Saiva Velalars of Tamil Nadu
Since the time immemorial, clans have exisited among tamils and they
can not be equated to castes of today.
Even the old Tholkappiam of tamil speaks about four groups of people.
The conversion of clans into castes has been a recent phenomenon (
late chola period), considering the long history we have. We hear
about right-hand castes and left-hand castes only during the cholas
like Kulotunga which you could put around 1100 A.D. Clans got
themselves converted into castes and got themselves established and
strengthened during this period.
Till then, a rigid caste structure never existed and teh fortunes of
various clans kept changing because of incessant wars being faught
among tamil kings and with other invaders. The caste structure got a
firm footing after the arrival of people from other languages into
the tamil country.
Intially the castes were either classified into two major groups. One
were those who own land or go to war and another was those who
depended on manual labour for living like artisans, weavers, farm
labourers, etc., Brahmins were out of this and they were on the top
This got further strengthened over a period of time where a loose
hierarchy got installed. The Brahmins were on the Top, followed by
velalars (land owning class), Chettiars (business), warrior
communities like Thevar, Maravar, Kallar, Vanniar, (defence and local
management)etc., Others were below these groups. It is said that
there was enough movement from the ranks of warriror castes to the
velalars depending on the wealth, power and education acquired by the
warrior caste family. There is a saying in tamil that says "Kallar,
Maravar, Maravar slowly become velalars".
Due to a process called Sansrikritisation (Every caste takes up the
habits and customs of its immediate superior to reach the superior
status), some section of velalars gave up meat eating and became
vegetarian (They are know as Saiva Velalars). This process had
started as early as Pallava Period (700 AD) but even the great tamil
literature "Periya Puranam" talks about Velalar as a single grouping.
The actual mention of Saiva Vellalars as a caste grouping is
available in literature only after teh establishment of Telugu
Nayakar rule in Tamil Nadu.(1600 AD).
The saiva velalars carry a number of titles like Pillai, Mudaliar,
etc., depending on their area of domicile. The saiva velalars of
pandya and chola kingdom carry the title pillais and those from the
pallava kingdom used to carry the titls of mudaliars. These titles
are also used by other castes also.
Written by Mr.Kalees