|The 150 clans which makes the present Vellalar community.|
Among the many prominent Tamil communities, the Vellalar community is perhaps the largest. It is also the most diverse. The Vellalar community is made of 150 endogamous clans. Endogamous clans do not marry outside their clan. However, modernization and migrations to foreign countries is changing this. Many modern day Vellalars marry Vellalars of other clans and sometimes, even non-Vellalars.
There are many theories on the origins of the Vellalars. One of it is that they are the descendants of ancient Velir rulers. The Velirs were chieftains of the sangam age. According to legend, Velirs were brought from the north by Sage Agastya when the city Dwarka went under the sea.
The Velirs chieftains had their own domains. Although they were vassals to the superior Pandya, Chola and Chera kings, some of the Velirs became more powerful than their lords.
The other theory is more commonly accepted. It is said that the word Vellalar means 'He who controls Vellam (flood)". Some of these community members are also known as Karalar which means 'He who controls the clouds'.
This indicates that the Vellalars were generally agriculturist. They were also the landlords of agricultural land. Some believe that the word can even be used to refer to cultivators.
Although it is generally accepted as an agriculturist community, there were also warrior, musician, priest and accountant Vellalar clans. This is due to its different origins and also the hereditary professions they took up.
Vellalars are not necessarily a community with a single origin. People of various tribes would have became Vellalars due to social evolution process during ancient times. Many people who claim to be Vellalars today may have not been Vellalars during ancient times. Many Jains and Christians who were converted back into Hinduism, are said to be included into the Vellalar fold by those who converted them. I am not sure if this is accepted by the Vellalar majority.
There is also a long forgotten proverb in Tamil.
Kallar, Maravar, ganathor Agamudayar mella mella Vellalar anaare
(The tribes of Kallar, Maravar and Agamudayar slowly became Vellalars.)
The three tribes I mentioned above is what makes the present day Mukkulathor community. It is believed that during ancient times, some of the Mukkulathors eventually became Vellalars. They became less warlike and adopted agriculture as their main duty. They split from their original community and formed a new one. We can also say that they split and joined a new one.
How exactly this happened is unclear. The Agamudayars of the north are identified separately from the Agamudayars of the south. The former as part of Vellalar community and the later as part of Mukkulathor community. For this reason, the Agamudayars are considered as the bridge that links the Mukkulathors and Vellalars.
Those who became Vellalars also migrated to various parts of Tamilakam. This gave birth to new clans within the Vellalar community. Such clans are generally identified by the name of the region they occupy. For example, Kongu Vellalar, Choliya Vellalar, Pandiya Vellalar and Thondaimandala Vellalar.
Migration of Vellalars to different regions not only created new Vellalar clans, it also created new tradition and culture. They also use different surnames depending on the region they live in.
The Vellalars of the Thondaimandalam region (north) are known as Mudaliar. Those who live in the Kongu region (west) are known as Kavundar. Vellalars of the Chola and Pandiya region (east & south) are called Pillai.
Vellalars from Tamil Nadu also migrated into the neighboring state of Kerala. This is why you also see Malayalees with Pillai surname. Kerala has its own Vellalar association known as Kerala Vellala Maha Sabha (KVMS). There are also Vellalars in Sri Lanka, especially in the northern Jaffna region.
There is a Telugu community in Andhra Pradesh known as Velama. It is assumed that these people could have been Vellalars who migrated there during Chola period. However, there is no evidence to support this theory.
I will write about two particular Vellalar community in future posts. One about the Kongu Vellalar and another one on the Kottai Vellalar.