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the goddess Parvati Devi resided on the top of Kailasa
Parvata or mount of paradise, they one day retired to
amuse themselves in private, and by chance Visvakarma,
the architect of the Devatas or gods, intruded on their
privacy, which enraged them, and they said to him that,
since he had the audacity to intrude on their retirement,
they would cause an enemy of his to be born in the
Bhuloka or earthly world, who should punish him for
his temerity. Visvakarma requested they would inform
him in what part of the Bhuloka or earthly world he
would be born, and further added that, if he knew the birth
place, he would annihilate him with a single blow. The
divine pair replied that the person would spring up into
existence from the bowels of the earth on the banks of
the Ganga river. On this, Visvakarma took his sword,
mounted his aerial car, and flew through the regions of
ether to the banks of the Ganga river, where he anxiously

* Section III. Inhabitants, Government Press, Madras, 1907.


waited the birth of his enemy. One day Visvakarma
observed the ground to crack near him, and a kiritam or
royal diadem appeared issuing out of the bowels of the
earth, which Visvakarma mistook for the head of his
adversary, and made a cut at it with his sword, but only
struck off the kiritam. In the meantime, the person
came completely out of the earth, with a bald pate, hold-
ing in his hand a golden ploughshare, and his neck
encircled with garlands of flowers. The angry Visvakarma
instantly laid hold on him, when the Gods Brahma,
Vishnu and Siva, and the supporters of the eight corners
of the universe, appeared in all their glory, and interceded
for the earth-born personage, and said to Visvakarma
thou didst vow that thou wouldst annihilate him with a
single blow, which vow thou hast not performed ; there-
fore with what justice hast thou a second time laid violent
hands on him ? Since thou didst not succeed in thy first
attempt, it is but equitable that thou shouldst now spare
him. At the intercession and remonstrance of the gods,
Visvakarma quitted his hold, and a peace was concluded
between him and his enemy on the following stipulation,
viz., that the pancha jati, or five castes of silversmiths, car-
penters, ironsmiths, stone-cutters, and braziers, who were
the sons of Visvakarma, should be subservient to the
earth-born person. The deities bestowed on the person
these three names. First Bhumi Palakudu or saviour
of the earth, because he was produced by her. Second,
Ganga kulam or descendant of the river Ganga, by reason
of having been brought forth on her banks. Third,
Murdaka Palakudu or protector of the plough, alluding
to his being born with a ploughshare in his hand, and
they likewise ordained that, as he had lost his diadem, he
should not be eligible to sovereignty, but that he and his
descendants should till the ground with this privilege,


that a person of the caste should put the crown on the
king's head at the coronation. They next invested him
with the yegnopavitam or string, and, in order that he
might propagate his caste, they gave him in marriage
the daughters of the gods Indra and Kubera. At this
time, the god Siva was mounted on a white bullock, and
the god Dharmaraja on a white buffalo, which they gave
him to plough the ground, and from which circumstance
the caste became surnamed Vellal Warus or those who
plough with white bullocks. After the nuptials, the
deities departed to their celestial abodes. Murdaka
Palakulu had fifty-four sons by the daughter of the god
Indra, and fifty-two by the daughter of the god Kubera,
whom he married to the one hundred and six daughters
of Nala Kubarudu, the son of Kubera, and his sons-in-
law made the following agreement with him, viz., that
thirty-five of them should be called Bhumi Palakulu,
and should till the ground ; thirty-five of them named
Vellal Shetti, and their occupation be traffic ; and thirty-
five of them named Govu Shetlu, and their employment
breeding and feeding of cattle. They gave the remain-
ing one the choice of three orders, but he would not have
any connexion with either of them, from whence they
surnamed him Agmurdi or the alien. The Agmurdi
had born to him two thousand five hundred children,
and became a separate caste, assuming the appellation
of Agmurdi Vellal Waru. The other brothers had
twelve thousand children, who intermarried, and lived
together as one caste, though their occupations were
different .... During the reign of Krishna Ra-
yalu, whose capital was the city of Vijayanagaram or city
of victory, a person of the Vellal caste, named Umbhi
or Amultan Mudaliyar, was appointed sarvadhikari or
prime minister, who had a samprati or secretary of the


caste of Gollavaru or cowherds, whose name was
Venayaterthapalli. It so happened that a set of Bhaga-
vata Sevar, or strolling players, came to the city, and
one night acted a play in the presence of Krishna Rayalu
and his court. In one of the acts, a player appeared
in the garb and character of a female cowherd, and, by
mimicking the actions and manners of that caste, afforded
great diversion both to the Raja and his courtiers. But
no person seemed to be so much pleased as the prime
minister, which being perceived by his secretary, he
determined on making him pay dear for his mirth by
turning the Vellal caste into ridicule, and thus hurt his
pride, and take revenge for the pleasure he expressed at
seeing the follies of the cowherd caste exposed. For that
purpose, he requested the players, when they acted
another play, to dress themselves up in the habit of a
female of the Vellal caste. This scheme came to the
ears of the prime minister, who, being a proud man,
was sadly vexed at the trick, and resolved on preventing
its being carried into execution ; but, having none of his
own caste present to assist him, and not knowing well
how to put a stop to the business, he got into his palan-
quin, and went to a Canardha Shetti or headman of the
right-hand caste, informed him of the circumstance, and
begged his advice and assistance. The Shetti replied
' Formerly the left-hand caste had influence enough with
Government to get an order issued forbidding the right-
hand caste to cultivate or traffic ; therefore, when we
quarrel again, do you contrive to prevent the ryots of
the Vellal caste from cultivating the ground, so that the
public revenue will fall short, and Government will be
obliged to grant us our own terms ; and I will save you
from the disgrace that is intended to be put on you.
The prime minister agreed to the proposal, and went


home. At night, when the players were coming to the
royal presence to act, and one of them had on the habit
of a female of the Vellal caste, the Canardha Shetti cut
off his head, and saved the honour of the prime minister.
The death of the player being reported to the Raja
Krishna Rayalu, he enquired into the affair, and finding
how matters stood, he directed the prime minister and
his secretary to be more circumspect in their conduct,
and not to carry their enmity to such lengths.' Since
that time, the Vellal castes have always assisted the right-
hand against the left-hand castes." (See Kammalan.)

At the time of the census, 1871, some Vellalas
claimed that they had been seriously injured in reputa-
tion, and handled with great injustice, in being classed
as Sudras by the Municipal Commissioners of Madras
in the classification of Hindus under the four great
divisions of Brahmans, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas, and Sudras.
In their petition it was stated that " we shall first proceed
to show that the Vellalas do come exactly within the
most authoritative definition given of Vysias, and then
point out that they do not come within the like definition
of Sudras. First then to the definition of Visya, Manu,
the paramount authority upon these matters, says in
paragraph 90 of his Institutes : ' To keep herds of cattle,
to bestow largesses, to sacrifice, to read the scripture, to
carry on trade, to lend at interest, and to cultivate land,
are prescribed or permitted to a Vysia.' " In the course of
the petition, the Vellalas observed that "it is impossible
to imagine that the Vellalas, a race of agriculturists and
traders, should have had to render menial service to the
three higher classes ; for the very idea of service is, as it
needs must be, revolting to the Vellala, whose profession
teaches him perfect independence, and dependence, if
it be, upon the sovereign alone for the protection of his


proper interests. Hence a Vellala cannot be of the
Sudra or servile class. Besides, that the Vellalas are
recognised as a respectable body of the community will
also appear from the following. There was a ceremony
called tulabharam (weighing in scales) observed by the
ancient kings of, at some part of their lives, distributing
in charity to the most deserving gold and silver equal to
the weight of their persons ; and tradition alleges that,
when the kings of Tanjore performed this ceremony, the
right to weigh the king's person was accorded to the
Vellalan Chettis. This shows that the Vellalas have
been recognised as a respectable body of mercantile men
in charge of weights and measures (Manu 30, chap. 9).
So also, in the Halasya Puranam of Madura, it is said
that, when the King Somasundara Pandien, who was
supposed to be the very incarnation of Siva, had to be
crowned, there arose a contention as to who was to put
the crown on his head. After much discussion, it was
agreed that one of the Vellalas, who formed the strength
of the community (note the fact that Manu says that
Vysya came from the thighs of the Supreme Deity,
which, as an allegory, is interpreted to mean the strength
of the State) should be appointed to perform that part of
the ceremony. Also, in Kamban's Ramayana, written
1,000 and odd years ago, it is said that the priest Vasista
handed the crown to a Vellala, who placed it upon great
Rama's head."

In ' The Tamils eighteen hundred years ago,' Mr. V.
Kanakasabhai writes that "among the pure Tamils, the
class most honoured was the Arivar or Sages. Next
in rank to the Arivar were the Ulavar or farmers. The
Arivars were ascetics, but, of the men living in society,
the farmers occupied the highest position. They formed
the nobility, or the landed aristocracy, of the country.


They were also called Vellalar, ' lords of the flood, ' or
' Karalar,' ' lords of the clouds, ' titles expressive of their
skill in controlling floods, and in storing water for agri-
cultural purposes. The Chera, Chola and Pandyan
Kings, and most of the petty chiefs of Tamilakam,
belonged to the tribe of Vellalas. The poor families of
Vellalas who owned small estates were generally spoken
of as the Veelkudi-Uluvar or 'the fallen Vellalas,'
implying thereby that the rest of the Vellalas were
wealthy land-holders. When Karikal the Great defeated
the Aruvalar, and annexed their territory to his kingdom,
he distributed the conquered lands among Vellala
chiefs.* The descendants of some of these chiefs are to
this day in possession of their lands, which they hold as
petty zamindars under the British Government. t The
Vellala families who conquered Vadukam, or the modern
Telugu country, were called Velamas, and the great
zamindars there still belong to the Velama caste. In
the Canarese country, the Vellalas founded the Belial
dynasty, which ruled that country for several centuries.
The Vellalas were also called the Gangakula or Ganga-
vamsa, because they derived their descent from the great
and powerful tribe named Gangvida, which inhabited
the valley of the Ganges, as mentioned by Pliny and
Ptolemy. A portion of Mysore which was peopled mostly
by Vellalas was called Gangavadi in the tenth and
eleventh centuries of the Christian era. Another
dynasty of kings of this tribe, who ruled Orissa in the
eleventh and twelfth centuries, was known as the
Gangavamsa .... In the earliest Tamil grammar
extant, which was composed by a Brahman named
Tholkappiyan, in the first or second century B.C.,

* Thonclai-nandalap-paddiyam.

t The zamindars of Cheyur, Chunampet, etc., in the Chingleput district.


frequent allusions are made to the Arivar or Sages. But,
in the chapter in which he describes the classes of society,
the author omits all mention of the Arivar, and places the
Brahmins who wear the sacred thread as the first caste.
The kings, he says, very guardedly, and not warriors,
form the second caste, as if the three kings Chera,
Chola and Pandy could form a caste ; all who live by
trade belong to the third caste. He does not say that
either the kings or the merchants wear the sacred thread.
Then he singles out the Vellalas, and states that they
have no other calling than the cultivation of the soil.
Here he does not say that the Vellalas are Sudras, but
indirectly implies that the ordinary Vellalas should be
reckoned as Sudras, and that those Vellalas who were
kings should be honoured as Kshatriyas. This is the
first attempt made by the Brahmins to bring the Tamils
under their caste system. But, in the absence of the
Kshatriya, Vaisya, and Sudra castes in Tamilakam, they
could not possibly succeed ; and to this day the Vellala
does not take meals at the hands of a Padaiyadchi, who
calls himself a Kshatriya, or a merchant who passes for a
Vaisya." In speculating on the origin of the Vellalas,
Mr. J. H. Nelson* states that " tradition uniformly
declares them to be the descendants of foreign immi-
grants, who were introduced by the Pandyas : and it
appears to be extremely probable that they are, and that
an extensive Vellala immigration took place at a rather
remote period, perhaps a little before or after the
colonization of the Tonda-mandala by Adondai Chakra-
varti. The Vellalas speak a pure dialect of Tamil, and
no other language. I have not heard of anything
extraordinary in the customs prevailing among them, or

* Manual of the Madura district.


of any peculiarities pointing to a non-Tamil origin . .
. . With regard to the assertion so commonly made
that the Pandyas belonged to the Vellala caste, it is
observable that tradition is at issue with it, and declares
that the Pandyas proper were Kshatriyas : but they were
accustomed to marry wives of inferior castes as well
as and in addition to wives of their own caste ; and
some of their descendants born of the inferior and
irregularly married wives were Vellalans, and, after the
death of Kun or Sundara Pandya, formed a new dynasty,
known as that of the pseudo-Pandyas. Tradition also
says that Arya Nayaga Muthali, the great general of
the sixteenth century, was dissuaded by his family priest
from making himself a king on the ground that he was
a Vellalan, and no Vellalan ought to be a king. And,
looking at all the facts of the case, it is somewhat
difficult to avoid coming to the conclusion that the
reason assigned for his not assuming the crown was the
true one. This, however, is a question, the settlement
of which requires great antiquarian learning : and it
must be settled hereafter."

In the Madras Census Report, 1871, the Vellalas are
described as " a peace-loving, frugal, and industrious
people, and, in the cultivation of rice, betel, tobacco, etc.,
have perhaps no equals in the world. They will not con-
descend to work of a degrading nature. Some are well
educated, and employed in Government service, and as
clerks, merchants, shop-keepers, etc., but the greater
part of them are the peasant proprietors of the soil, and
confine their attention to cultivation." In the Madura
Manual, it is recorded that "most Vellalans support
themselves by husbandry, which, according to native
ideas, is their only proper means of livelihood. But they
will not touch the plough, if they can help it, and


ordinarily they do everything by means of hired servants
and predial slaves. In the Sathaga of Narayanan may
be found a description of their duties and position in
society, of which the following translation appears in
Taylor's work, the Oriental MSS. The Vellalans, by
the effect of their ploughing (or cultivation), maintain
the prayers of the Brahmans, the strength of kings,
the profits of merchants, the welfare of all. Charity,
donations, the enjoyments of domestic life, and connubial
happiness, homage to the gods, the Sastras, the Vedas,
the Puranas, and all other books, truth, reputation,
renown, the very being of the gods, things of good report
or integrity, the good order of castes, and (manual) skill,
all these things come to pass by the merit (or efficacy)
of the Vellalan's plough. Those Vellalans who are not
farmers, husbandmen, or gardeners, are employed in
various ways more or less respectable ; but none of them
will condescend to do work of a degrading nature.
Some of them are merchants, some shop-keepers, some
Government servants, some sepoys, some domestic
servants, some clerks, and so forth." In the Tanjore
Manual, it is stated that " many Vellalars are found in
the Government service, more especially as karnams or
village accountants. As accountants they are unsur-
passed, and the facility with which, in by-gone days, they
used to write on cadjan or palmyra leaves with iron
styles, and pick up any information on any given points
from a mass of these leaves, by lamp-light no less than
by daylight, was most remarkable. Running by the side
of the Tahsildar's (native revenue officer) palanquin, they
could write to dictation, and even make arithmetical
calculations with strictest accuracy. In religious obser-
vances, they are more strict than the generality of
Brahmans ; they abstain from both intoxicating liquors

VII-24 B


and flesh meat." In the Coimbatore Manual, the
Vellalas are summed up as "truly the backbone of the
district. It is they who, by their industry and frugality,
create and develop wealth, support the administration,
and find the money for imperial and district demands.
As their own proverb says : The Vellalar's goad is
the ruler's sceptre. The bulk of them call themselves
Goundans." In the Salem Manual, the Vellala is
described as " frugal and saving to the extreme ; his
hard-working wife knows no finery, and the Vellalichi,
(Vellala woman) willingly wears for the whole year the
one blue cloth, which is all that the domestic economy of
the house allows her. If she gets wet, it must dry on
her ; and, if she would wash her sole garment, half is
unwrapped to be operated upon, which in its turn
relieves the other half, that is then and there similarly
hammered against some stone by the side of the village
tank (pond), or on the bank of the neighbouring stream.
Their food is the cheapest of the ' dry ' grains which
they happen to cultivate that year, and not even the
village feasts can draw the money out of a Vellalar's
clutches. It is all expended on his land, if the policy of
the revenue administration of the country be liberal, and
the acts of Government such as to give confidence to the
ryots or husbandmen ; otherwise their hoarded gains are
buried. The new moon, or some high holiday, may
perhaps see the head of the house enjoy a platter of rice
and a little meat, but such extravagance is rare." The
Vellalas are summed up by ' A Native,'* as being " found
in almost every station of life, from the labourer in the
fields to the petty zamindar (landholder) ; from the owner
of plantations to the cooly who works at coffee-picking ;

* Pen and Ink Sketches of South India,


from the Deputy Collector to the peon in his office."
It is recorded, in the Census Report, 1871, that a Vellala
had passed the M.A. degree examination of the Madras
University. The occupations of the Vellalas whom I
examined in Madras were as follows :










Railway fireman.



In an excellent summary of the Vellalas * Mr. W.
Francis writes as follows. " By general consent, the first
place in social esteem among the Tamil Sudra castes is
awarded to them. To give detailed descriptions of the
varying customs of a caste which numbers, as this does,
over two and a quarter millions, and is found all over the
Presidency, is unnecessary, but the internal construction
of the caste, its self-contained and distinct sub-divisions,
and the methods by which its numbers are enhanced
by accretions from other castes, are so typical of the
corresponding characteristics of the Madras castes, that
it seems to be worth while to set them out shortly.

"The caste is first of all split up into four main
divisions, named after the tract of country in which the
ancestors of each originally resided. These are (i)
Tondamandalam, or the dwellers in the Pallava country,
the present Chingleput and North Arcot districts, the
titles of which division are Mudali, Reddi and Nainar ;
(2) Soliya (or Sozhia), or men of the Chola country, the
Tanjore and Trichinopoly districts of the present day, the
members of which are called Pillai ; (3) Pandya, the

* Madras Census Report, 1901.


inhabitants of the Pandyan Kingdom of Madura and
Tinnevelly, which division also uses the title of Pillai ;
and (4) Konga, or those who resided in the Konga
country, which corresponded to Coimbatore and Salem,
the men of which are called Kavandans. The members
of all these four main territorial divisions resemble one
another in their essential customs. Marriage is either
infant or adult, the Puranic wedding ceremonies are
followed, and (except among the Konga Vellalas)
Brahmans officiate. They all burn their dead, observe
fifteen days' pollution, and perform the karumantaram
ceremony to remove the pollution on the sixteenth day.
There are no marked occupational differences amongst
them, most of them being cultivators or traders. Each
division contains both Vaishnavites and Saivites, and
(contrary to the rule among the Brahmans) differences of
sect are not of themselves any bar to intermarriage.
Each division has Pandarams, or priests, recruited from
among its members, who officiate at funerals and minor
ceremonies, and some of these wear the sacred thread,
while other Vellalas only wear it at funerals. All
Vellalas perform sraddhas (memorial services), and
observe the ceremony of invoking their ancestors on the
Mahalaya days (a piece of ritual which is confined to the
twice-born and the higher classes ofSudras); all of them
decline to drink alcohol or to eat in the houses of any but
Brahmans ; and all of them may dine together. Yet no
member of any of these four main divisions may marry
into another, and, moreover, each of them is split into
sub-divisions (having generally a territorial origin), the
members of which again may not intermarry. Thus
Tondamandalam are sub-divided into the Tuluvas, who
are supposed to have come from the Tulu country ; the
Poonamallee (or Pundamalli) Vellalas, so called from the


town of that name near Madras ; and the Kondaikattis
(those who tie their hair in a knot without shaving it).
None of these three will intermarry. The Soliya
Vellalas are sub-divided into the Vellan Chettis, meaning
the Vellala merchants (who are again further split up
into three or four other territorial divisions) ; the Kodik-
kals (betel-garden), who grow the betel-vine ; and the
Kanakkilinattar, or inhabitants of Kanakkilinadu.
These three similarly may not intermarry, but the last is
such a small unit, and girls in it are getting so scarce,
that its members are now going to other sub-divisions
for their brides. The Pandya Vellalas are sub-divided
into the Karkattas or Karaikatus, who, notwithstanding
the legends about their origin, are probably a territorial
sub-division named from a place called Karaikadu ; the
Nangudis and Panjais, the origin of whom is not clear ;
the Arumburs and Sirukudis, so called from villages of
those names in the Pandya country ; the Agamudaiyans,
who are probably recruits from the caste of that name ;
the Nirpusis, meaning the wearers of the sacred ashes ;
and the Kottai Vellalas or fort Vellalas. These last are a
small sub-division, the members of which live in Srlvai-
kuntam fort (in Tinnevelly), and observe the strictest
gosha (seclusion of females). Though they are, as has
been seen, a sub-division of a caste, yet their objection to
marry outside their own circle is so strong that, though
they are fast dying out because there are so few girls

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