Vanniyar (Tamil: வன்னியர்), refers to a very large social group of people spread all across South India. Vanniakula Kshatriyas are a feudal caste and descendants of the Kadava dynasty and Pallava empire that ruled Northern Tamilnadu and Andhra Pradesh (up to Northern Circars) with their capital at Kanchipuram. The Pallavas later defeated Chalukyas and conquered Southern Karnataka destroying their ancient capital Vatapi. Nowadays, they primarily live in modern Tamil Nadu where they speak Tamil, while in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka they speak their native South Indian Dravidian languages namely, Telugu and Kannada respectively.
The name Vanniyar is derived from the Tamil word Vanni (Vahni or Agni in Sanskrit) which means fire. It also means Valour or Strength. The word Vanniyar also have a meaning of oil pressers viz. from castor seeds or farmers in Tamil denoting their profession.
At Sirkazhi Vaideeswaran Temple, Inscriptions about Vanniyar Puranam are observed. It denotes that at ancient times there were two Asuras known as Vatapi and Mahi, who worshipped Brahma and obtained immunity from death and subsequently they garrisoned the Earth. At the request of Gods and Lords, Jambuva Mahamuni or Sambu/Jambu Maharishi performed a Yagam, or sacrifice by his yogic powers. Soon armed horsemen sprung from the flames, named VanniRaya; they undertook twelve expeditions and destroyed the Asuras and freed the Earth. Their leader then assumed the government of the country under the name Rudra Vanniya Maharaja or Veera Vanniyan, who had five sons,the Ancestors of Vanniyar Caste. This Tradition alludes to the destruction of the city of Vatapi by Narasimhavarman, the King of Pallis or Pallavas.
Vannia Kula Kshatriya is the only tamil community with an exclusive puranam on their own. The puranam was written in classical tamil and has now been translated into modern day tamil.
The excerpt from the puranam is, ‘Vilvalan’ & ‘Vatapi’ were Asura brothers born to ‘Dhurvasar’-a saint & ‘Kajomuki’- younger sister of ‘Sura Padman’ - an Asura later killed by Lord Murugan. Vilvalan & Vatapi played mischief’s with ‘Agasthier’ - saint which resulted in swallowing and digestion of Vilvalan by Agasthier. The left out Vatapi prayed Lord Shiva and attained further strength and started ruling ‘Rathina Puri’ situated in the middle of southern sea. Vatapi married ‘Chokka kanni’ daughter of ‘Mayan’ – Deva’s Viswakarma. The Asura Guru ‘Sukhracharuyar’ supported him with Asura battalion. As expected, he started torturing all the Devas which ‘Naradhar’ noticed and complained to Lord Shiva. Saint ‘Sambu’ maharishi also started ‘Yagnam’ on Shiva to safeguard Devas. Then Lord Shiva came over there and a drop of sweat from his third eye dropped in the yagnam which created the first “Rudhra / Veera Vanniyan’ with his horse, weapons & crown.
Then Lord Shiva & Matha Parvathi were talking to Devendran to offer his second daughter “Mandhira Maalai’-younger sister of ‘Deivayanai’ wife of Lord Murugan, for the marriage of Rudhra Vaaniyan. Upon mutual acceptance & Horoscope matching, marriage between Rudhra Vaaniyan & Mandhira Maalai was solemnized and become parents for four Sons. They were named as “Krishna Vanniyan, Brahma Vanniyan, Sambu Vanniyan & Agni Vanniyan. The boys were getting the entire warrior training from Lord Murugan – their Uncle. Subsequantly, they were married to the Four daughters of ‘Kandha(Susheela)’saint, namely-Indhrani, Narani, Sundhari & Sumangali.
Then, as per the advice of Lord Shiva, they moved towards south along with their soldiers created by Lord Shiva to fight Vatapi – Asuran and reached the ‘Durga Parameshwari Amman’ Temple in south. The Rudhra Vanniyan & his four sons requested Durgai Amman to help them in combating Vatapi which she accepted and came along with them with her ‘Boodha’ battalion. While they are crossing the Sea, the sea gave way to them by moving the water away in both sides and reoccupied themselves. However, one pet dog of Vanniyars could not cross the Sea and returned home.
After reaching Rathina puri, Rudhra Vanniyan sent Naradhar as mediator which failed and resulted in full-fledged War between Vanniyars & Vatapi Asuran. The ‘Kali Amman’ Asuras family God was also helping the Asuras in the War. The Fighting was intensive and finally Vatapi was killed by Rudhra Vanniyan. Subsequently, all the Asuras were killed including women. But, finally, Four Asura Women (as per the arrangement of Sukrachariyar – Asura Guru, to protect Asura Kulam) came out in Human form and the Vanniyars did not kill them and took them along with them to home.
After the War, the entire battalion reached back the shore and the Durga Goddess stayed at her Temple at south and Vanniyars after worship returned home. At their surprise, it was noticed that all the four daughter-in-laws of Rudhra Vanniyan already died by jumping into Fire pots after seeing one of their dogs is returning home alone which indicates that all the Vanniyars have died in the War. This event was also due to a ‘Sabam’ by Sukrachariyar to all the four sisters, since the brides were once denied to him by their Father – Kandha Saint.
After that all the Four Sons had ‘Kandharva Vivah’ with the Four Women brought by them (supposed to be Asura Women but in Human Form) and started living with them. Then Lord Shiva & Lord Vishnu have allocated ‘Sambu region’ to First Rudhra /Veera Vannian, upto north of ‘Palar’ to Brhama Vanniyan, upto ‘Pennaiyar’ to Krishna Vanniyan, up to north of Kaveri to Sambu Vanniyan & Western side of East coast to Agni Vanniyan for their Ruling.
After that the First Rudhra Vanniyan had another son named ‘Chandra sekara maharajan’ and became their heir & then both First Rudhra Veera Vanniyan and his wife Mandhira Maalai left to Devalogam at the invitation of Lord Devendran.
This puranam was written at Madurai Tamil Sangam during Sundara Pandian’s regime by Saiva Shri Veera Pillai as a translation from Sanskrit ‘Agni / Agneya Puranam’ which is one of the 18 Puranams written Sanskrit.
It may also be noticed that the descendants of the above Vanniyars viz Agnikula Kshatriya / Vanniyakula Kshatriya / Vahnikula Kshatriya – the Warrior community are predominantly available in Rajastan, Gujarat, West Bengal, Andhra, Kannada, Kerala, Tamilnadu, Srilanka, Malaysia, Mauritious etc. and their main deity is Goddess Durga/Baghavathy/Maiamman etc. in different names in different parts of India.
Some more details can also be found at http://www.vanniyar.net/forums.
Now, there are Two Books available in Chennai Book Fair-2010 (Opp. Pachaiyappa College) 30th Dec 2009 to 10th January-2010.
1) ‘Veera Vanniyar Kathai’ by Durgadoss S.K.Swamy
Published by : Prema Prasuram, 59, Arcot Road, Kodambakkam, Chennai-24. Phone : 044 - 24833180 / 24800325
2) ‘Vanniyar’ by Nadana Kasinathan, Archeologist
Published by : Manivasar Pathippagam, 31, Singer st., Parry’s, Chennai – 108. Phone : 044 - 24357832 / 25361039 Website : www.manivasagarpathippagam.com ( Branches are available in Chidambaram – Ph – 230069, Madurai- Ph- 2622853, Coimbatore – Ph- 2397155, Salem-Ph- 3207722 & Trichy-Ph- 270645)
The Vanniar caste has close to 92 subcastes among them. The titles are awarded to them based on their contribution to the society. The Titles," Indicating Authority, Bravery and Superiority," assumed by them are Naicker,Varma, Padaiyachi (Head of an Army), Goundan/Gounder, Thevar, Vaandaiyaar,Kandar, Sambuvarayas, Kadavarayas, Kalingarayas, Mazhavarayas, Samattiyars, Udaiyars, Bhoopathi,Kondiyars, Nainars, Sozhaganars, Munaiarayas and Kachirayas to name a few. Some say that they belong to Chennai and as such, they should be called as Chembians and the caste history is well known from the Mahabhartha epic at the moment of the birth of Draupathi from Agni kunda.
The following books are available and make references to the various titles.
The Vanniyars are officially classed belonging to Vanniakula Kshatriya caste in Tamil Nadu . Depending upon the location and status, the members of the Vanniyar caste use titles such as Padayatchi, Gounder, Naicker or Nayagar, Reddiar, Kander/Kandar, Palli and many other titles in Tamil Nadu, Vanniar Gounder, Reddiar,Padayatchi etc in pondicherry, in Karnataka they are called Tigala / Thigala, or Thigilaru with a common suffix of Gowda, Hebbar or Hebbe and Nayakar. In Andhra Pradesh, Vanniars are usually known as Palli, Agnikula Kshatriya, Vanniyakula Kshatriya, Vanne Kapu or Vanne Reddy. In Kerala, they are called and Reddiar. There are 92 different names or sub caste/sub titles given for Vannia Kula Kshatriya community.
The Vanniyar caste live in an area where three South Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra and Karnataka intersects. In these latter two Indian states they are in sizeable mass primarily due to migration of other sects from outside and vice versa. In Tamil Nadu, the Vanniar live predominantly in the north, east, central and parts of north western. These areas cover more than 13 districts and traditionaly called as the Vanniar Belt. It comprises the following districts in Tamilnadu: Chennai, Kancheepuram, Villupuram, Cuddalore, Nagapattinam, northern Thanjavur, Ariyalur, Perambalur, northern Trichy, Tiruvallur, Vellore, Tiruvannamalai, Dharmapuri, Krishnagiri, Salem, parts of Namakkal and northern Erode.
Vanniyars constitute 28% of the population of Tamil Nadu and 65% of the population in Pondicherry, 15-20% of Andhara, 7-10% of Karnataka as per the 1931 Caste based Census. In terms of population they are the largest caste among the most backward classes listed in Tamil Nadu and Pondichery.They are one of the very earliest caste to be socially well organized and today they are the most politically mobilized and well-informed caste from Tamilnadu.
Vanniar or Vannia is a title of a feudal chief in medieval Sri Lanka who ruled as a tribute payer to any number of local kingdoms. It was also recorded as that of a name of a caste amongst Sri Lankan Tamils iin the Vanni District of northern Sri Lanka during the early 1900’s. It is no longer used as a name of a caste or as chiefs in Sri Lanka. There are number of origin theories for the feudal chiefs as well as the caste as coming from modern Tamil Nadu state or as an indigenous formation. (see Pandara Vannian)
Vanniyar also migrated to South Africa, Malaysia, Singapore, Seychelles, Mauritius and Fiji as part of the Tamil diaspora. Variant Vanniyar titles such as Govendar, Naicker and Padayatchi are used amongst their descendants.
The Vanniyars may be linked in tradition to the vanni tree (prosopis spicigera), a holy tree in Hindu tradition. Kulasekhara,one of the early Travancore kings,and one of the most renowned alwars reverenced by the srivaishnava community belongs to them. Vanniyars celebrate his anniversary in Parthasarathy temple Chennai even now. The Vanniyars have the right to present the most important camphor offering of the Mylapore Kapaleeswarar Temple. The Ekambaranathar Temple at Kanchipuram built by them. The later kings of Kerala, Banapperumal or Vanipperumal closely related to Kulasekhara Alwars are Vanni Kula Kshatriyas.