Friday, September 23, 2011

Origin of Konga Vellalas

Vellala - The Vellalas, Mr. H.A.Stuart writes, "are the great farmer caste of the Tamil country, and they are strongly represented in every Tamil district. The word Vellalan is derived from vellanmai [vellam, water, anmai, management ?] meaning cultivation, tillage. Dr. Oppert considers Vellalan to be etymologically connected with Pallan, Palli, etc., the word meaning the lord of the Vallas or Pallas. The story of their origin is as follows. Many thousands of years ago, when the inhabitants of the world were rude and
ignorant of agriculture, a severe drought fell upon the land, and the people prayed to Bhudevi, the goddess of the earth, for aid. She pitied them, and produced from her body a man carrying a plough, who showed them how to till the soil and support themselves. His offsprings are the Vellalas, who aspire to belong to the Vaisya caste, since that includes Govaisyas, Bhuvaisyas, and Dhanavaisyas (shepherds, cultivators and merchants). A few, therefore, constantly wear the sacred thread, but most put it on only during marriages or funerals as a mark of the sacred nature of the ceremony."

The traditional story of the origin of the Vellalas is given as follows in the Baramahal Records.* " In ancient days, when the God Paramesvaradu and his consort 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 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, holding 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 ; therefore 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, carpenters, 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 remaining 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 Rayalu, 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 wenthome. 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."

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.,
 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. In  the Konga Vellalars, the nattars belong to this category See

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