|15 million (approx)|
|Regions with significant populations|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Dravidian · Kannadiga · Kodava · Telugu ·|
Vokkaliga (Kannada: ಒಕ್ಕಲಿಗ) (pronounced Okkaliga) is an umbrella term for various agricultural, previously endogamous social groups with a martial past, found mainly in the Old Mysore Region of southern Karnataka. The Vokkaligas are primarily agriculturists. Also known as Gowdas, the Vokkaligas comprise more than 15 percent of Karnataka’s 6 crore population. Vokkaligas are spread across southern Karnataka districts of Bangalore, Kolar, Mandya, Mysore, Hassan and Chickmagalur. Vokkalathana in Kannada means tilling land and Vokkaliga means one who tills the land. Alternate etymologies include the work vokku (to thresh grain out of the ear stocks). This community are also known as Kongu Vellalars of Tamil Nadu. Vokkaligas are living in other states in the country. They are being called by different names in the country based on their local dialects. The Vokkaliga belong to the Kshatriya (cultivator -Kurmi /Baniya of north) varna within Hinduism, sometimes classified as satvic.
They form a politically and numerically dominant caste group and were the most populous group until the States Reorganisation Act of 1956 which enlarged the erstwhile State of Mysore by the inclusion of predominantly Canarese districts of the State of Bombay, State of Hyderabad and Coorg, (Mysore State was renamed Karnataka in 1973) following which the Lingayats became the most populous social group. Together the two communities dominate Karnataka State politics.
The Yelahankanadu Prabhus were Gowdas or tillers of the land. They belonged to Morasu Vokkalu sect; the ancestors of them were migrants. Fourth in succession from Rana Bhairave Gowda, founder of the dynasty of Avati Nadu Prabhus and great grandson of Jaya Gowda, who established separate dynasty, is the famous Yelahanka Nadu Prabhus, Kempe Gowda I who ruled for 46 years commencing his reign from 1513. Jaya Gowda accepted the sovereignty of the Vijayanagar emperor. The city of Bangalore itself was established by Kempe Gowda in 1537, as the capital of his erstwhile kingdom.
Different sub-castes of Vokkaligas in Karnataka
- Gangadikara (Gangatkar) Vokkaliga
- Morasu Vokkaliga
- Kunchitiga Vokkaliga
- Rodhagaru Vokkaliga
- Reddy Vokkaliga etc.
Vokkaliga is a Kannada word of considerable antiquity finding mention in some of the earliest available literary works of the language, such as the Kavirajamarga, Pampa Bharata, Mangaraja's Nighantu et al. and has been used as an appellation for the cultivator community since time immemorial. Generally the term has come to mean an agriculturist though various etymological derivations are available. A few likely derivations are as follows:
- The word Okka or Okkalu in Kannada (Dravidian in origin) means a family or a clan and an Okkaliga being a person belonging to such a family. This is an allusion to the totemistic exogamous clans which together form an endogamous sub group, of which there are many amongst the Vokkaligas. These clans are called Bali,Bedagu,Kutumba,Gotra or simply Okkalu all of which mean 'family'. They are named after their progenitor, primary occupation or in most cases after various birds, animals or objects. All the clans have their very own patron god and goddess (called Mane Devaru or Kula Devata) and it is practice to refer to oneself as belonging to that particular god's Okkalu.
- Okkalutana in Kannada means agriculture and the epithet Okkaliga has been used to refer to a person belonging to the cultivator community.
- Alternate etymologies include Okku which means threshing, said to refer to their agricultural activities from which is derived Okkaliga. It is also supposed to be a contraction of the name Okkahaalu Makkalu which claims the origin of the castemen from the breastmilk of Parvati. This however is merely attributing a divine origin, a common practise in most of the Indian castes.
Gowda People of the Vokkaliga community ascribe various honorifics to their castemen, the most popular of which is Gauda anglicized as Gowda. Titles such as Reddy are also popular, generally used according to their sub group, language spoken and geographical area they belong to. The words Vokkaliga and Gowda are almost synonymous in usage and in colloquial, Gowda has come to mean a Vokkaliga. However the term itself is also used by people of various other castes as an honorary title.
The etymology of Gauda is also heavily debated by scholars. The term and its archaic forms in Old Kannada such as Gamunda, Gavunda, Gavuda, appear frequently in the inscriptions of Karnataka, recorded in the Epigraphia Carnatica. In fact the Epigraphia Carnatica is replete with such references to land grants, donations to temples, hero-stones (Veeragallu), stone edicts and copper plates dating back to the age of the Western Ganga Dynasty (est. 350 CE) and earlier. Attributing a Sanskrit origin, H.V.Nanjundayya has derived the word from Grama or Gava meaning a village and Munda meaning head, thus a Gamunda being the head of the village. Vokkaligas are traditionally known to have been feudal landlords and village chieftains and to this day remain major land-holders. Edgar Thurston, (Castes and Tribes of Southern India), the popular Kannada linguist Shamba Joshi and others propose a derivation from the Sanskrit - go (cow) and govala (cowherd) (Govala->Goula->Gowda). Horeover, though the Vokkaligas did practise animal husbandry, Govalas (from whence Golla) or the Yadavas' form a separate caste group and they were traditionally herdsmen. Alternately Tamil origins to the word claim its derivation from kavundan or kamindan (one who watches over). The Vokkaligas of Tamil Nadu (found mostly in and around Coimbatore,Theni & Dindigul districts) use 'Gowdar(though sometimes addressed by tamils as Kaundar)' as their surname. Whether the name Gauda/Gowda is an allusion to the Gauḍa region or not has not been conclusively proved.
The Vokkaliga Community has several sub-groups within its fold. Previously they were mostly endogamous but in the modern context inter-group marriages have become a common affair, especially since the colonial times. However to this day, within any given sub-group, exogamy at the family/clan level is strictly controlled by using the idiom of Mane Devaru (the patron god of the given exogamic clan) which dictates that the followers of same Mane Devaru are siblings and marriage is thus forbidden, allowing marital alliances only with another clan and not within. This system is akin to the Brahminical Gotra System and is seen as a common feature in most Indian communities. The community is patrilineal. It is opined that all the sub-groups previously formed a single unified community which broke into several factions over the ages.
The major sub-groups of the Vokkaligas include the Gangadikara (also called as Gangatkar), Morasu Vokkaliga, Namadhari Gowda, Kunchitiga and Kodagu Gowda sections, which form the corpus of the community with several other sub-groups.
Gangadikara (Gangatkar) Vokkaliga
Numerically the largest among the Vokkaligas, the Gangadikaras are mostly found in the Mysore, Mandya, Chamarajnagar, Hassan, Bangalore, Ramanagara and Tumkur districts of Karnataka. Gangawadi was the name for the area covering these districts, ruled over by the Western Ganga Dynasty and Gangadikara is a contraction of the term Gangawadikara (A man of Gangawadi). The Gangadikara Gowdas claim to be descendants of the erstwhile Ganga royalty. With various theories on the origins of the Gangas, this is hard to prove but some scholars do opine that the Gangas were local chieftains who ascertained their power and rose to dominance during the political unrest caused in South India after the invasion of Samudragupta I. It is however, a fact that the administrative setup of Gangas vested power in the Ooru Gauda,Nadu Gauda, Pergade (archaic for Hegde.Pergade->Peggade->Heggade) and so on, at various levels of administration and apart from administrative duties the Gauda was expected to raise militia when called for. The Gangadikaras and the Kongu Vellalars are said to share a common origin and they regard themselves Ganga Kshatriyas. In fact the word Kongu is the Tamil equivalent for Ganga. There is a significant number of Vellala Goundars in Kollegala and T. Narsipur of southern Karnataka.
The Gangadikaras have two primary sections - the Bujjanige (or Dhaare Shastradavaru) and the Pettige (or Veelyada Shastradavaru) based on differences in rituals performed during the wedding ceremony. They can be Shaiva or Vaishnava in religious affiliation (called Mullu and Dasa sects). The Dasa sect forms a separate endogamous group under the Gangadikaras and are called Dasa Vokkaligas. Cheluru Gangadikaras (also called Chelaru),another small sub-sect, are said to be strictly vegetarian, a vestige of the times when the Gangas followed Jainism.Oral traditions of the people maintain that after the decline of the Ganga power they reverted to Hinduism retaining certain Jaina practises. The Gangadikara Vokkaligas have as many as 40 exogamous clans called Bedagu. They speak Kannada and the castemen mostly use 'Gowda' as a surname.
The Morasu Vokkaligas are found mostly in the Bangalore, Kolar, Tumkur and Chitradurga districts of Karnataka. The Baramahal Records of the Madras Presidency state that the Morasu Vokkaligas got their name because they originally inhabited Morasu Nadu which is the eastern province of Mysore. Edgar Thurston (Castes and Tribes of India Volume 5) also states that the eastern province of Mysore consisting of Bangalore and kolar districts is known as Morasu Nadu. According to J. Pinkerton the Morasu Vokkalu are an original people of Karnata
The ancestors of Kempe Gowda I of the Yelahanka Nadaprabhus (the founder of Bangalore city and himself a Morasu Vokkaliga) are recorded to have migrated to these districts from Alur of Kanchi around the 15th century under Rana Bhaire Gowda, who built the fort at Devanahalli. In Kanchi, they were known as Morasu Vellala since they had migrated from Morasu Nadu which is identified as the eastern province of Mysore.
According to Edgar Thurston (Castes and Tribes of India Volume 5) the Kongu region was ruled by a series of twenty eight kings before being conquered by the Cholas of Tanjore, citing the earliest portion of the Kongu Chronicle - Kongu Desa Rajakkal (a manuscript in The Mackenzie Collection) which gives a series of short notices of the reigns of all the kings who ruled the country from the start of the Christian era till its conquest by the Cholas. These kings belonged to two distinct dynasties: the earlier line of the Solar race which had a succession of seven kings of the Ratti tribe, and the later line of the Ganga race.
According to Burton Stein, the region of modern day Bangalore and Tumkur districts was known as Morasu Nadu, dominated by the Morasu Vokkaligas. In fact Hosur which borders Bangalore claims to have been called Murasu Nadu during the Sangam Age and has a significant population of Morasu Vokkaligas.
The sect has both Kannada and Telugu speaking groups, the four main sub-divisions being the Musuku, Hosadevru (Beralu), Palyadasime and Morasu proper which is again divided into three lines called Salu viz. Kanu salu,Nerlegattada salu, Kutera salu. The Musuku sect is so-called because the bride wears a veil or 'Musuku' during the wedding ceremony. Another section call themselves Hosadevara Vokkaligas and follow a custom known as Hosadevaru in the month of August/October every year. They speak Kannada language and use Gowda as their surname while few of the families use Reddi as surname and Palyadasime sections, fashion themselves as Reddi an honorific said to have been derived from the word Raatta or Ratti (from Sanskrit "Rāt", i.e. king) a title dating back to the Rashtrakuta Dynasty. There are 70 odd exogamous clans among the Morasu Vokkaligas.
The Sarpa Vokkaligas are also called as Salaparu in the short form and are found mainly in Tumkur Chikmagaluru and in some taluks of chitradurga and bellary districts of Karnataka. They are also found in large numbers in the cities of chikmagalur and some parts of Tumkur. Vokkalathana in Kannada language means tilling land and Vokkaliga means one who tills land. Alternate etymologies include the work vokku ("to thresh grain out of the ear stocks"). Those in the cities have been known to be agriculturist, warriors,traders and businessmen since olden days. The Sarpa vokkaliga's(Salaparu) have a reputation for being traditionally inclined.
The Namadhari Vokkaliga group is the second largest Vokkaliga sub-group. Found mainly in the 'Malnād' region of Karnataka in the districts of Shimoga,Hassan, Chickamagalur, Kodagu and Dakshina Kannada though they have spread to the Karāvaļi and Bayalu Seemae also. (Karnataka is divided into three Seemaes or geographical areas: starting from the coastline called Karāvaļi, The Western Ghats called Malnād and the plain lands called Bayalu Seemae).
Though originally said to belong to 18 root families or Balis the vast Namadhari population encompasses numerous sub-sects and folds. Like most Vokkaligas, they have Shaiva and Vaishnava folds. It is said that the Namadhari Gowdas acquired their name after they were re-converted to Hinduism during the time of the Hoysala King Vishnuvardhana, by the celebrated Srivaishnava Acharya, Ramanuja and they started wearing the Srivaishnava Nama or Tilaka. The Namadhari Gowdas who had earlier been converted to Jainism (which had gained popularity in Karnataka during the period of the Western Gangas) thus came to be Vaishnavas and ardent followers of Tirupati Timmappa. To this day they retain vestiges of Jain traditions. For instance, some Namadhari sub-sects are still strictly vegetarian (a majority of Vokkaligas being non-vegetarian) and in most families, while honouring their ancestors, a separate vegetarian offering of food called Jaina Ede is made.
The Kunchitiga Vokkaligas are found mainly in Tumkur, Chitradurga, Ramanagara and Chikkaballapura districts of Karnataka. They are also found in large numbers in the cities of Mysore and Bangalore. Those in the cities have been known to be agriculturist, warriors,traders and businessmen since olden days. The Kunchitigas have a reputation for being traditionally inclined.They are said to have 16 'Moola Gotras' or root families from which separated about 48 'Kulas' or exogamous clans. The kunchitiga gowdas are also found in parts of Theni, Madurai, Dindugal, Coimbatore, Dharmapuri & Krishnagiri Districts of Tamil Nadu and they are found in all taluks of Ananthapura district bordering tumkur and chitradurga district.they are majority in madakasira taluk of ananthpura district.
Kodagu and Dakshina Kannada Gowdas
The Kodagu Gowda (Kodagu, Dakshina Kannada Gowda) communities, as their name indicates, hail mostly from those districts. Originally they are the migrants from Ikkeri (present Shimoga District). They were originally Natha Pantha and Shivaites owing allegiance to Sringeri Matha. Later Emperor Vishnuvardhana's rule they became Vaishnavites and worship 'Tirupati Timmappa' (Balaji of Thirupati) and 'Sabbakka' (Sharada of Sringeri). They are also called Tuluva Gowdas as they spoke Tulu when they came from Ikkeri, later in the Mysore kingdom, and settled the Mangalore-Udupi (Dakshina Kannada-Udupi) region. They now speak the Are Bhashe or Gowda Kannada dialect of Tulu and Kannada. They are said to have 10 Kutumba and 18 Balis as their primordial root families, from which arose around a Nooru Mane or hundred families. Concerning the Vokkaligas in the district of Coorg, Rev.G.Richter, in Gazetteer of Coorg (1870) lists them as Tulu Gowdas (Vokkaligas in Kodagu and Dakshin Kannada) who migrated to Coorg (Kodagu) from the Mangalore-Udupi (Dakshina Kannada-Udupi) region under the Canarese (Kannada) speaking peoples.
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