Komati (caste)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Komati mother.jpg
Komati mother and child, Madras Presidency, 1909
Kuladevi (female)Vasavi Kanyaka Parameswari
ReligionsHinduism • Jainism
RegionAndhra Pradesh, Orissa, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Maharashtra

The Komati is a trading community found primarily in southern and central India, that is currently organised as a caste. The members of the Komati caste are commonly engaged in banking, money lending and other business pursuits. The community consists of many sects who are followers of Hinduism, namely the Gaura or Gauda, the Thrivarnika and the Kalinga, along with the Jaina Komatis who are followers of Jainism.


The origin of the word "Komati" is uncertain, and there are several speculative theories about it.[1][2][3]

The affinity of the word "Komati" to "Gomata" has led to speculation that the word is derived from Gomata (Gomateshwara), the name of a Jain deity.[4] This theory is supported by scholars such as C. Dwarakanath Gupta,[5] and Jaisetty Ramanaiah;[6] B. S. L. Hanumantha Rao also mentions this as the most reasonable of the theories, noting that it is a "derivation of the word from gomata, the great Jaina saint, which implies that they were followers of Gomata cult or were originally Jains".[7][8] Gupta theorises the Komatis were originally traders from Gauda in Bengal, who adopted Jainism and followed the cult of Gomata. They later gave up Jainism and embraced Vedic Hinduism.[5] Hanumantha Rao noted that the merchant classes preferred Jainism for gaining social status and respectability, and the erstwhile Banias became Gomati or followers of the Gomata cult in medieval times.[9]

An alternative etymology mentioned by Gupta derives the name of the caste from the name of a river. He states that the Komatis are said to have originally lived on the banks of Gomati, a local name for the Godavari river.[5] Yet another theory states that the name of the community is derived from the Telugu phrase konu-ammu-atti ("persons engaged in the exchange of goods").[3] Colonial ethnographers Edgar Thurston and R. V. Russell derived "Komati" from the Sanskrit term "Gomathi," believed to have the meaning of possessor or keeper of cows or Ko-mati ("to be fox minded"), which references their business acumen.[10][11] An origin story accepted by many in the community is mentioned in the Kanyaka Purana which states that Shiva gave them the name Go-mati ("cow-minded").[5]


There is epigraphic evidence that the term Komati was in use by the 11th century CE.[12] The Komati merchants were associated with the town of Penugonda in the West Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh.[13]

Inscriptions from the Godavari, Krishna and Guntor districts from 11th century refer to the merchants referred to as the "Lords of Penugonda".[14][15] The wealthier sections of the Komatis were addressed as Setti, Chetti or Chettiyar, all derived from the Sanskrit term Sreshthi.[16] Their trade associations bore the name nagaram. They also participated in long-distance trade networks called pekkandru (literally "the many").[17] During the times of the Vijayanagara Empire, they moved to various parts of South India to further their businesses.[18] During the empire's reign, they emerged as prominent merchants in South Indian trade, and sought to be considered as Vaishyas, the third highest varna in the Hindu caste system. During this time, the Komati and Balija competed between each other for Vaishya status.[19]

After the arrival of European trading companies, the Komati merchants were among the local traders that partnered with them. The British referred to them as "Committys" and often used the term generically for all merchants on the Coromandel coast. Among the "Committys" that the British dealt with were the bulk sellers of cloth and other export commodities, money lenders and money changers, and the individual shop-keepers.[20] The second Chief Merchant of the British East India Company in Madras was a Komati called Kasi Viranna, appointed in 1669.[21] There was fierce competition in George Town between the Tamil-speaking Beeri merchants, who formed the 'left-hand' caste division and the Komati and Balija merchants, who were referred to as the 'right-hand' caste division.[22] Other "right hand" castes included those of washermen, barbers, potters, tank-diggers, Yenadis (tribals), and outcastes.[23] The competition between the divisions gave rise to riots and disputes in 1652 and 1707. The British were able to settle the disputes between left-hand and right-hand caste divisions amicably by resettling members to designated areas in George Town which is a small neighbourhood in the city of Chennai.[22]

Niyogi Brahmins and the Maha-nad opposed the attempts of Komatis to designate themselves as Vaishyas. The Maha-nad was a multi-caste secret assembly that was created to exact retribution for breaking the rules and rights of castes. The Maha-nad was led by Niyogi Brahmins, Chettiars, and Telagas. Whenever the Komati's attempted to perform orthodox rites (especially the Upanayana ceremony), the Maha-nad would disrupt the ceremonies. The leaders of the Maha-nad would invade the house of Komatis and disrupt the sacrificial fire, rendering the ceremony useless. The Maha-nad would hire throngs of untouchables to attack the houses of Komatis and vandalise them with cattle bones, blood, human feces, and cattle feces mixed with water. The Vaidiki Brahmins who served as family priests for the Komatis were, unlike their Niyogi Brahmin counterparts, unconcerned with the idea that Komatis were infringing the boundaries between lower once-born and upper twice born castes. From 1784-1825, the majority of Komatis conducted the Upanayana ceremonies according to the Kanyaki Purana, a late medieval Telugu text sacred to the Komatis. These Upanayana ceremonies were completely in Telugu and conducted right before a Komati man's marriage, however a few wealthier Komati families were able to afford the orthodox Sanskrit Upanayana for younger bachelor men. The orthodox Sanskrit version allowed Komatis to perform further orthodox rites, and Vaidiki Brahmins were fine in officiating them. By 1825, the two versions had mixed into a part-Telugu, part-Sanskrit ceremony. By the 1830s, the Komatis began to phase out their native Telugu Komati elements of their rituals. [24]

Lengthy legal battles ensued between the Vaidiki and Niyogi Brahmins on whether the Komatis were allowed to perform orthodox Vaishya rites. The Vaidikis argued that there was nothing in the Vedas (the orthodox Sanskrit Hindu texts) the prohibited the Komatis from performing their own Telugu versions of the Upanayana. They stated that since it was a well known fact that Komatis called themselves Vaishyas and their men wore the sacred thread, there was no reason prohibiting them from moving on to the orthodox Sanskrit versions of the Upanayana ceremony. The Niyogis argued that while they did indeed call themselves Vaishyas, they could not be real Vaishyas due to Hindu chronology. According to Hindu chronology, Vaishyas had become extinct in Kali Yuga, the final time period in Hindu cosmology. Additionally, the Niyogis stated that the Komatis performed the Upanayana incorrectly due to the fact that the majority of them had it performed right before an man's marriage, rather than at age 24 which the orthodox texts state a Vaishya bachelor should have the ceremony conducted. They argued that since the Komatis could not be real Vaishyas and performed the Upanayana incorrectly, they had renounced their right to do so and that there was nothing they could do to atone for it. Legal battles ensued for decades, with British officials being unable to resolve the conflict and agitation between Komatis and Niyogis.[24]

By the 20th century, the Komatis had begun calling themselves according to the orthodox rishi gotras, rather than their native 102 gotras, which were inappropriate in accordance with the rules for Vaishya gotras. Over the 19th century, many Komatis became wealthy and in the 1901 census, were the only Telugu caste to be ranked as Vaishya. Spurred by this recognition, in 1905, prominent Komatis formed the Southern India Vysia Association, and in the 1921 census, tens of thousands of Komatis were recorded as Vaishyas.[24]


Vasavi Mata is considered the Kuladevata of Komatis.[25] Kanyaki Purana – a late medieval sacred text in Telugu – is their key religious text.[26] Records are available for a Kanyaka Parameswari temple built on a garden owned by the Komati community in George Town, Madras in the early 18th century.[25]

Komatis regard themselves as a `twice-born' caste, meaning that they are allowed to wear a sacred thread following an initiation ceremony (the upanayana).[26] This status was contested by Niyogi Brahmins in Masulipatnam in the early 19th century in the Imperial British courts at considerable expense.[27] The 102 gotras of the Komati community do not correspond with gotras that were deemed appropriate for Vaishyas because the gotras are not rishi gotras.[28]

Arya Vysya[edit]

Arya Vysya is a subset of the Komati caste. Orthodox Arya Vysyas follow rituals prescribed in the Vasavi Puranam, a religious text written in the late Middle Ages. The community were formerly known as Komati Chettiars but now prefer to be referred to as Arya Vysyas.[29]

The Komati merchants along with Balijas became notable as trading communities during the period of the Vijayanagara Empire (1325-1565 CE), and desired Vaishya status.[24]

The Mackenzie manuscripts provide a record of a copper plate grant of guru Bhaskaracharya (16th century CE), given by the 102 gotras which formed the Gaura grouping. According to the Vasavi Purana, the Vaisyas of Penugonda and 17 other towns belonged to a group of Vaisyas of 714 gotras. However, the 102 gotras of Gauravas separated out, and formed the Gaura Komati community.[30]


  1. ^ B. S. L. Hanumantha Rao (1995). Social Mobility in Medieval Andhra. Telugu University. p. 176. No satisfactory origin and meaning of the word Komati could so far be traced.
  2. ^ Syed Siraj ul Hassan (1920). The Castes and Tribes of H.E.H. the Nizam's Dominions. Asian Educational Services. p. 340. ISBN 978-81-206-0488-9. The etymology of the word ' Komti ' is uncertain and throws no light upon the origin of the caste.
  3. ^ a b Journal of the Andhra Historical Research Society. Andhra Historical Research Society. 1963. p. 212. While attempting to explain its origin, many stories have been invented, but none of them is satisfactory.
  4. ^ Śrīpāda Gōpālakr̥ṣṇamūrti (1963). Jain Vestiges in Andhra. Government of Andhra Pradesh. p. 88.
  5. ^ a b c d C. Dwarakanath Gupta (1999). Socio-cultural History of an Indian Caste. Mittal Publications. pp. 9–10. ISBN 978-81-7099-726-9.
  6. ^ Jaisetty Ramanaiah (1989). Temples of South India: A Study of Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist Monuments of the Deccan. Concept Publishing Company. p. 247. ISBN 978-81-7022-223-1.
  7. ^ Rao, B. S. L. Hanumantha. Social mobility in Medieval Andhra. p. 176.
  8. ^ B. S. L., 1995. Socio-cultural history of ancient and medieval Andhra, p. 155. Volume 172 of Telugu Viśvavidyālaya pracuraṇa. Telugu University.
  9. ^ Rao, Hanumantha B. S. L., 1973. Religion in Āndhra: a survey of religious developments in Āndhra from early times upto A.D. 1325, Part 1325, Issue 69 of Archaeological series. Department of Archaeology and Museums, Government of Andhra Pradesh, p. 175
  10. ^ Gupta, C. Dwarakanath; Bhaskar, Sepuri (1 December 1992), Vysyas: a sociological study, Ashish Pub. House, p. 10, ISBN 978-81-7024-450-9
  11. ^ Russell, R. V. (1916), The Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces of India, Volume III of IV, Library of Alexandria, pp. 487–, ISBN 978-1-4655-8303-1
  12. ^ Madras, Andhra Historical Research Society, Rajahmundry; Society, Andhra Historical Research (1964), Journal of the Andhra Historical Society, Andhra Historical Research Society, p. 212
  13. ^ Raychaudhuri, Tapan; Habib, Irfan; Kumar, Dharma (1982), The Cambridge Economic History of India: Volume 1, C.1200-c.1750, CUP Archive, pp. 120–, ISBN 978-0-521-22692-9
  14. ^ Sundaram, K. (1968), Studies in Economic and Social Conditions of Medieval Andhra: A.D. 1000-1600, Triveni Publishers, p. 58
  15. ^ Talbot 2001, p. 53.
  16. ^ Talbot 2001, p. 59.
  17. ^ Talbot 2001, p. 81.
  18. ^ Ramaswamy, Vijaya (2014), "Silk and Weavers of Silk in Medieval Peninsular India", The Medieval History Journal, 17 (1): 145–169, doi:10.1177/0971945814528422, S2CID 162729378
  19. ^ Price 2000, p. 33-34. sfn error: multiple targets (2×): CITEREFPrice2000 (help)
  20. ^ Mukund, Kanakalatha (1999), The Trading World of the Tamil Merchant: Evolution of Merchant Capitalism in the Coromandel, Orient Blackswan, pp. 62–, ISBN 978-81-250-1661-8
  21. ^ Brennig, Joseph J. (1977), "Chief Merchants and the European Enclaves of Seventeenth-Century Coromandel", Modern Asian Studies, 11 (3): 321–340, doi:10.1017/s0026749x00014177, JSTOR 311502
  22. ^ a b Mines, Mattison (1992), "Individuality and Achievement in South Indian Social History", Modern Asian Studies, 26 (1): 129–156, doi:10.1017/s0026749x00015973, JSTOR 312720
  23. ^ Price 2000, p. 34. sfn error: multiple targets (2×): CITEREFPrice2000 (help)
  24. ^ a b c d Price, Pamela G. (2000). "Conflict Processing and Political Mobilization in Nineteenth Century South India". In John Jeya Paul; Keith E. Yandell (eds.). Religion and public culture: encounters and identities in modern South India. Richmond, Surrey: Curzon Press. pp. 33–55. ISBN 9780700711017.
  25. ^ a b Neve, Geert de; Donner, Henrike (24 January 2007), The Meaning of the Local: Politics of Place in Urban India, CRC Press, pp. 102–, ISBN 978-1-135-39216-1
  26. ^ a b Price 2000, p. 35. sfn error: multiple targets (2×): CITEREFPrice2000 (help)
  27. ^ Yandell 2013, p. 36.
  28. ^ Yandell 2013, p. 35.
  29. ^ Mines, Mattison (2014). "The Political Economy of Patronage, Preeminence and the State in Chennai". In Piliavsky, Anastasia (ed.). Patronage as Politics in South Asia. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9781107056084.
  30. ^ Andhra Historical Research Society, 1964. Journal of the Andhra Historical Society, Volume 30, Parts 1-4, Pages 207-209.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]