Vanniyar, also known as Vanniya, formerly known as Palli, is the community or Jati of Australoid Dravidian found in the state of northern Tamil Nadu.
Hiltebeitel, who classifies Vaniyar as a Shudra in the Hindu Varna system, traditionally recognizes neither Vaishya (provider) nor Kshatriya (warrior) Varna in South Indian society, but instead Brahmin and others. Nonetheless, communities in the region often sought to prove their historically high status based on myths and, in some cases, likely history. The tradition of demotion from what was once a higher class is the truth of South Indian caste mythology. Researcher Lloyd Rudolf said Vanniyar, then known as Pallis, stopped accepting the low caste status as early as the year 1833, also known as Shudra. However, Gough records fieldwork in the year 1953, recording Palli and Vanniyar as separate but somewhat similar.
Sanskritisation Movement of the Vanniyar
Pallis sought to get orders in Pondicherry that their ancestors were not low agricultural castes. In preparation for the 1871 Indian census, they applied to be recognized as a member of the Kshatriya Varna. They founded many caste organizations under their favorite names, and Vannyakula Kshatriya Maha Sangam appeared in Madras in the year 1888 and expanded nationwide in the year 1952. By the year 1931, due to their successful politics (a process known as Sanskritisation), the term Pallis was removed from the Madras census and replaced by the term Vaniya Kshatriya. The reinvention of their history by Sanskritisation, and the resulting change in their position to Vanniyar rather than Pallis, is evident in communities that have adopted practices such as vegetarianism and the ban on widows’ remarriage.
Current Status of Vanniyar
During Tamil Nadu’s economic growth, Vanniyars mainly stuck to agriculture and purchased land from former landowners who emigrated to urban areas. Most remain either marginal farmers or landless workers who work in small areas of land. However, it has been severely damaged by the serious debt crisis surrounding Tamil Nadu’s agriculture, and many are now day laborers in Bangalore and Chennai. Due to the size and concentration of the population, in northern Tamil Nadu they have considerable political influence.