Kongu Vellala Gounders or Kongu Vellalars or simply Gounders are a Kshatriya, warrior clan of ancient Chera and Chola empires of Southern India. The Kshatriyas became Vellalars later, as it is allowed in Hindu dharma for Kshatriyas to become Vellalars under special circumstances, and took up agriculture.They are a land-owning and ancient feudal caste of Tamil Nadu, India. They moved to present Kongu Nadu after a conflict with the Imperial Cholas. The history of the Kongu Vellala Gounder caste is one of the most obscure along with the history of the Kongunadu region itself.
The Gounders have been credited by many as unique among the other caste groups of the region and southern India as a whole owing to their rich cultured tradition which reflects their lifestyle. The Kongu Vellalars are appreciated for their varied qualities like untiring hardwork, objective nature, high moderation, honesty, simple nature, loyalty, humanitarian spirit, commitment, philanthropy, strong bonding, innovative mind and reliability. They have been instrumental in the welfare of the Kongunadu which is predominantly rainfed but blessed with a cooler tropical plateau climate. This prosperous region supports the Tamil Nadu state from economic collapse and single handedly manages its fame.
 Ethnic roots
There are various themes of origin of the Gounder caste. The common undercurrent in all of them is that the original name of the caste is Gangakulam (Tamil: கங்காகுலம்) which is descended from the King Gangadatta (Sanskrit: meaning one given by the Goddess Ganga) (Tamil: கங்கதத்தன்) (the name Kongu Vellala Gounder is a relatively new, post-colonial classification necessitated nomenclature).
They are traditionally considered to be Tamil speakers of the Kongu Nadu, an ancient division of Tamilakam that includes parts of northwest Tamil Nadu, portions of neighbouring Kerala and the southern Mysore region of Karnataka. They are one of the Prominent castes of Tamil Community who have their roots to the Sangam Tamil Culture and their elaborate marriage festivities are mentioned about in beautiful chaste Tamil by Kavirayar Kambar in his famous Kongu Mangala Vazhthu songs. The famous epic of Ponnar Shankar which was also written by Kalaignar Karunanidhi illustrates them very clearly.
They are one of the most reformed, progressive castes who lived in the Kongu region of Tamilnadu from historical times. The reasons for such a developed region, cultured & mannered people go back to the Gounder caste which mostly go unresearched partly due to the heavy stench of ideological biases of contemperory Tamil historians and partly due to the jealousy and the resulting fear of the caste itself.
One can even now see the sanctity attached to cattle breeding by the Kongu Vellala Gounders even to-day when they call their chief festival Pongal as Patti Nombi. The Vokkaliga Gowdas of Karnataka and the Kongu Vellala Gounders of Tamil Nadu are one of the most well organised social group in South India but with Kongu Vellalars showing even more intricately arranged socio-cultural hierarchy than their long separated ethnic cousins Vokkaliga Gowdas owing to their long recorded history of martial Kshatriya status before turning Vellalars.
The Kongu / Nattu Vellalars were of great support to the King by assisting with their own army in great battles and war during ancient times. They also held high positions such as chieftains, army generals and ministers of the ancient Chera and Chola empires. They were also the ancient Chera Kings who ruled from Vanchi, modern day Karur (lineage: Cheran kulam) and extended their empire till the western coast of India when the Kingdom was at its peak. The community enjoyed high reputation, influence, popularity and respect even from the early Sangam age.
 The Velalapuranam and Kambar's Mangalavazthu
The Velalapuranam, a 19th century work which tells the legend of the man who originated from the river Ganga called here as Marapalan who started the Gangakulam. This is a construction based probably on Kambar's Mangala Vazhthu ( மங்கல வாழ்த்து) which is even today sung during one of the Gounder marriage rites. Kambar himself describes the various rites associated with the Gounder marriage. One is the Kaikorvai (கங்கா குலம் விளங்க கம்பர் சொன்ன...) in which he blesse the Gangakulam couple. These Vellalars are descendant from the ancient indigenous Kshatriya Suriyavamsam (Solar dynasty) through the Gangakulam (preserved in names like Suriya Kangeyan and titles having Kangeyan).
Kongu Mangala Vaazhthu composed by Tamil National poet Kavirayar Kamban is a beautiful treatise in chaste Tamil elaborating the marriage festivities of Kongu Vellalars, his patron. This song explains in detail and in sequence all the events related to a marriage from the beginning to the end and is regarded as a classical masterpiece on ancient customs and traditions of Tamil people.
 Feudal past
The land was divided into 24 regions. These regions are often suffixed by the word Nadu and reprsents the area they include like Annamalai Nadu, Poondurai Nadu, Thenkarai Nadu, Rasipura Nadu, Poovaniya Nadu, Kilanku Nadu, Kangeya Nadu and such. Under this organizational system, the chiefs of the 24 regions would get together and decide on various political and social issues and hence accordingly governed the people and its region.
 Clans or Kootams Of Kongu Vellala Gounders
Gounder caste is subdivided into 64 clan groups. Vellalar means basically a person who took up agriculture as his main profession. The whole family of Vellalars works in the field from early morning till evening. Land is dear and God to him and his entire life-cycle centers only around land. Kongu Vellalars are some of the most well organised groups with well intricately arranged socio-cultural hierarchy than any other social group in the whole of Southern India.
Most of the Kongu Vellalar kootams have Sangam period names, named after a famous chieftain, King or a dynasty from which they descended from namely Chera, Chola and Pandiya clans. Unlike other Vellalars, of whose totemic clan and tribal origins have been eclipsed totally and erased by Sanskritisation, Kongu Vellalars still maintain their tribal and clan beginnings. They are sub-divided into the Sendhalais (red-headed men), Padaithalais (leaders of armies), Vellikkai (the silver hands), Pavalamkatti (wearers of coral), Malaiyadi (foot of the hills), Tollakadu (ears with big holes), Attangarais (river bank) and others.
There are certain small sub groups who also follow the same customs and are also called by the same name among the Gounders which are getting amalgamated nowadays into the mainstream, some of the differences are Nattu Gounders also known as Oor Gounders = Gounders who were rulers of Nadus where Gounder population is thin and normal Oor Gounders. Narambukatti Gounders (Vadakarai vellalars) = of north and south of river Bhavani (Mostly around Gobi). Padaithalai Gounders ( the people who joined and abstained Tippu sultan's army respectively). Sendhalai Gounders (Coimbatore and Erode region). Irumudi Gounders - Vellala Gounders = Gounders who fell under two rulers and proper Kongu respectively. Vellikkai Vellalars found mostly in Krishnagiri, Pochampalli, Dharmapuri, Palakodu, Hosur and Rayakottai Taluks of erstwhile Dharmapuri District and in few villages in Alangayam Firka of Vaniyambadi Taluk in Vellore District. Some kulam/kootams betray a totemic origin, whereas others appear to be names of lineage founders or place name of the clan's original inhabitance. Others show other ethnic origins such as Kannadiga and Toda. From the clan name it appears that at some point in history many different people came together to coalesce into this social group.
People belonging to the same Kulam/Kootam usually will not intermarry. They are considered as brothers and sisters. Each Kulam/Kootam has its own Kulaguru and Kuladeivam or Ishta deivam. In temples, it is a common practice to pray their idols' which is specific to a Koottam/Kulam.
Apparently some of these clan titles are common with Vettuva Gounders who were previously a local hunter gatherer group now moved into farming and agriculture found in the same area.The Kongu Vellalars for deforesting the land brought in the Vettuvar tribes, descendents of Kannappa Nayanar from the Sri Kalahasti region. The historical war between Vellala Gounders and Vettuva Gounders is mentioned in the legendary Annamar Swami story where the latter were defeated.
 Surnames or Titles
The Kongu history is very much identified with the four titled families of Kongu Vellala Gounders community. The titled families are:
1) Sankaradamplayam Pattakkarar - (Periya kulam)
2) Puthur Pattakkarar - (Cenkannan kulam)
3) Palayakottai Pattakkarar - (Payiran kulam)
4) Kadaiyur Pattakkarar - (Porulanthi kulam)
They had large tracts of land and also acted as final courts of appeal in their domains. Their titles (Pattams) were directly granted from the Kings. All the four families lived in the central part of Kongu region. The Sankaradamplayam Pattakkarar also known as Vaenadudeyar was bestowed a title by then Vijayanagar Kings in the sixteenth century 16th century A.D.
The people of the Kongu Vellala Gounder community have two Titles in general:
1) The caste title, which is Goundan or Gounder. Some use honorary titles like Sankaradampalayam Pattakkarar (from Periya kulam), they also have another honorific title Vaenadudeyar (Sankarandampalayam) bestowed upon by the ancient Chola empire which also recognized by the Chera and Pandya Kings, Mandradiar (the Pattakarar of Palayakottai), Vanavarayar (the Zamin of Samathur), Kalingarayar (Uthukuli), Pallavarayar (Kangayampalayam near Kangeyam) , Palayakottai Pattakkarar (Payira kulam), Katayur Pattakkarar (Porulanthi kulam), Puthur Pattakkarar (Cenkannan kulam) and Kangeyan.
2) The clan or Kulam, Kootam name, which is the surname really, like Periya kulam, Cenkannan, Payiran, Porunlanthi and other such 64 kootams.
Nowadays it is a common practise among the community not to use any Caste titles or Kulams along with their name as a mark of principle.
 Religion and communal structure of the Gounders
The Gounders are followers of the traditional form of Saiva Siddhanta Hinduism. In earlier times a sizeable population followed seems to have followed Jainism (temples are found even today at Vijayamangalam, Jinapuram, Vellode, Perundurai, Palani, Aivarmalai and Poondurai) and later reconverted by the Siddhar traditions (most of the Siddhars lived in Kongunadu). The Gounders follow the system of Kootam in which persons from the same Kootam do not marry one another as they are considered to have descended from the same ancestor. Each Kootam has its own Kulaguru (or popularly saamiar- a [brahmin] - for example, the kulaguru of Melkarai Poonthurai Nadu kootam is Pasur Akilanda Dikshitar), who is traditionally respected. Every Kootam also has one or more Kuladeivams or a Clan Deities.
The traditional Gounder belt is the western region of Tamilnadu known as Kongu Nadu. This area now comprises the following regions in the western part of Tamil Nadu: Coimbatore, Erode, Gobi, Tirupur, Pollachi, Nilgiris, Udumalai, Sathy, Salem, Attur, Kallakurichi, Karur, Namakkal, Rasipuram, Thiruchengode, Palani, Dharapuram, Kangeyam, Avinashi, Omalur, Dharmapuri, Hosur, Sankagiri, Krishnagiri, northern Dindigul, western parts of Tiruchirapalli, Perambalur, Vellore and Villupuram. They are also sparsely distributed in Thanjavur, Madurai and Theni districts of Tamil Nadu.
Kongu Vellalars are one of the Tamil Speaking majority communities in Tamil Nadu. They are also spread across the globe ranging from Srilanka, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, America, Australia, Europe, Fiji, South Africa and many other countries abroad.
The vital statistics on Kongu Vellalar community shows that they have the lowest fertility rates (total fertility rates (TFR) and gross reproduction rates (GRR)), among all communities in India.The Gounders have however reached this level coming down from 1/4th of the total state popualtion during the British Raj. They adopted family planning very much earlier even before the Indian Government started advising small families. For the last 30 years, 90% of their families do not have more than two children. Today you can see single child families in thousands of Gounder families. In the country where reservation is offered on numerical strength, this community suffers on the policy.
Economic & Political weekly had published articles confirming this statistics wherein the lowest fertility rates in Coimbatore and Erode districts of Tamil Nadu showed the lowest in the country and to some extent equal and lower than that of fertility rates in America. But no recognition has been given to the community on this front though Census records are available. The government of India census wants to keep its people ignorant on this aspect though every community wants their quotas in educational institutions and employment.Thus Gounders are silently slipping into political and demographic doom though outwardly they seem to prosper. We have to remember that no government eternally is steady to guarantee safety and there is always a safety in numbers. Concerned scientists have warned the community to have at least two children per family to maintain steady trends.
Recently, Kongu Vellalar Gounders started a political party, Kongunadu Munnetra Peravai, KMP in February 2009 and will contest in 12 Lok Sabha constituencies and 50 Legislative Assembly seats in the regions of Coimbatore, Gobichettipalayam, Tirupur, Nilgiris, Erode, Salem, Karur, Namakkal, Krishnagiri, Dharmapuri, and Dindigul in the western belt of Tamil Nadu.
 Marriage tradition of Kongu Vellala Gounders
The marriage rites of Kongu Vellalar are ancient and stands as testimony to their cultured upbringing and grooming. Their marriage customs are unique amongst other communities in Tamil Nadu. The Kongu / Nattu Vellalars were of great support to the King by assisting with their own army. They also held high positions such as chieftains, army generals and ministers of Chera and Chola empires.
Hence rites relating to government administration and war find their places in Kongu Vellalar marriages. The events such as bridegroom riding a horse in olden days, giving gifts and presents including weapons are examples of the above. The main occupation of Kongu Vellalar became agriculture and they excelled in it by their sheer hard work, tenacity and dedication for which they are known. Hence agriculture related rites such as boiling paddy and seer koodai formed part of the marriage rites of Kongu Vellalar.
Gounders marry outside their Kulam/Kootam and are renowned for their elaborate three-day marriage extravaganzas.Kongu Vellalar do not conduct marriages in the months of Aadi and maargazhi. Generally, they do not choose even Chithirai for conducting the marriage. Marriages are held mostly in the months of Vaikaasi, Aani and Asvani taking into consideration the fact that the season will be good during these months and also jasmine flower of lovable fragrance which is required in large quantities for the marriage, will be available in plenty during this season.
The First day event: The first day event is called Naal virundhu. On this day, close relatives of the bride and bridegroom will host feasts for the bride’s family and bridegroom’s family respectively.
The Second day event: On the second day, marriage arrangements will be done by bringing together all relatives. Events such as erection of pandhal (temporary shed), cutting of Muhurtha Kaal, hairdressing of bridegroom by kudimagan, informing the marriage event to village community by drum beating, hosting of feast for the relatives in the bride’s family as well as bridegroom’s family, bridegroom leaving for the bride’s house will take place on the second day.
The Third day event: The Muhurtham will take place on third day. The bride and the bridegroom will be seated on the marriage platform on completion of appropriate rites. The Thaali (Mangala naan) will be tied by the bridegroom around the bride’s neck and one can see the famous Kongu Mangala Vaazhthu song being recited only at their weddings.
The marriage events will come to a close with the serving of a grand feast to all relatives, friends and neighbours. The marriage events will be performed by a respected elderly person of the community.
The Kongu culture is reflected more in its folklore. Folklore is an archive of human civilization along with other forms of oral tradition like story telling. It consists of customs, beliefs, value systems, festivals and rituals of a Community. And tells about their morals, ideals, values and dharma for which they lived. It also reflects its greatness and shortcomings. Kula Puranams are the chief folkloristic expressions found in many communities in South India.Annanmar Swami Kathai is the national literature of Kongu Nadu. The Ponnar Shankar epic tells the story of the historic war between the Vellalars and Vettuvans. It was popularized by Sakthikkanal at the regional level and by American Anthropologist Brenda E.F. Beck at the international level. Kunnudiak Kavundan, Thamarai Nachiar, Ponnar, Sankar and Thangam represent the kind of human beings we see in every age & in every society. The valour, heroism, social concern & the sacrifice of the brothers Ponnar Sankar still inspire and guide thousands of people living in and outside Kongu region. Visiting Valanadu Fort - where the warrior brothers are believed to have lived and ruled, Virappur - where Peria Kandi Amman Temple the clan deity of Annanmars is located and Padugalam where the sister Thangam revived her dead brothers with her divine power is considered to be a holy task cutting across caste and creed.
 Prominent Kongu Vellala Gounders
The Kongu region flourishes mainly due to their extreme hard work, commitment, objective nature and innovation in their fields.
2) White silk (Gobi - First automated silk reeling unit in the country),
Following is a list of prominent and well known Kongu Vellalars:
 Historical Personalities
- Cheraman Perumal - a Chera King who ruled from Karur and later became a devoted Saivite nayanmar .
- Kulasekara Alvar:one of the twelve azhwar saints. ref: கொங்கர்கோன் குலசேகரன் சொன்ன சொல் (நாலாயிர திவ்ய பிரபந்தம், பாடல்:அழகிய மணவாளன்பால் பித்தன் எனல் - 9.3).
- Kalingarayan: Born Lingaya Gounder (1240 A.D.), Constructed the Kalingarayan Canal in Erode region.
 Freedom fighters, Leaders
- Dheeran Chinamalai: the legendary Kongu Chieftain, a Palayakkarar and one of the earliest Tamil Indian freedom fighter whose rose up in revolt against the occupying foreign forces in Kongunadu, then Southern India.
Kongunadu & Kongu Vellala Gounders have been consistently neglected from Political Scenario by successive governments at the Centre and State for a very long time now prompting them to start their own Political forum to represent and address their genuine greviances and find solutions themselves which has aroused considerable jealousy and fear among the real holders of Power.
- P. Subbarayan - Premier of Madras Presidency (1926 - 1930), served in the cabinet of Jawaharlal Nehru.
- C. Subramaniam: Former Union Minister and Deputy chairperson of the planning commission, Bharat Ratna Awardee(1998) and Father of the Indian Green Revolution.
- Rangarajan Kumaramangalam - Eminent lawyer, former Union Minister and Congress/BJP leader.
- 'Best' S.Ramasamy: President, Kongunadu Munnetra Peravai.
- V. C. Kulandaiswamy: Academician and renowned author. Formerly Vice Chancellor of Anna University, IGNOU & Tamil Virtual University. Padma Shri(1992), Padma Bhushan (2002).
- M.P. Periasamy Thooran: Musician, Chief Editor, Tamil Encyclopaedia (1948-1978), Padma Bhushan (1968)
 Academic, Science and Technology
- P.A. Venkatachalam: Professor and Founder of Dept. of Computer Science (in 1978) and School of Computer Science and Engineering (in 1986) of College of Engineering, Guindy, Anna University (1973-88), Recipient of several international awards and recognitions for research and inventions in the field of Biomedical Engineering, Electrical, Electronics and Computer Science and Engineering.
- V. C. Kulandaiswamy - Academician and renowned author. Formerly Vice Chancellor of Madurai University, Anna University, IGNOU and Tamil Virtual University. Padma Shri(1992), Padma Bhushan (2002).
- R.M.Vasagam: Project Director for APPLE, India's first experimental Geostationary Communication Satellite Project during 1977-83. Vice- Chancellor of Dr. M.G.R. Deemed University, formerly Vice- Chancellor of Anna University. Padma Shri (1982).
- K.R.Palaniswamy: Former president of the Indian Society of Gastroenterology. Awarded the Padma Shri for 2006. He was awarded the FRCP Glasgow. He was instrumental in founding the department of Gastroenterology at Stanley Medical College, Chennai.
 Civil Services
- General Paramasiva Prabhakar Kumaramangalam (1913-2000): Seventh Chief of Army Staff (June 7 1966 - June 7 1969), Distinguished Service Order (DSO) as a Major for action in Libya, erstwhile hero of the theme behind the 'Great Escape', when he escaped from a Nazi concentration camp. Padma Vibhushan - 1970.
 Cinema Industry
- AP Nagarajan- acclaimed and famous cinema director who directed Nadigar Thilagam Sivaji Ganesan in many of his epical & spiritual blockbuster movies during the golden age of Tamil Indian Cinema Industry.
- Sivakumar - famous for his essaying Lord Murugan's role
- K. B. Sundarambal - famous for her Saint Avvaiyar's role
- Karthi Sivakumar - National award winning actor in Tamil Indian Cinema Industry
- Swami Chidbhavananda: Founder of Ramakrishna Tapovanam in Thiruparaithurai, Thiruchirapalli district which established many educational institutions in Tamilnadu for the upliftment and welfare for the socially deprived sections of humanity.
- Swami Satchidananda: Founder of Integral yoga and Yogaville in America and Spiritual Guru of major Hollywood actors & western musicans and also for the popular Tamil Indian Cinema actor Shivaji Rao Gaekwad / "Rajinikanth" (screen name).
- Dr. N.Mahalingam - Chairman of Sakthi group of companies, a notable
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 Related websites
- Konguvellalar.in An Exclusive Kongu Website, only for Kongu Vellala Gounders
- gounder.org - Site for Kongu Vellala Gounder matrimonial
- Muhurthakaal.com Exclusive Kongu Velaala Gounder matrimonial
- Kongunadu Munnetra Peravai