Devendra Kula Vellalar caused BJP rout in Tamil Nadu
by Sendil Vishwanathan on 30 Jun 2019 17 Comments

An analysis of the reasons for the complete washout of the Bharatiya Janata Party/ National Democratic Alliance in Tamil Nadu is in order. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced 10 per cent reservation for Forward communities, many such communities such as the Pillai and Mudaliyar, were slowly gravitating towards the BJP. But the Devendra Kula Vellalar issue triggered a backlash.


Vellalars include Pillai, Mudaliyar, Chettiyar and Goundar, who comprise 35 per cent of Tamil Nadu’s population. In recent times, some persons from the Pallar community aspired to use the name ‘Vellalar’. Soon, almost every ADMK minister and the Chief Minister himself used the term ‘Devendra Kula Vellalar’ multiple times in their campaigns and promised to give another community’s title to them.


All the four above-mentioned communities - Pillai, Mudaliyar, Chettiyar and Goundar - welcomed Pallars from a reserved caste to the OBC community, they felt it was not right to give away their community’s name. While ‘Devendra Kulam’ is fine, the word ‘Vellalar’ cost the BJP 20+ MPs. The NDA candidate from Salem, the Chief Minister’s own constituency, lost. The Chief Minister being a Vellala Gounder could have helped NDA win 11 seats in the Kongu belt; it didn’t happen because of the cultural misappropriation.


The genesis of the conflict goes back to the political parties, Puthiya Tamilagam headed by Krishnasamy and Thamizhaga Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam headed by John Pandian (a Christian Pallar), and some other organisations, petitioning the Government of India for renaming different castes identified in SC/ST Act as Pallan (S. No. 49), Kudumban (S. No. 49), Pannadi (S. No. 54), Devendra kulathan (S. No. 17), Moopan (S. No. 99), Kaladi (S. No. 54) and Vathriyan as a single named Devendra Kula Vellalar. 


Further, they demanded that these communities be taken out of the Scheduled Caste list to raise their social status. Out of the seven castes identified for renaming, Moopan (S. No. 99) and Kaladi  (S. No. 54) figure in the OBC list in the Central Government Gazette notification (12011/21/ 95-BCC dt 15/05/1995). These two castes did not want to be renamed or to be associated with the other five castes. 


While the traditional Vellalar community appreciated the efforts of these castes to raise their social status, it opposed their claim to the name “Vellalar”, as it has belonged to certain groups historically.  The Vellalar have many sects - Kongu Vellalar, Saiva Vellalar, Choliya Vellalar, Pandya Vellalar, Karkartha Vellalar, etc., who are spread all over Tamil Nadu and comprise 30 to 35 per cent of the state population. The population of different sects of Pallar community is around 22 lakh as per 2001 census, which constitutes just 3 per cent of the total state population of 6 crore.


Historically, Vellala is an ethnic name, used to identify certain communities in Tamil Nadu for thousands of years, and found in various historical documents like copper plate and stone inscriptions, Tamil literature etc. The communities include: Saiva Vellalar, Kongu Vellalar, Choliya Vellalar, Pandya Vellalar, Saiva Vellalar, Pala Vellalar, Chera Kula Vellalar, Veerokodi Vellalar, Karkartha Vellalar,  Nanjil Nattu Vellalar, Thondai Mandala Vellala Mudali, Thuluva Vellalar.


The Pallar communities have historically been identified by the name “Pallar”, “Kudumban” etc. and never by the name “Vellala” at any point of time. Their historical documents have identified them as “Pallu”, “Kudumban” etc. and no document identifies them as “Vellala”.


The name “Vellala” is an ethnic name and NOT an occupational name as claimed by Dr. Krishnasamy and other leaders. The corresponding Tamil name for farmers is “Uzhavar”. The Pallar community is trying to claim the name “Vellalar” just because they were doing farming. This is illogical, because virtually every community was farming in Tamil Nadu, including Brahmins, and they cannot claim to be “Vellala”.


Vellalar indicates a leadership and administrative role. Vellala communities were the ruling class / Kshatriyas of Tamil Nadu, as indicated by the title still possessed by them. In east and south Tamil Nadu, Vellalas have the title “Pillai”, which means son, and is the equivalent of “Rajput” in north India. In west Tamil Nadu, their title is “Gounder”, which means one who protects. In north Tamil Nadu, their title is “Mudali”, which means “The First”.


Vellalas had Shiva Brahmins (Sivachariyar) as their Raj-guru and Kula-guru; they performed the pattabishekam for the Vellala chiefs. This tradition is still alive in some places of Tamil Nadu. The major Shaiva Mutts of Tamil Nadu include Madurai Adheenam, Thiruvaduthurai Adheenam, Sengol Adheenam and are Vellala Mutts, where only a Saiva Vellalar can become a madathipathi.


Vallalas are also called “Ganga Kula Vellalar”, which indicates they came from the Gangetic plains. They formed the Eastern and Western Ganga Dynasty that ruled south India for many centuries. The Kongu Vellalas are descendants of these rulers of the Ganga dynasty and they were settled in Chola Dhesam by king Chola. They headed the 78 Vala Nadus (Chola administrative division) of Chola Dhesam.


The history of Tamil Nadu begins with Sage Agasthiyar settling 18 Velir clans from Dwarka in Tamil Nadu. The Chera, Chola and Pandya kingdoms rose in time. The Vellalas descended from these Velir Clans. The Chera, Chola and Pandya kings always had marital alliance with Vellalas.


Tamil Nadu’s famous Chithiramezhi Sabha was a classic example of democratic rule and comprised of Vellala chiefs of different regions. The term Chitra-Mezhi means Golden Plough. The Vellala Kings would start the annual agricultural activity with their Golden Plough, hence the name. This event is recorded in the Ramayana, where King Janaka found Sita Devi when ploughing the land with his golden plough. Interestingly, Tamil literature calls Vellalas as Suryavanshi, which links them with the pan-Indian Hindu culture. The Chitramezhi sabhai had administrative and jurisdiction powers in ancient Tamil Nadu and any issues arising in the country was solved collective by convening the Chitramezhi Sabhai.


In contrast, the Pallar community is NOT identified by the name Vellalar at any point in history. Their historical documents always mention them by the name Pallu or Pallar. British documents and the accounts of European travellers also mention them only as Pallars. Hence their claim to be classified as “Devendra Kula Vellalar” is wrong, unfair, and devoid of historical basis. 


More pertinently, the seven castes clubbed together by Dr. Krishnasamy do not comprise a single homogenous community. The ‘Vaathiriyar’ community has petitioned the Tamil Nadu government that they do not have any cultural or social link with the Pallars or other sects and do not want to be identified as “Devendra Kula Vellalar”. Interestingly, neither Dr Krishnasamy nor John Pandian belongs to the Pallar community, and hence they cannot be considered as representatives of the Pallar community.


There are four major groups of Pallar in Tamil Nadu, according to the region they hail from: Choliya Pallan, Pandya Pallan, Konga Pallan, and Kadaiya Pallan. These four groups do NOT have matrimony alliances with each other and their customs and rituals are different. Each section has a separate jathi panchayat with own headman called “Pattakkaran”, who supervises the respective community and has jurisdictional power over it. The jathi panchayat is convened to resolve any issues within the community. Names like Kudumban, Moopan, Kaladi etc. are different titles possessed by certain Pallar families within their jathi organisational setup.


Christian Missionaries and Pallar community


The Pallar community came under the sway of Christian missionaries a century ago. The violent caste clashes between Pallars and Kallars in south Tamil Nadu is believed to be the manipulation of missionaries, who deployed Imanuel Sekaran, a Pallar convert, to insult Muthuramalinga Thevar, a freedom fighter from the Kallar community. This is sad because the personal secretary of Muthuramalinga Thevar was a Pallar, who was loyal till his last breath. Clearly, Pallars and Thevars had a cordial relationship at that time.


Christian missionaries are employing various tactics to trigger caste conflicts. One method is to appropriate the history of the dominant caste and prepare a long term plan for capturing the institutions in possession of dominant castes.  


The attempt by Pallar leaders to claim the Vellala name is part of this missionary game. This would achieve two major goals. One, undermine the upper caste by destroying their primary identity. Two, create a base for capturing the Saiva Mutts where only a Vellala can become madathipathi. Securing the name “Devendra Kula Velaalar” will enable covert Christians among Pallars to target the Saiva Mutts and take over the Aadheenams and Mutts.


A lot of intellectual work by Pallars has been funded by missionaries under the framework of Tamil nationalism. Recently, the book “Meendelum pandiyar varalaru” was written by one “Senthil Mallar”, who was funded by the church. The book was in bad taste, provoked other communities, and was banned by the Tamil Nadu government. The claim of Devendra Kulam is part of triggering clashes between Kallars (Devars) and Pallars. Devendran means Indra (God) to Devars; they cannot be pleased with this.


It may be added that the quota/reservation system has been very corrupt in Tamil Nadu. The Pallars or Paraiyars corner all government jobs and hurt many OBC’s like Devars, Goundars and Vanniyars. Many Pillai and Gounder girls have suffered in inter-caste relationships that quickly went awry. Then, John Pandian helped an evangelist church build a cemetery just 10 metres from the entrance of a 1200-year-old Ganesha temple in Tirunelveli. There was communal tension for some time and many Vishwa Hindu Parishad volunteers were arrested.


Vellalar opposition


The major Vellalar bodies reacted when they found Pallar youths and organisations claiming the history of the Vellalar, including the 18 Nayanmars who belong to Vellalar community. Those now in the forefront of opposition include Choliya Vellalar Sangam, Saiva Vellalar Sangam (branches all over Tamil Nadu), Karkarthar Federation (150 branches), Federation of Kongu Vellalar Sangams (40 sangams), Nanjil Nattu Vellalar Sangam and Vellalar Munnetra Kalagam.


The Centre has so far failed to invite any legitimate registered association of the Vellala community to express its opinion on this issue. It must understand that the opposition is not to the quest for social advancement by one group, but to the appropriation of history. It must act soon to mitigate the lingering animosities among communities that have lived peacefully in the past and are now victim to communal manipulation by vested interests.



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