Pillai (surname)

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Pillai or Pillay is a surname found among the Malayalam and Tamil-speaking people of India and Sri Lanka.


According to epigraphic records, Pillai is an ancient title that was used as a suffix that goes back to the Sangam Era and was given to junior members of the royal family.[1] Originally a title meaning "royal child", it came to be given to administrators of temples; often holding large estates on behalf of the latter.[2]

Early English records also address these hereditary ruling chiefs as the princes of Kerala ranking below the monarch. The most well known are the Pillais of the Eight Noble Houses, the Ettuveettil Pillamar of Travancore.[3][page needed]

Tamil inscriptions define the direct meaning of Pillai as "Child of King" (prince), denoting nobility.[4] The title occur both as a single name or as a suffix to the name. This title has been in traditional use by the communities such as the Nairs and the Vellalars.[5][6][7]


Notable people with this surname or its variants include:


  1. ^ See inscription at Kannankara temple, Trivandrum District. Quoted as Inscription 9/60 in P. Sundaram Pillai's Some Early Sovereigns of Travancore. Page 40-41 He makes the observation that they were in his opinion not men in the royal service.
  2. ^ Mark de Lannoy,Kulasekhara Perumals of Travancore, Page 202
  3. ^ More, Lena (2003). English East India Company and the local rulers in Kerala. ISBN 8188432040.
  4. ^ Sircar, Dineschandra (1966). Indian Epigraphical Dictionary. p. 166. ISBN 9788120805620.
  5. ^ Pandian, Jacob (1987). Caste, Nationalism and Ethnicity: An Interpretation of Tamil Cultural History and Social Order. Popular Prakashan. p. 110. ISBN 9780861321360.
  6. ^ University, Vijaya Ramaswamy, Jawaharlal Nehru (2017-08-25). Historical Dictionary of the Tamils. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 268. ISBN 9781538106860.
  7. ^ Pfister, Raymond (1995). Soixante ans de pentecôtisme en Alsace (1930-1990): une approche socio-historique. P. Lang. p. 166. ISBN 9783631486207.