The name Vanniyar is derived from the Tamil word 'Vanmai' which means valor. Agni,the God of Fire is connected with Regal office,as kings hold in their hands the fire wheel or Agneya chakra. The Vanniyars of South India considered as a representative of the Non-Aryan,a Dravidian Rajput Element. In Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka Vanniars while referring their caste in circumstances and rituals, subtitle with the phrase 'Agnivanshi' denoting their clan. Also in Andhra they are referred to as Agnikula Kshatriyas.
At Sirkazhi Vaideeswaran Temple Inscriptions about Vanniyar Puranam are seen. It denotes that,at ancient times there is two asuras known as Vatapi.,and Mahi.,worshipped Brahma and obtained immunity from Death and subsequently they garrisoned the Earth. Jambuva Mahamuni,performed a Yagam,or sacrifice by power.soon Armed Horse men sprung from the flames,undertook twelve expeditions against them and destroyed them. Their leader then assumed the government of the country under the name Rudra Vanniya Maharaja,who had five sons,the Ancestors of Vanniya Caste. This Tradition alludes to the destruction of the city of Vatapi by Narasimhavarman,the king of Pallis or Pallavas.
In the Classical tamil poem Kalladam,which has been attributed to the time of Thiruvalluvar,the author of the sacred Kural,Vanni is used in the sense of King. Kamban, the author of Tamil Ramayana,uses it in a similar sense.
The vanniyans of agnikula race, can be classified as Ruthra Vanniyar, Agni Vanniyar, Sambu vanniyar, Brahma vanniyar, and Indra Vanniyar.
The Titles," Indicating Authority,Bravery and Superiority," assumed by them are Nayakar,Varma,Padaiyachi (Head of an Army), Kandar, Chera, Chola, Pandya, Sambuvarays, Kadavarayas, Kalingarayas, Mazhavarayas, Samattiyars, Udaiyars, Kondiyars, Nainars, Sozhaganars, Munaiarayas and Kachirayas,Goundan and Kavandan. Some say that they belong to Chola race,and that, as such, they should be called as Chembians. They also bear the Sozhaganars title indicating their chola origin.
The Zamindars of Pichavaram, UdayarPalayam, Ariyalur, M Parur, Thiruvidaichuram, Manimangalam and Sivagiri are all Vanniya By Caste.
In North East Sri Lanka,Triconamalee are ruled by Vanniyans and Vanniyachi's.
A well known verse of Irattayar in praise of Kanchipuram Ekambaranathaswmi refers to the Pallava King as being of the Sambu Race. The latter Descendants of the Pallava apparently took Sambuvarayar and Kadavarayar Titles.
- - Vanniyar sangam uses firepot as the symbol of Vanniars. Firepot is the symbol of the Pallava empire who used the symbol in the rock cut temples.
Vanniyar rule in south india from 240AD to till date
- From 240 AD to 943 AD - Pallava Empire
- From 943 AD to 1313 AD - Chola Empire
- From 1278 AD to 1456 AD - Kandavas, Sambuvarayar, Kadavarayar dynasty
- From 1456 AD to 1798 AD - Kalingarayar, Naicker Dynasty as poligar, chiefians under feudral rule of vijiyanagar empire and arcot nawab
- From 1798 AD to 1947 AD - British Rule, but most of the villages & towns are under the direct rule of Vanniar Gounder, Naicker, Reddiar and Padayachi zamindars. - - From 1947 AD to still date - Tamil Nadu Toilers Party, Common Wheel Party and PMK dominate parts of North Tamil Nadu in electoral junctions
The Vanniyars were known as Vanniakula Kshatriyas and Padayatchis. Depending upon the status, the members of the Vanniyar caste use titles such as Padayatchi, Gounder, Naicker/Nayagar, Vannia Reddiar, Kander/Kandar, Palli in Tamil Nadu, in Karnataka they are called Tigala or Thigilaru with a common suffix of Gowda and Nayakar. In Andhra Pradesh, Vanniars are usually known as Palli, Agnikula, Kshatriya, Vanne Kapu or Naik. There are different names or sub caste/sub titles given for Vanniya Kula Kshatriyas. This can be seen in the book written by A.K.Natarajan of Vanniyar sangam. The sub caste like Gounder, Naicker, Kandar, Padaiyaachi, Raju, Palli e.t.c.
Vanniyars live in an area where three South Indian states intersects. They currently predominate in northern Tamil Nadu)whereas sizable numbers are found in southern Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. In these latter Indian states they are in sizeable mass primarily due to migration of other sects from outside and vice versa.
In terms of population they are the most populated community in Tamil Nadu (Both as Vanniars) and Pondichery.
Important cities are Chennai,Chengalpattu, Kancheepuram, Bangalore, Kolar, Salem, Thiruchirapalli, Vellore, Cuddalore, Virudhachalam, Thiruvannamalai, Dharmapuri, Krishnagiri, Villupuram, Tindivanam, Gingee, Nellore, Thirupathi, Jayankondam, Pondicherry,Mayiladuthurai,Vedaranyam ,Ariyalur and Nagapattinam.
Vanniyar in Sri Lanka
Main article: Vanniar (Sri Lanka)
Vanniar or Vannia is a title of a feudal chief in medieval Sri Lanka who ruled as a tribute payer to any number of local kingdoms. It was also recored as that of a name of a caste amongst Sri Lankan Tamils iin the Vanni District of northern Sri Lanka during the early 1900’s. It is no longer used as a name of a caste or as chiefs in Sri Lanka. There are number of origin theories for the feudal chiefs as well as the caste as coming from modern Tamil Nadu state or as an indigenous formation. (see Pandara Vannian)
Vanniyar outside India
Vanniyar also migrated to South Africa, Malaysia, Singapore, Seychelles, Mauritius and Fiji as part of the great Tamil diaspora. Variant Vanniyar titles such as Govendar,Naicker and Padayachee are used amongst their descendants.
The Vanniyars may be linked in tradition to the vanni tree (prosopis spicigera), a holy tree in Hindu tradition.Kulasekhara,one of the early travancore kings,and one of the most renowned alwars reverenced by the srivaishnava community belongs to them.Vanniyars celebrate his anniversary in Parthasarathy templeChennai even now.The Vanniyars have the right to present the most important camphor offering of the Mylapore Kapaleeswarar Temple.The Ekambaranathar Temple at Kanchipuram built by them.Likewise the Chidambaram Nataraja Temple is founded by Swetavarman,a Pallava king.