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Classification Tamil people
Gotra Upa Subramanya, Nandhi
Religions Hinduism, Veerasaivam, Kaumaram
Languages Tamil
Populated states Tamil Nadu
Feudal title Mudaliar
Related groups Adaviyar

Sengunthar ([sɛŋkʊnʈɻ]) or Kaikolar is a Tamil community found in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and also in some parts of Kerala,[1] Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Northern Province, Sri Lanka. Sengunthars use the title of Mudaliar after their names. They are classified into various sub-sects based on a patrilineal system called Koottams, which is similar to gotras.


  1. The word Kaikkolar comes from the words kai (hand) and kol (shuttle used in looms)[2]
  2. Kaikkolar also means men with stronger arms.[3][4]
  3. Senguntham means a red dagger. Sengunthar literally means a warrior with Red Dagger.[2]

Literary references[edit]

Senguntha Prabanda Thiratu[5] is a collection of various literary works written about Kaikkolars. It was originally published by Vannakkalanjiyam Kanji Shri Naagalinga Munivar in 1926 and republished in 1993 by Sabapathi Mudaliar.[6] The collection contains:

  • Senkunthar Pillai Tamizh by Gnanaprakasa Swamigal, Tirisirapuram Kovintha Pillai and Lakkumanaswami. A collection of songs about the Sungunthars, taken from palm-leaf manuscripts, that was first published in the 18th century in Kanchipuram
  • Eetti Ezhubathu, the major literary work about the Sengunthars. It comprises poetry by Ottakkoothar written in the 12th century CE during the reign of Rajaraja Chola II. It describes the mythical origin of Sengunthar, expeditions of Sengunthar chieftains and also praises the 1008 Kaikolar who were beheaded trying to enable it to be written.[7]
  • Ezhupezhubathu, a sequel to Eetti Ezhubathu written by Ottakkoothar. In this work, he prays the goddess Saraswathi to reattach the heads of the 1008 Sengunthars to their respective bodies.
  • Kalipporubathu, a collection of ten stanzas compiled by Kulothunga Chola III. These stanzas were written after Ezhupezhubathu to express joy when the 1008 heads were reattached. These stanzas include the songs who witnessed it in the court of Raja Raja II including himself which was later compiled by his successor Kulothunga Chozha III
  • Thirukkai Vazhakkam, which describes the good deeds of Sengunthars and their Saivite religious principles. It was written by Puhalendi.
  • Sengunthar Silaakkiyar Malai was written by Kanchi Virabadhra Desigar. It describes the legends and eminent personalities of the Sengunthar community.

Kaikolar warriors[edit]

Sengunthars soldiers in the regiment of Paluvettaraiyar and were involved in the invasion of Sri Lanka by Cholas in the 10th century.[8][page needed]

In the army of the medieval and later Chozhas, many commanders and captains were drawn from the ranks of Sengunthar. Further records of exploits of Sengunthar army in Ceylon, Bengal, Burma and Indonesia were recorded in temple inscriptions.[9][page needed][10][page needed]

Some were chieftains and commanders-in-chief of the later Chozhas. Kaikkolar commanders-in-chief were known as Samanta Senapathigal[11][page needed] or Senaithalaivar.[12][13][page needed][14][page needed]

Sengunthars were both weavers and merchants and maintained armies to guard their regional trading ventures. Throughout the chozha period, trading and military activities of Sengunthar are predominant. Sengunthar were members of the Ayyavole 500 regional trading corporation.[15]

Sengunthars served as Agampadiyar to Chola Emperors which literally means the members of the Chola emperor's royal bodyguards.[16]

Later society[edit]

After 13th century Sengunthars had become associated with weaving completely.[9][full citation needed][10][full citation needed][17][page needed] According to Deepak Kumar, the Sengunthar weavers very often figure in the capacity of kudi, i.e. tenant-cultivators and also holders of kaniyachi, that is hereditary possession over the land.[18][full citation needed] During the period of Sadasiva raya, the sthanathar of the Brahmapuriswara temple made an agreement that they would cultivate certain lands of the Kaikkolar regiment.[9][page needed][18]

Temple trustees[edit]

Sanjay Subrahmanyam states that many Senguntha families were rich enough to contribute both land and gold to temples.[19][full citation needed]

According to Ruth Barnes, in AD 1418 in Tiruvannamalai, Sengunthars were given the right to blow the conch, ride palanquins and elephants and wave the temple fly whisk.[20][full citation needed]

Community Legends and festivals[edit]

Myth of origin[edit]

Shiva was enraged by the giants who harassed the people of the earth and sent forth six sparks of fire from his eyes. His wife Parvati became frightened by this and retired to her chamber. In so doing, she dropped nine beads from her anklets. Shiva converted the beads into nine females, to each of whom was born a hero with full-grown mustaches and a dagger. These nine heroes, namely Virabahu, Virakesari, Viramahendrar, Viramaheshwar, Virapurandharar, Viraraakkathar, Viramaarthandar, Viraraanthakar and Veerathirar with Subrahmanya at their head, marched in command of a large force, and destroyed the demons. The Kaikolar claim to be the descendants of these warriors.

After killing the demon, the warriors were told by Shiva that they adopt a profession, which would not involve the destruction or injury of any living creature and weaving being such a profession, they were trained in it. Chithira valli,[21][page needed] daughter of Virabahu, one of the above commanders was married to Musukunthan and gave birth to Angi Vanman. His descendants were claimed as first generation of Sengunthars. This legend was also recounted by the saint Kachiappa Sivachariyar of Kanchipuram around 14th to 15th century AD[22][page needed] in his masterpiece, Kanthapuranam.[23][page needed]

Sura samharam[edit]

The Sura Samharam festival is a traditional ritual where the Sengunthars dress as the lieutenants of Karthikeya and re-enact the killing of the demon Narakasura.[24]

Legend of Ayiramkaliyamman Temple in Thirumalairayan Pattinam[edit]

Ayiramkaliyamman Temple is located in Thirumalairayan Pattinam near Karaikal. It is said that a pious Sengunthar had a dream to collect a Goddess Amman in a silver box floating in sea. The next day himself along with his friends had gone to the sea-shore and in accordance with the dream found the box. It contained the image of Goddess Amman with an inscription on a palm leaf to indicate that this deity had to be worshipped with 1000 items daily. But since that could not happen daily, people conduct pooja with 1000 items once in 5 years. The idol is dismantled part by part and kept back in the box to be opened after another 5 years only.[25][full citation needed]


Sengunthar Shaivite priests are vegetarian, wear the sacred thread, and shave their foreheads in the Brahmanic fashion. Both alcoholic and sexual abstinence are valued, as is control of the passions. But when they are concerned with the sacred locus of the interior, meat eating, blood sacrifice, spirit possession, and the worship of small gods are all prominent. Sengunthars thus follow both a priestly model and a Dravidian tradition.[26]

Prominent personalities[edit]


  1. ^ Kerala , Volume 1 by Kumar Suresh Singh, T. Madhava Menon, D. Tyagi, Anthropological Survey of India, B. Francis Kulirani
  2. ^ a b Studies in Indian history: with special reference to Tamil Nādu by Kolappa Pillay Kanakasabhapathi Pillay
  3. ^ Ancient Indian History and Civilization – Sailendra Nath Sen. Google Books. Retrieved 4 December 2011. 
  4. ^ Religion and society in South India: a volume in honour of Prof. N. Subba Reddy, V. Sudarsen, G. Prakash Reddy, M. Suryanarayana
  5. ^ "Senguntha Prabandha Thiratu". Retrieved 4 December 2011. 
  6. ^ Sengunta Prabanda Thirattu
  7. ^ Tamil literature – Kamil Zvelebil. Google Books. 1 November 1987. Retrieved 4 December 2011. 
  8. ^ Historical perspectives of warfare in India: some morale and matériel determinants By Sri Nandan Prasad, Centre for Studies in Civilizations (Delhi, India)
  9. ^ a b c Ramaswamy, Vijaya (1985). Textiles and weavers in medieval South India. Oxford University Press. 
  10. ^ a b Mines, Mattison (1984). The Warrior Merchants: Textiles, Trade and Territory in South India. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521267144. 
  11. ^ Manickam, V. Kongu Nadu, a history up to A.D. 1400. 
  12. ^ Ramaswamy, Vijaya (1985). Textiles and weavers in medieval South India. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 4 December 2011. 
  13. ^ Kongu Nadu, a history up to A.D. 1400. 1 January 2000. Retrieved 4 December 2011. 
  14. ^ The Pandyan Townships: The Pandyan ... – R. Tirumalai, Tamil Nadu (India). Dept. of Archaeology. Google Books. 2 September 2008. Retrieved 4 December 2011. 
  15. ^ Mines, Mattison (1984). The Warrior Merchants: Textiles, Trade and Territory in South India. Cambridge University Press. pp. 14, 43. ISBN 9780521267144. 
  16. ^ Sinopoli, Carla M. (2003). The Political Economy of Craft Production: Crafting Empire in South India, c.1350–1650. Cambridge University Press. p. 188. ISBN 9781139440745. 
  17. ^ de Neve, Geert (2005). The Everyday Politics of Labour: Working Lives in India's Informal Economy. Berghahn Books. ISBN 9788187358183. 
  18. ^ a b Science and Empire: Essays in Indian Context, 1700–1947 By Deepak Kumar
  19. ^ The Political Economy of Commerce: Southern India, 1500–1650 by Sanjay Subrahmanyam
  20. ^ Textiles in Indian Ocean Societies By Ruth Barnes
  21. ^ The Indian economic and social ... – Delhi School of Economics. Google Books. Retrieved 4 December 2011. 
  22. ^ Politics and life in our times ... – Thambimuttu Duraisingam. Google Books. 7 March 1999. Retrieved 4 December 2011. 
  23. ^ Literature, caste and society: the ... – S. Jeyaseela Stephen. Google Books. Retrieved 4 December 2011. 
  24. ^ Weaver Folk Traditions as a Source of History, Vijaya Ramaswamy, Indian Economic & Social History Review, Vol. 19, No. 1, 47–62 (1982),
  25. ^ Encyclopaedia of India by Sunita Pant Bansal
  26. ^ Models of Caste and the Left-Hand Division in South India by M Mines – 1982. pp-2,61,62.

Further reading[edit]