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. The Kongu Vellala Gounders are appreciated for their varied qualities like untiring hardwork, objective nature, high moderation, honesty, humanitarian spirit, commitment, philanthrophy, strong bonding, innovative mind and reliability. They have been instrumental in the welfare of the Kongunadu zone, which is predominantly rainfed but blest with a cooler tropical plateau climate. This region supports the Tamilnadu state from economic collapse and single handedly manages its fame.
The secrets for such a developed region 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. The author of this blog, himself a Gounder belongs to the Elumathur Panangadai clan, seeks to venture at the various facets of the inseperable Gounder and Kongu histories. The readers are advised to have a prior reading of the author's blog on Kongu history before going through this blog for easing their strain.
The Gounders have however reached this level coming down from 1/4th of the total state population during the British Rule. This is even before the government launched popular population control measures which has surprised the social scientists. The child control measures started from the pre-independence era, mostly as a localised phenomenon due to high economic growth. When the government announced the two children norm, the Gounders were already having upto 80% of single child families. Now the estimates stand around a near hundred.Today one can see single child families in thousands of their families thereby might be credited as the only caste in India having reverse growth ratio thus projected to lose its majority status in the region. This along with the nuclear families concept has made the individual families prosper though shattering many of the age old cherished values of Gounders. These single children from the lonely nuclear families (which includes the family of the author himself) have become lonely isolated and self-centered individuals popularly called ''islands''. Thus the community is losing its identity and distinct culture due to over adherence to norms. This materialist lifestyle has resulted in the steady decline of the Gounders to 10% of the total state population from the pre-independence 25%. This self centered lifestyle has resulted in the undesirable increase of egotic personalities unwilling to unite even at the most demanding situations. Thus Gounders are silently slipping into political and demographical 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 atleast two children per family to maintain steady trends.
The traditional Gounder belt is the area now known as Kongu Nadu. This areas comprises the lower nine districts of the lower Kaveri catchment basin, forming the western part of Tamilnadu: Coimbatore, Ooty, Erode, Karur, Salem, Namakkal, Dharmapuri, Krishnagiri (all taluks of these districts), Dindigul (the taluks of Palani tk., Oddanchatram tk., Dindugul tk., Vedasandur and Kodaikkanal tk northward slopes only), Tiruchirapalli (Tottiyam tk. , Pachamalai and Turaiyur region of the Turaiyur tk. and Musiri panchayat union only), Villupuram (Kalrayan hills only), Perambalur (Pachamalai hills only) and Vellore (Tirupattur tk. only).
By the population statistics, again estimates, These specified regions have a Gounder population somewhere around 50 and 80% of the total regional population.
A secondary population of anywhere between 1 and 5% can be found in the districts of Theni, Madurai, Thanjavur (all in Tamilnadu), Palakkad, Malappuram, Idukki (all in Kerala), Kollegal, Mysore, Chamrajnagar, Kolar, Mandya, and Bangalore (all five in Karnataka).
ORIGIN OF KONGU AND KONGUNADU
Lessons from the Mahabharatam
The region of Kongunadu originally belongs to the Kurinji (tropical evergreen mountainous) and Mullai types (tropical deciduous plateau) which were originally densely to medium sparsely forested. The Gounders have in living memory, the very different days from now, when people moved around far and wide but within the forested Kaveri catchment valley with their cow herds. These people did not settle down at a single major point in history. There are such cowherds even to be found today in the remote forests of the Sathiyamangalam ghats for example. The herds were vast and mostly belonged to the Bargur cattle type. This is reflected in the Mahabharata references in the Kongunadu where Bhisma and the Kauravas came for a cattle raid which is in the pattern called Vetchi (Tam:வெட்சி) in Sangam literature, where cattle, the primary wealth of the people is taken as stake to initiate a war. Kongumandalasatakam says that the cattle raid was successfully repelled by Arjuna (Bruhannala) with Uttarakumaran, the son of the King Viratarayan of Ladapuram (modern Dharapuram) at a skirmish at the banks of the Kanchi (Noyil) (dates: 3100 B.C, Mahabharata). This place was named Tiruppur or the place where the cattle were rerouted back to Ladapuram. These shifting farmer-cattleherd villages were called pattis after the cow pens. The main food products were cow milk and dry crops like Aariyam (Varaku or Ragi), Kambu, Cholam and Tinai. They also exchanged these produce for rice from marginal settled farmers. Many clan or kootam names remind of such great cowherds and marginal landlords.
The first fixed settlements in Kongu history were at the Amaravati -Noyil valley because of the perennial supply of water from the Palani Koadaikkanal and Vellingiri ranges. The cowherd rearing shifting farmers achieved a sustained state and organised themselves as Vellalars or landlords. They later, for deforesting the land brought in the Vettuvar tribes, descendents of Kannappa Nayanar from the Kalahasti region. These Vettuvar hamlets were called Vadugapattis, literally northener's cowpens. The Vettuvars also being successful, at one stage became numerically equal to the Vellalars. They also started questioning the authority of Vellalars. This is the point when we see the Vettuva-Vellala war symbolised by the Chinnanan- Periyannan story. The Vettuvars, eventhough being later settlers take advantage of their increased numbers and challenge the Vellalars through committing excesses on Vellala territory and harassing Vellala women. Here is where God or eternal order intervenes. Sivan, in order to support the order, steps in himself brings up the brothers who are killed at birth by their uncle. The first settler of any land has the rights of ruling and defending it, though the ownership might change hands. This is the Indian concept of the native's right. The native Vellalas, who were such an agrarian-warrior tribe or the Vellala-Kshatriya tribe, defeat the Vettuvars and place them under their subjection. Decrease in forests and increase in farming also leads to their decrease in numbers and increase of Vellala natives.
Valipulla Goundan story also reflects Vellalar - Vettuvar friction but with a different lesson for us. Here when the Vettuva barber asserts his rights to serve the Goundan eventhough he insults him by leaving him half shaved (a great insult in those days) and follows his Vettuva cheiftain, Valipulla refuses his service but the barber insists (here we come to know the right of the so called lower service castes to demand compulsory service). They agree for a caste panchatyat where all important clan leaders are invited as witnesses. The Vettuva barber devises a clever method (because he is the affected party here) where the dog of Valipulla would be offered food by him. If the dog eats it, Valipulla is to accept his services and if not, could refuse him. Here again God (or the spirit of orderliness) in the form of Vinayakar assists Valipulla's dog which urinates on the food. Valipulla then marries his two sons to the two daughters of Vellala Chettiars (a merchant trader community who dealt in agri produce) to beget Kongu Napitha (Nasuvan) children. Again there is a lesson for us. Why should they marry Chettiar girls to beget Napitha children? and Why can't they just become Napithas? According to the rules of Anulomam (recorded earliest in the Manu Smruti), when a higher Varnam boy marries a girl from a lower Varnam, the children born are the Sudras or the service castes who are promotional to the society. If the opposite happens, then it is called Pratilomam where the children born are Panchamas or untouchables. Here the marriage is between the Kshatriya boys and Vaisya girls, where as Manusmruti says, the children begotten are Napithas or barbers. Thus from the demographics of Kongunadu, we come to know that the Anulomam and Pratilomam (intercaste) marriages were near zero and happened only according to calculated marriages to fulfil necessity.
The various people who had settled at different places for agriculture still went to their Patti cowherd gods where they had originated which later were called the Kanikkoils. No other caste in India has such precise Kuladeivams or such kootam (Gotram) system which is to remind us of our greatness and thus culture good qualities befitting to the kootam.