[2][3][4] The actual Vellalar caste is made of different sub castes which do not intermarry; many of these sub castes have nothing to do with the original Vellalars.[5] The Vellalar are found amongst the Tamil diaspora around the world; although they were originally associated with the landed gentry, today they are found in all walks of life.


There are different theories concerning the meaning of the word 'Vellalar'. One theory postulates it is derived from Vellam (meaning flood in Tamil) and alar (ruler or controller), so Vellalar means "Lord of the floods".[6] The Journal of Indian History, Vol VII, explains that Vellalars, the controllers of the flood, irrigated their fields when the rivers were in flood, and raised the rice-crop on damp rice-fields; while the Karalars were controllers of the rain, who looked up to the sky for watering their fields and stored rain water in tanks.[7] The Journal of Kerala Studies, Vol 14, says the etymological interpretations connecting Vellalar with Velir are unconvincing.[8] It suggests that the word Vellalar comes from the root Vellam for flood, which gave rise to various rights of land; and it is because of the acquisition of land rights that the Vellalar got their name. Rangaswamy and Araṅkacāmi say the Vellālars are probably the descendants of the Vēlir; but the words Veļļālar, Vēļāņmai, Vēļālar, are derived from their art of irrigation and cultivation rather than from their original chieftainship.[9][10]


Vellālas worshipping lingam, snake-stones and Ganēsa from Castes and Tribes of Southern India (1909).

The Vellalars have a long cultural history that goes back to over two millennia in southern India.[11] They were the ruling and land owning community of South India.[12][13]

In Sangam literature, the chiefs of the vellala tribes were called the Velir. The Velir or the Vellalar tribes are described as a landed gentry who irrigated the wet lands and the Karalar were the landed gentry in the dry lands.[14][15] Numerous poems in the ancient Sangam literature extol these chieftains' charity and truthfulness. Among the most prominent were those known as the 'seven patrons' (kadaiyezhu vallal); Vel-Pari, Malayaman Thirumudi Kaari, Ori, Adigaman, Began, Nalli and Ay Kandiran.[16]

They had close associations and held high positions of office with the three main Tamil dynasties, Chera, Chola and Pandya.[15] Some of them had marital relations; Ilamcetcenni, the king known for his fleet of warships, married a Velir princess, and his son Karikala Chola also married a Velir princess from Nangur.[17][full citation needed]

Cultivation in South Asia was spread by force, people would move out into virgin land, which was used by hunter gatherer or tribal people for slash and burn agriculture or for hunting and convert into prime agricultural land.[18] This was an honorific title of select few people who would organize such raids and settlements like chiefs who were also called as Vel. Today everybody uses it but once it was restricted to village headman or founding chief's lineage.[18]

According to historical sources, scholars, Vellalars are the scions of the Velir chieftains[19] who belonged to the Yadu Kshatriya clan.[20] In Hindu texts, the Yadus are often described as an agro pastoral warrior clan.[21]

Old sources tell about the migration of the Velir/Vellalar tribe from North to South India under the leadership of the Vedic sage Agastya: because of Gods congregation on Mount Meru, the earth started tilting, lowering Meru and raising the southern corner. Gods requested Agastya to remedy this situation. On his way, the Sage visited Dvārakā and led 18 Velir families to the south[22] where they settle down, clearing the forest and cultivating the land.[23]

The Vellalas who were land owners and tillers of the soil and held offices pertaining to land, were ranked as Sat-Sudra in the 1901 census; with the Government of Madras recognising that the 4-fold division did not describe the South Indian, or Dravidian, society adequately.[24] It was pointed out that land-based communities quite distinct from the Vellala have claimed Vellala status and in course of time have gained acceptance and intermarried with older Vellalar families.[citation needed] In Post-Independent India too, it was noted that families regarded as pure Vellalar caste (Saiva Vellalars) were reluctant to question the bona fides of those pretending to be Vellalar, since the line between them was noted to be very thin indeed; with the former occasionally drawing partners for marriage from the ranks of the latter.[25]

Major divisions

Major subdivisions are

There are numerous other subcastes which claim Vellalar roots and identity. Some subdivisions might intermarry yet other will not.

In Kerala and Sri Lanka

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 Vellalars except in Kongu Nadu.[26]

Cultural evolution and assimilation of other castes

Most subcastes of Vellalar in general are believed to be the first of the group of Tamils to be Sanskritized.

"Kallar, Maravar, ganathor Agamudaiyar mella mella velaalar anargal"

is a popular Tamil proverb prevalent in India and Sri Lanka about the origin of Vellalars. That is Vellalar are a fusion of upwardly mobile members from castes such as Kallar, Maravar and Agamudayar according to the principles of Sanskritisation.[27]

See also


  1. ^ Sen, Sailendrda Nath. Ancient Indian History and Civilization (2nd ed.). pp. 205, 207. ... the Vellalars were the aristocratic classe and were held in high esteem... 
  2. ^ The New Cambridge History of India: Vijayanagara by Burton Stein p.134
  3. ^ The Trading World of the Tamil Merchant: Evolution of Merchant Capitalism in the Coromandel by Kanakalatha Mukund p.166
  4. ^ Al-Hind, the Making of the Indo-Islamic World: Early Medieval India and the making of the Indo-Islamic World by André Wink p.321
  5. ^ The tribes and castes of the central provinces of India, Volume 1 By R.V. Russell, R.B.H. Lai page 417:"...lower castes continually succeed in obtaining admission into the Vellala community..." [1]
  6. ^ Journal of the Ceylon branch of the Royal Asiatic Society By Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. Ceylon Branch, Colombo: "'Vellalar' is also said to be a contract form of 'Vella-Alar', meaning 'the lords of the Vellam', flood..."[2]
  7. ^ Journal of Indian History, Vol VII, 1928 states: "To proceed from Mullai to Marudam ; in the lowermost reaches of the rivers lived the farmers, of whom there were two classes, (1) the Vellalar, the controllers of the flood, who irrigated their fields when the rivers were in flood, and raised the rice-crop on damp rice-fields with the extraordinary patience and industry which only the Indian peasant is capable of; (2) the Karalar, controllers of the rain, who looked up to the sky for watering their fields, who stored the rain water in tanks and ponds and dug wells and lifted the water by means of water-lifts of different kinds.." [3]
  8. ^ The Journal of Kerala Studies, Vol 14, p.6-7: "Also some modern scholars have tried to equate them with the Vellalar caste. However, such etymological interpretations to connect Vellalar with Velir appear unconvincing".
  9. ^ The surnames of the Caṅkam age: literary & tribal, by M. A. Dorai Rangaswamy, Mor̲appākkam Appācāmi Turai Araṅkacāmi, p.151-155: "The commentators on Tolkappiyam speak of two kinds of cultivators the Melvaramdars and the Kilvaramdars, relying upon like ‘Kutipurantarunar param ompi’ (Patir 13, line 24), ‘safeguarding the burden of those who protect the cultivators’, - and of some cutrams in Akatinnai Iyal (24, 29, 30) and the Marapiyal (80, 81, 84)...Tolkappiyar is not concerned with the codification of the actual habits and social conditions of the castes as contrasted with the literary tradition. Therefore one is tempted to look upon these as interpolations of a later age. Therefore the attempt at confusing the velir with vellalar and at identifying the Vellalar with the Sudras of the Smritis, is misleading. The word Vellalar comes from the root Vellam, the flood of the water which the Vellālar directed into proper channels; the name Kārālar is an exact equivalent of this word. But this does not mean the Vellālars may not be the descendants of the Vēlir; probably they are; but the words Veļļālar, Vēļāņmai, Vēļālar, are derived from their art of irrigation and cultivation rather than from their original chieftainship.."
  10. ^ Madras journal of literature and science, Volume 13 By Madras Literary Society and Auxiliary of the Royal Asiatic Society, p.41
  11. ^ Meluhha and Agastya : Alpha and Omega of the Indus Script By Iravatham Mahadevan pages 16: "The Ventar-Velir-Velalar groups constituted the ruling and land-owning classes in the Tamil country since the beginning of recorded history"[4]
  12. ^ Al-Hind: Early medieval India and the expansion of Islam, 7th-11th centuries By André Wink pages 321: "Not only were the Vellalas the landowning communities of South India,..."[5]
  13. ^ Rural Society in Southeast India By Kathleen Gough pages 29: "The Vellalar were the dominant secular aristocratic caste..."[6]
  14. ^ Tamil studies: essays on the history of the Tamil people, language, religion and literature By Muttusvami Srinivasa Aiyangar pages 63: "No traces of the Tamil kings are to be found at present in this country, and it is highly probable that they should have merged in the pure Vellala caste."[7]
  15. ^ a b Racial Synthesis in Hindu Culture by S.V. Viswanatha page 156: "The Tamil kings (...) in spite of their connexion with the ancient velir or vellala tribes..."
  16. ^ The Tamils Eighteen Hundred Years Ago — Page 113 by V. Kanakasabhai — Tamil (Indic people) - 1904 - 240 pages
  17. ^ K.A.N. Sastri, The Colas p 49
  18. ^ a b Spectres of Agrarian Territory by David Ludden
  19. ^ Journal of Tamil Studies By International Association of Tamil Research: "Velalar of the Tamil Country (descendants of the Velir)"[8]
  20. ^ Pivot politics: changing cultural identities in early state formation processes By M. van Bakel page 175: "A second (Brahmi) inscription mentions the name Yadu Valabhuti, Yadu being the lineage ancestor of Velir..."[9]
  21. ^ Pivot politics: changing cultural identities in early state formation processes By M. van Bakel page 165: "The Yadu (...) had a strong bias towards pastoralism cum wet agriculture"[10]
  22. ^ Studies in South Indian history and culture By Iramaccantiran Nakacami,V. R. Ramachandra Dikshitar page 193: "... the Velir who were the descendants of Krishna. This further supports the theory of migration of the Yadavas into Tamilnadu."[11]
  23. ^ Meluhha and Agastya: Alpha and Omega of the Indus Script by Iravatham Mahadevan, Indus Research Centre, Roja Muthiah Research Library, Chennai, India, page 16
  24. ^ Kingship and political practice in colonial India, by Pamela G. Price, p.61: "...when government census officers placed Vellalar in the Sat-Sudra or Good Sudra category in its 1901 census, Vellalar castemen petitioned this designation, protesting this designation..
  25. ^ Encyclopaedia of the Theoretical Sociology (3 Vols. Set), by A.P. Thakur, p.182: "Even families who might be regarded as of 'pure' Vellalar caste are reluctant to question the bona fides of the Vellalar 'pretenders' since the line between them is very thin indeed [12]."
  26. ^ Yalpana Vaipava Malai
  27. ^ The Indian economic and social history review, Volume 18 Par Delhi School of Economics: [13]