Vanniar (Chieftain)

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Vanniar or Vannia (Tamil: வன்னியர், Sinhalese: වන්නියා) is a title of a chief in medieval Sri Lanka who ruled the Chiefdom of Vanni regions as tribute payers to the Jaffna vassal state. There are number of origin theories for the feudal chiefs, coming from as an indigenous formation. The most famous of the Vanni chieftains was Pandara Vannian, known for his resistance against the British colonial power.[1]


The word Vanni may have been a derivation of the Tamil word vanam, meaning "forest", with Vanniar meaning "person from the forest".[2]


Medieval Tamil chronicles such as the 18th century Yalpana Vaipava Malai and stone inscriptions like Konesar Kalvettu recount that the Chola royal Kankan, a descendant of the legendary King Manu Needhi Cholan of Thiruvarur, Chola Nadu, restored the Koneswaram temple at Trincomalee and the Kantalai tank after finding them in ruins. He visited the Munneswaram temple on the west coast, before settling ancient Vanniars in the east of the island. According to the chronicles, he extensively renovated and expanded the shrine, lavishing much wealth on it; he was crowned with the ephitet Kulakottan meaning Builder of tank and temple.[3][4]

Further to the reconstruction, Kulakottan paid attention to agriculture cultivation and economic development in the area, inviting the Vanniar chief Tanniuna Popalen and families to a new founded town in the area including Thampalakamam to maintain the Kantalai tank and the temple itself.[5] The effects of this saw the Vanni region flourish. The Vanniars were brought here by this chief to make make the cultivate in region.[6][7]

Following the re-rise of the Tamil kingdom in the medieval period and demise of the Rajarata kingdom period post twelfth century AD, many petty chiefs took power in the buffer lands between the northern based Jaffna Vassal State and other Kingdoms based on the Southwest of the Island namely Kotte Kingdom and the Kandyan Kingdom.These petty chiefs paid tribute to the Jaffna Vassal State. Sometimes they were independent of any central control or subdued by the southern kingdoms during the European colonial era for strategical purposes. The ruling class was composed of multi caste origins.

Some according primary sources such as Yalpana Vaipava Malai were descended from modern Tamil Nadu whereas others were of Mukkuvar origins.There were also number of Vannia chiefs of Sinhalese ancestry.[citation needed] Many kings and chiefs with titles such as Vannia had ruled in northern areas of modern Sri Lanka termed as Vanniya during the Jaffna Vassal State era.[8]

As a title, it is no longer registered amongst northern Sri Lankan Tamils but in the 1900s it was present singly in the North and North Central provinces. During the subsequent period it assimilated as part of the local Govigama and other similar positioned castes.[9]


  1. ^ Daya Somasundaram (2010). "Collective trauma in the Vanni- a qualitative inquiry into the mental health of the internally displaced due to the civil war in Sri Lanka". Int J Ment Health Syst. 4: 22. doi:10.1186/1752-4458-4-22. PMC 2923106Freely accessible. PMID 20667090. 
  2. ^ Karthigesu, Indrapala. Sri Lankan Tamil Society and Politics. pp. 7–9. 
  3. ^ Schalk, Peter; Veluppillai, A.; Nākacāmi, Irāmaccantiran̲ (2002-01-01). Buddhism among Tamils in pre-colonial Tamilakam and Īlam: Prologue. The Pre-Pallava and the Pallava period. Almqvist & Wiksell. ISBN 9789155453572. 
  4. ^ South India and Ceylon, by K.K. Pillay. University of Madras. 1963-01-01. 
  5. ^ Pridham, Charles (2016-05-19). An Historical, Political, and Statistical Account of Ceylon and Its Dependencies, Volume 2. BiblioLife. ISBN 9781357465452. 
  6. ^ Sivaratnam, C. (1968-01-01). The Tamils in Early Ceylon. Author. 
  7. ^ The Lord of Thiruketheeswaram: An Ancient Hindu Sthalam of Hoary Antiquity in Sri Lanka : Being an Account, of how Thiruketheeswaram Became a Sacred Sthalam, of the Many Temples that Were Erected Here Through the Ages, and of the Several Celebrated Devotees who Received His Grace. S. Arumugam. 1980-01-01. 
  8. ^ Peebles, History of Sri Lanka, p.31-32
  9. ^ Karthigesu, Sri Lankan Tamil Society and Politics, p.7-9


  • McGilvray, Dennis (1982). Mukkuvar Vannimai: Tamil Caste and Matriclan Ideology in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka, (Caste Ideology and Interaction). Cambridge University Press. 
  • Kartithigesu, Sivathamby (1995). Sri Lankan Tamil society and politics. New Century Book House. p. 189. ISBN 81-234-0395-X. 
  • Peebles, Patrick (2006). The History of Sri Lanka. United States: Greenwood Press. p. 248. ISBN 0-313-33205-3.