Distorting history of Vellalars: Misleading Devendra Kula Pallars
by Murugavel on 02 Aug 2019 43 Comments

The call by Dr. K. Krishnasamy, chief of Puthiya Thamizhagam Party, to get the Pallar community out of the Scheduled Caste list and rename them as ‘Devendra Kula Vellalar’ has not only roused mixed feelings among the Pallar community members, but is causing outrage among the numerically large and historically vibrant Vellalar community for unfairly claiming their ethnic name – ‘Vellalar’.


Amidst the constitutional obligations to protect the SC community (which is also a hurdle in the process), the demand has caused members of the Pallar community to regret that the community has not fully utilized the benefits of the SC quota provided by the Indian constitution. Tensions between the two groups have risen since Bharatiya Janata Party’s national president announced at Madurai in 2018, that the party would back the Pallar demands. This cost the BJP heavily in the recent Lok Sabha elections in Tamil Nadu.


When news of these claims and demands began to appear in the media, Vellalars condemned the move as identity theft, with mass road blocks and protests, and urged the centre and state to stop encouraging such historical fallacies. The Vellalar community, however, stressed that it welcomed the wishes of the Pallar community to reject the SC identity. To understand the historical fallacy being invented by some vested interests seeking political gains, one needs only to scan the historical evidences that identify and differentiate the two communities.


Who are the Vellalars?


Vellalars are traditionally the administrative class that owned most of the administration and land under them. They formed the ‘Velir’ clan of the Sangam age, who served as the heads of provinces, ministers in courts, and commander-in-chief of the armies, and had the right to have marital relationships with the three great emperors of the Tamizhagam viz., Chera, Chola, Pandya.


Others served as landlords (‘Kizhars’) under whom agriculture flourished. Today, these people live across Tamil Nadu as various regional-cultural endogamous sub-groups such as Kongu Vellalar, Choliya Vellalar, Chera Vellalar, Pandya Vellalar, Saiva Vellalar, Karkatha Vellalar, Thondai Mandala Vellalar, Aaru Naatu Vellalar, Naanjil Vellalar, Thuluva Vellalar etc. They occupied the highest positions in Tamil society and patronised Tamil literature and Saivism. They held various honorific and administrative titles based on region, such as ‘Mudali’ (the first) in northern Tamil Nadu, ‘Gounder’ (the protector) in western Tamil Nadu, ‘Pillai’ (the prince) in central and southern Tamil Nadu.


Who are the Pallars?


Pallars are a significant group who primarily engaged in agricultural activities. They are recognized for their mastery in paddy cultivation practices and their Puranas hail them as propagators of paddy cultivation on Earth. Cropping, planting, removing weeds, reaping etc., are their main skills, for which they are most sought after during the cultivating seasons. They occupied a low status in Tamil social hierarchy and were known as ‘Kadaiyar’ (the last) and for the same reason were listed under in the Indian Government’s SC list. Today, they are known by various names or titles such as Pallan, Kudumban, Pannaadi, Moopan and Kaaladi.


Puranic History of Vellalars and Pallars


From the centuries-old stories passed on from generation to generation among these two communities, we learn of their respective origin stories. The Marabala Puranam aka Vellala Puranam hails the story of Vellalars and Pazhani Pattayam (an inscription) hails the story of the Pallars.


Story of Marabaalan


Marabaalan was born on the banks of the river Ganges flowing from the crown of Shiva as Vishnu’s avatar by cracking the Earth to protect the people with his plough and feed the world. Hence he was called aka Gangeya (Gangaputra, son of Ganges) and Bhumiputra (son of Bhumi, Earth). He is culturally known as the progenitor of agriculture on Earth. Rishi Bodhayana became the Guru of this child and took him to Indraloka (Heaven). After the boy grew up, Rishi Bodhayana requested Indra to marry his daughter to Marabala; Kubera also offered one of his daughters in marriage to Marabala.


Marabala married both of them and the tribe multiplied into 48,000 gotras (lineages) and ruled the world with the plough. His progenies are called ‘Ganga Kulam’ or ‘Bhumi Putra’. They become the primary protectors of land, cattle and wealth, according to the Purana.


Story of Devendra Pallan


The Pazhani inscription states that one day, while Chera, Chola and Pandya were having their feast in the heavenly abode Indra, they were mesmerized by the taste of rice and wished to take this amazing crop to Earth. Lord Shiva offered to produce a child out of his sweat, that fell on the Earth and named him Pallan (boy of low-lying land), to plant the paddy in their fields on Earth.


On Shiva’s command, Devendra (Indra) adopted the child and awarded him His own name as title - ‘Devendran’. He cared for the child as his guardian in heaven till he grew, whereupon the boy went down to earth with his spade (a tool used in agriculture). His progenies were known as ‘Devendra Kulam’. One day, when Devendra Pallan was planting in the paddy field, two Apsaras (heavenly dancers) fell in love with him and married him. His tribes multiplied on earth and protected paddy cultivation on earth as Pallars.


Key identities and attributes of Vellalars and Pallars




Born of Ganges flowing from Shiva’s crown

Born of Shiva’s sweat falling on earth

Known as ‘Ganga Kulam’

Known as ‘Devendra Kulam’

Primary tool is Plough known as ‘Chitramezhi’ (golden plough)   

Primary tool is Spade called ‘Malai Thagarthaan’ (mountain mover)

Married daughters of Devendra and Kubera

Married Rambas (court dancers of deva loka)

Agricultural landlords

Landless agricultural peasants

Administrators, provincial rulers, commanders, poets, religious heads

One of the Kudis (subjects) of ruling class and skilled labour in paddy cultivation

Traditionally belonging to Varnashrama classification

Traditionally belonging to Panchama classification


Origin and usage of the word Vellalar


In modern usage, the meaning of the Tamil word ‘Vaelaanmai’, the occupation of ‘Vellalar’ has been deformed to mean agriculture. But researchers say that the root word originated from ‘Vel’ which means ‘the illustrious’. The word elongates to sound as ‘Vael’ meaning ‘the illustrious one’ (Lord), the Tamil equivalent of the Sanskrit word ‘Raja’ (Kshatriya). On the same lines, Tholkaapiyam aptly calls Vellalars as ‘Mannar Paangin pinnor’ (those after and alike the king).


The word ‘Vaelaanmai’, also derived from ‘Vael’, alludes to the characteristics of light, that is, ‘to protect by giving’. It means, ‘to give a helping hand through great gifts/alms’ (with the wealth possessed by the Vaels).


[Note: Vael is singular; Vaelir and Vaelaalar are plural. Vellalar (Illustrious ruler) and Vaelaalar (Ruler of Illustriousness) are synonymous]


With strong military advancements and agrarian base, Vellalars were an elite and powerful ruling class in the times of Cheras, Cholas and Pandyas. Their prowess and footprints can be witnessed even in the adjacent territories of Gangas, Pallavas, Hoysalas, Chalukyas and Vijaynagar. Since they lost their prominence and rule under the British, and could perform only agricultural tasks, in modern times the word ‘Vaelaanmai’ came to be associated with agriculture alone. Its association with administration and charity lost importance and was forgotten with time.


Some associate ‘Vellala’ with the word ‘Vellam’ (flowing water) extend it to mean ‘Ganga’ Kulam. But the very word ‘Vellam’ is also formed from the above discussed root ‘Vel’ (meaning light). Yes, water is transparent to light and hence the term ‘Vellam’. Vellala means to be illustrious, to be pure. And throughout the history of Tamil Nadu and South India, Vellalars have proven to be illustrious in society and pure in their thoughts, words and deeds.


Are there any ‘Vellala’ attributions to Pallars?


Not really. All claims centre on the incorrect attribution of word ‘Vellalar’ to mean agriculturists; the words ‘Mallar’ and ‘Uzhavar’ actually pertain to agriculture. While Vellalars are a distinct community as explained, Mallar and Uzhavar denoted both Vellalars and Pallars, as both formed part of agrarian society.


All claims made by Dr. K. Krishnasamy and his followers from the Pallar community are historically baseless as it is very clear and evident from numerous inscriptions and literary sources that Vellalars and Pallars are two different and distinct communities, though they belonged to the same region and were involved in a similar occupation i.e., agriculture.


While the former served as lords, the latter served as peasants. There is no single evidence that proclaims ‘Devendra Kulam’ or ‘Pallars’ as Vellalars. All signboards and banners used by the community with the name ‘Devendra Kula Vellalar’ are of recent origin and have no historic affiliations. The continuous usage of the alleged term in various media is an attempt to artificially establish this as fact, but these attempts cannot hide the truth as there is no historical basis for these claims.


The Centre and the State should take necessary steps to stop encouraging such distortions in the name of history, and reduce the friction among the Vellalars and Pallars that have coexisted peacefully until this pernicious game began.


The author is a software professional with deep interest in historical and cultural research


See also:

Devendra Kula Vellalar caused BJP rout in Tamil Nadu, Sendil Vishwanathan, 30 June 2019


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