The jati associations of Vellalar community in TamilNadu have started a campaign seeking separate religion status along the lines of Lingayats. The community formed by a variety of intermediary castes took offense to some SC castes being brought under the name Devendra Kula Vellalar. Vellalas have established and own a number of influential Saiva mathas in Tamil Nadu.
The Vellalar community also known as Velaalar/Velir was primarily an agrarian community. Many castes like Mudaliyar, Chettiar, Saiva Pillai, Choliya Vellalar, Karkatha Vellalar, Gounder, etc use the title. A number of other castes which are categorized as Scheduled Castes now, have been demanding for a longtime to be brought under the title “Devendra Kula Vellalar” and to be delisted from the SC category. However the non-SC castes were against this as they saw it as an insult to their title.
After the ADMK government bowing to the SC castes’ demand and suggested the name change, PM Modi announced in February that the seven castes Devendrakulathan, Kudumban, Pannadi, Kaalaadi, Kadayan, Pallan and Patharia will be brought under the same name Devendra Kula Vellalar. A Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order (Amendment) bill, 2021 to bring that to effect was passed in the parliament in March. While ADMK and BJP only fulfilled the long-standing demand of the seven sub-castes, the opposition spinned it off as vote bank politics and tried to turn Vellalars against the NDA alliance.
The Vellala castes, which are intermediary OBC castes, didn’t like other castes using the same name either. Since then they have been campaigning and protesting against the 7 SC castes being called Devendra Kula Vellalar and leaving Hindu Dharma. They have been claiming that their ancestors were Saivites and so they’d like to return to their roots. It appears to be a scare tactic to make political parties submit to their demands.
The Vellalar community established 18 Saivite mathas called Adheenam across TN. They also built many temples and were great philanthropists. The Adheenams own a huge amount of wealth in the form of land and other properties. The heads of these mathas are elected based on traditional methods and are from the Vellala castes only. The community has expressed “fear” that the name change will “pave the way to claim the rights of 18 Adheenams as these Adheenams have lakhs of acres as property.”
In August Vellala jati associations trended #WeAreNotHindus in their efforts to garner attention towards their campaign against Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order (Amendment) Bill, 2021 that legally identified the seven sub-castes as Devendra Kula Vellalar. The Vellalar community associations claim that their 40 sub-castes form 33 percent of the state’s population. They want to “teach a lesson” to the government as they feel humiliated by the government’s decision to give the Devendra Kula Vellalar title to other castes.
The founder and General Secretary of Vellalar Sangam and Akila Bharatha Chola Rajya Katchi who started the social media campaign told TNIE “We have been worshiping Lord Shiva for over 2,000 years and in TN, most Saivite mutts are established by the Vellalar community. We are trying to return to our ancient roots and quit the Hindu fold”. The community has gone to court challenging the constitutional validity of renaming the 7 sub-castes as Devendra Kula Vellalar.
While the jati associations want to leave the Hindu fold for a mere caste issue, the Adheenams have been taking out yatras and interacting with seers of different sampradayas. Dharmapuram Adheenam Srilasri Masilamani Desika Gnanasambanda Paramacharya swami went on Guru Linga Sangama Yatra during which he met the seers of Madhava matha in Udupi. He also met Sringeri Shankaracharya and Veerendra Heggade of Dharmasthala.
He visited Pandharpur and Hampi temples and extended his support to Krishnadevaraya Odayar, the descendant of Vijayanagara dynasty, in restoring and reviving worship in the latter. Madurai Adheenam had spoken up against DMK government’s decision to appoint all caste people as archakas regardless of sampradaya. He had also questioned DMK government’s eager to meddle only in Hindu rights and religious affairs
It shall not be confused with the terms Vellalar and Velalar. Velalar is not Vellalar. All along all the castes were using the term Vellalar. The moment constitutional amendment was made to regroup 7 subcastes into one called Devendrakula Velalar all the castes known as Vellalar started claiming Velalar is also their caste name. However, Velalar means agrarian who are traditionally into the agriculture profession with land holding and without land holding too. History must be revisited to understand the real socio-economic conditions of various caste groups before 1527 CE.