Kamma or the Kammavaru are a social group found largely in the Southern Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Tamilnadu and Karnataka. The Kamma population was 795,732 in the year 1881. According to 1921 census they constituted about 4.0% of Andhra Pradesh population and in significant numbers in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. In the last decades of the previous century, a sizable number immigrated to other parts of the world, particularly to the USA, UK and Australia.
There are many theories about the origins of the word “Kamma” and the social group known as the Kammas but none is conclusive.
The theory is that the people who lived in the Krishna river valley, where Buddhism prevailed, got the name from the Theravada Buddhist concept of Kamma (in Pali) or Karma (in Sanskrit). This region was once known as Kammarashtram / Kammarattam / Kammanadu, which was under the control of the Pallavas, Eastern Chalukyas and Cholas. Inscriptions mentioning Kammanadu are available since 3rd century C.E. According to some historians the Kammas existed since the time of the Mauryas.
Some historians opined that the name Kamma is probably derived from Kambhoja. Avadh Bihari Lal Avasthi comments as follows: We find Kambhi, Kamma, Kumbhi etc., castes in South India. Possibly, there has also been a Kamboja country in Southern India. The Garuda Purana locates a Kambhoja principality/settlement in the neighborhood of Ashmaka, Pulinda, Jimuta, Narrashtra, Lata and Karnata countries, and also specifically informs us that this section of Kambojas were living in the southern part of India.
pulinda ashmaka jimuta narrashtara nivasinah
carnata kamboja ghata dakshinapathvasinah.
Another origin of Kammas is speculated as: Buddhist Kurmis from the Gangetic plains migrated to the Krishna river delta in large numbers to escape the persecution of Pushyamitra Sunga (184 BCE). Buddhism was already flourishing in Dharanikota, Bhattiprolu, Chandavolu etc., in this fertile area. Historians surmised that the Sanskrit word Kurmi/Kurma became Kamma in later years. The first records of the word Kammarashtram appeared in the Jaggayyapeta inscription of the Ikshvaku King Madhariputra Purushadatta (3rd century CE). Kammarashtram extended from the Krishna River to Kandukur (Prakasam Dt.). The next record was that of Pallava King Kumara Vishnu II followed by that of Eastern Chalukya king Mangi Yuvaraja (627-696 CE). The subsequent inscriptions of Telugu Cholas/Chodas and Kakatiya dynasty mentioned ‘Kammanadu’. This region is also known as Pallavanadu/Palanadu/Palnadu due to Pallava rule.
The social group Kamma, is recently identified as consisting of haplogroups R2 (M124 73.3%), L1 (M27), R1a1(M17) and Q*(M242). Following the journey of Haplogroup R2, it can be inferred that Kamma social group might have migrated from Mauryan Kingdom of Asoka in Bihar region, to Satavahana empire located and concentrated in Palnadu region of Andhra Pradesh. This migration might have occurred to spread Buddhism to Andhra country. Further migrations might have taken place, over many generations into coastal regions and other regions of Andhra Pradesh, seeking greener pastures. Interestingly, the other social group with highest concentration of Haplogroup R2 is Jaunpur Kshatriyas of Varanasi region.
The kings and military persona of Kammanadu started using the title Nayaka/Nayakudu from 10th century onwards as observed in many inscriptions. There are about 1200 Kamma surnames (Intiperu) which are discernible from this time. The surnames and Gothras of Kammas and Velamas were catalogued by Badabanala Bhatta in 1068 CE. The names of the ancestral villages were adopted as Gothras. This shows that the ancestors of Kammas and Velamas were either Buddhists or Jains who did not follow Gothra system and that both the social groups had a common history. The historical reasons for the dichotomy of the two groups are not known, although many stories abound. The inscriptions of many Kamma Nayakas mentioned that they belong to Durjaya clan (Vamsa). For instance, the inscription (1125 CE) of Pinnama Nayudu in the temple of Sagareswara in Madala village mentioned that he belonged to Durjaya clan and Vallutla Gothra. Another inscription (1282 CE) in the same temple mentioned that Devineni Erra Nayudu, Kommi Nayudu and Pothi Nayudu belonged to the lineage of Buddhavarma, Durjaya clan and Vallutla Gothra. The inscription at Ravuru mentioned that the bodyguards of Queen Rudrama Devi, Ekki Nayudu, Rudra Nayudu, Pinarudra Nayudu and Pothi Nayudu belong to Durjaya vamsa and Vallutla Gothra. It is worth mentioning here that many of the martial clans of Kammas belong to Vallutla Gothra. Many of the Telugu Chodas of Kammanadu had relations with Eastern Chalukyas and later with Kakatiyas. According to many inscriptions and “Velugotivari Vamsavali” Kammas with surnames such as Yalampati, Sammeta, Maccha, Choda, Vasireddy, Katta, Adapa etc., belong toChoda-Chalukya ancestry. The Vasireddy Clan had a title “Chalukya Narayana”. Historians surmised that by the end of 10th century Durjayas, Chodas, few sections of Chalukyas and Haihayas of Kammanadu merged into Kammas.
The division of warrior class into many castes and their consolidation commenced during the time of Kakatiya king Rudra I (1158-1195 CE). According to Velugotivari Vamsavali andPadmanayakacharitra, texts written in medieval times, farmers (Kapus) became Kammas and Velamas. In medieval times the term ‘Kapu’ meant a farmer or protector.
“…kaalachoditamuna kaakateevarugolchi kaapulella velama kammalairi”
Badabanala Bhatta prescribed Surnames and Gothras of Kammas and Velamas. The affiliation of Kammas as a caste to the ruling dynasties could not be ascribed till 11th century. Traces of evidence were found in the inscriptions of Telugu Cholas/Chodas of Velanadu starting from Gonka I (1075-1115 CE), found in many places in Kammanadu. The Dharanikota kings (1130-1251 CE) who belonged to Kota clan of Kammas and Durjaya ancestry had marital alliances with Telugu Cholas. However, there was some controversy regarding the origin of Kota kings. Kota kings married the women from Kakatiya dynasty (E.g., Kota Betharaja married Ganapamba, daughter of Ganapati Deva). The Kakatiya Ganapati Deva married the sisters of Jayapa Senani, a warrior hailing from Diviseema. Jayapa Nayudu is also well known for his contributions to the field of Indian dance (1231 CE) and was the head of the elephant corps in the Kakatiya army. Around this time many warriors from Kammanadu joined the forces of the Kakatiya dynasty. In Warangal region Kammas are called Kamma Kapus.
Famous Telugu poet Srinatha (14th century CE), while describing the social divisions during his time, categorized Padmanayaka, Velama and Kamma in his Bhimeswara Puranamu.
“…..andu padmanayakulana, velamalana, kammalana trimarga gangapravahambulumbole gotrambulanniyeni jagatpavitrambulai pravahimpachunda” -
Kammas grew to prominence during the Kakatiya dynasty’s reign (1083-1323 CE) by also holding important positions in their army. One of the most famous commanders during the time of Rudrama Devi and Prataparudra II was Dadi Nagadeva who played a prominent role in warding off the attack of the Yadava king of Devagiri. Nagadeva’s son Ganna Mantri, also called Ganna Senani or Yugandhar, was a great warrior and a patron of arts and literature. Ganna was the commander of Warangal fort. He was captured, converted to Islam and taken to Delhi along with Prataparudra. Subsequently, he rose to the exalted position of ‘Wazir’ in Delhi durbar and was sent to rule Punjab. Poet Maarana dedicated his Markandeya Puranam to Ganna (Malik Maqbul). Nagadeva’s other sons Ellaya Nayaka and Mechaya Nayaka were also valiant fighters. Another warrior of repute was Muppidi Nayaka who went on an expedition to Kanchi, defeated the Pandya king and merged it with Kakatiya dynasty in 1316 CE. In prolonged battles with Muslims between 1296 and 1323 CE. thousands of Kamma Nayakas perished along with others, in the defence of Warangal. The inhuman atrocities perpetrated by the Muslims on Telugu people later prompted two Kamma chieftains, Musunuri Prolaya Nayaka and Musunuri Kapaya Nayaka, who served the Kakatiya king Prataparudra, to raise the banner of revolt. After the fall of Warangal they united the Nayaka chieftains, wrested Warangal from the Delhi Sultanate and ruled for 50 years.
Subsequent to the martyrdom of Kaapaaneedu (Musunuri Kapaya Nayaka) many Kammas migrated to the Vijayanagara kingdom. During the reign of Sri Krishnadevaraya Kammas belonging to thirty seven Gothras were living in the city of Vijayanagar. Kamma Nayaks formed the bulwark of Vijayanagara army and were appointed as governors in many areas of Tamil Nadu. Their role in protecting the last great Hindu kingdom of India was significant. Some of the prominent commanders who achieved fame were:
- Pemmasani Thimma Nayudu was the commander of Vijayanagara army which fought and won the battle of Gulbarga (Kalubarige) in 1422 CE. The king Devaraya II made him the governor of Gandikota (Cuddapah). Thimma Nayudu constructed a large number of temples and tanks in the Rayalaseema region. The Gandikota Kammas kept the Muslim rulers like the Bahmanis at bay and protected Telugu land for a long time to come.
- Pemmasani Ramalinga Nayudu was the chief commander of Sri Krishna Deva Raya. The battle of Raichur was won by Ramalinga. Portuguese historian Nuniz referred Ramaling as ‘Camanayque’ in his writings. (Pemmasani Nayaks).
- Kammas controlled large swathes of southern and northern Tamil Nadu for several years under the title of Nayacker or Naicker or Naidu, which was a legacy of the Vijayanagara Empire. The Zamindaris of Ilaiyarasanadal and Kurivikulam in Tamil Nadu belong to Pemmasani families.
Martial clans: Many clans belonging to Kamma social group figure prominently in the battles during Vijayanagara era and in the subsequent years. Some of these clans include Pemmasani, Matcha, Vasireddy, Kodali, Sammeta, Choda/Chode, Dasari, Alamandala, Adapa, Suryadevara, Nadendla, Sakhamuri etc. The most prominent Kamma commanders in Krishnadevaraya’s army belonged to Suryadevara, Vasireddy, Pemmasani, Ravella and Sayapaneni clans.
Vijayanagara kingdom underwent very difficult times after the battle of Tallikota in 1565. Pemmasani Nayaks, Ravella Nayaks and Sayapaneni Nayaks steadfastly helped the Araviti kings in keeping the Muslims at bay. It took another 90 years to consolidate the Muslim power in Andhra country with the capture of Gandikota in 1652. Kamma nayaks migrated in large numbers to the Tamil region. During the Golkonda period, the Sayapaneni Nayaks (1626–1802) ruled Dupadu region as vassals of the Golkonda sultans. Gangappa Nayudu, Venkatadri Nayudu and Rangappa Nayudu were famous among them. Ibrahim Qutb Shah captured Kondavidu in 1579. Rayarao, his Maratha commander, appointed Deshmukhs and Chowdarys in 497 villages. The usage of the title ‘Chowdary’ in coastal Andhra Pradesh commenced at this time.
Vasireddy Sadasiva Nayudu ruled Nandigama paragana from 1550 to 1581. He was granted the paragana by Ibrahim Qutb Shah of Golkonda. According to Mackenzie, Virappa Nayudu was appointed as Deshmukh of Nandigama paragana in 1670. Chinapadmanabha Nayudu got a grant of 500 villages from Abul Hassan Tanisha in 1685. He built a fort at Chintapalli and ruled it until 1710 CE. His successors ruled until 1760. During this period the French and the British were trying to gain control of the Andhra country. Jaggayya ruled Chintapalli from 1763 onwards. He was killed by French troops sent by Basalat Jung, brother of the Golkonda Nawab in 1771. Jaggayya’s wife Acchamma committed Sati. Jaggayya’s son Venkatadri recovered Chintapalii in 1777 and earned fame as a benevolent and illustrious ruler. (Vasireddy Venkatadri Nayudu and Vasireddy Clan). The British gained control of Andhra by 1788 from Golkonda Nawabs. Another Kamma principality during Golkonda period was Devarakota with Challapalli as its capital. Its ruler, Yarlagadda Guruvarayudu was subdued by Abdullah Qutb Shah in 1576. His successors ruled as vassals of Golkonda till the French took over in 1751 and later the British in 1765.
By the end of 18th century the British East India Company had consolidated their rule in Andhra. The armies of Zamindars and Deshmukhs were dismantled and only the power of tax collection was left intact. The well-known Kamma Zamindaris under the British rule were Muktyala, Chintapalli (Amaravati), Challapalli, Devarakota, Kapileswarapuram etc.
After the decline of major kingdoms, Kammas controlled large fertile areas in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, as a legacy of their martial past. The British recognized their prominence and made them village heads (Talari) also known as Chowdary to collect taxes. The association of Kammas with the land and agriculture is legendary. There are many proverbs in Telugu language which speak of the Kammas’ adeptness in agriculture and their emotional attachment to the soil.
- Kammavani Chetulu Kattinaa Nilavadu (Telugu: కమ్మవాని చేతులు కట్టినా నిలవడు) (Though you tie Kamma’s hands he will not be quiet)
- Kammavaariki Bhumi Bhayapaduthundi (Telugu: కమ్మవారికి భూమి భయపడుతుంది ) (The earth fears Kammas).
English historians like Edgar Thurston and noted agricultural scientists like M. S. Randhawa eulogized the spirit of Kamma farmers. The emotional attachment of Kamma farmers to the land and soil was poignantly depicted by Tripuraneni Gopichand in a short story Mamakaram.
The Kammas of Tamil Nadu who are the descendants of migrant commanders of Vijayanagara empire have also excelled in the cultivation of black cotton soils and later diversified into various industrial enterprises, particularly in Coimbatore, Kovilpatti and Arrupukottai.
In the recent past, enterprising farmers migrated to other regions such as Nizamabad, Raichur and Bellary (Karnataka), Raipur (Chattisgarh) and Sambalpur (Orissa). In the past fifty years, the enterprise of the Kammas has profoundly influenced every aspect of social, economic and political life of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and the country in general. Recently a large number of Kammas have migrated to the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand etc. This migration is continuing in line with the many socio-cultural changes being experienced by the state of Andhra Pradesh.
In the state of Andhra Pradesh, Kammas are predominantly found in Khammam, Guntur, Prakasam and Krishna districts. Significant numbers are also found in the districts of West Godavari, East Godavari, Chittoor, Nizamabad, Hyderabad (India), Rangareddy, Anantapur and Nellore; Bellary and Bangalore districts of Karnataka; and Chennai, Madurai, Coimbatore, Tirunelveli, Tuticorin, Kovilpatti,Virudhunagar, Theni, Dindigul, North Arcot and South Arcot districts of Tamil Nadu.
Some of the prominent Kamma Zamindaris in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu are:
- Challapalli – Yarlagadda Clan
- Chintapalli/Amaravati – Vasireddy clan
- Kapileswarapuram – Sri Balusu clan
- Muktyala – Vasireddy clan
- Melkalathuru (Old Arcot Dt) – Bollina/Bollineni/Bollini Clan
- Ilayarasanendal (Tirunelvelli Dt) – Ravilla clan
- Neikarapatti (Dindugal Dt) – Pemmasani clan
Several Kamma surnames that end with ‘neni’ denote the descent from an ancestor having the title ‘Nayakudu/Nayudu/Nayuni’. For example, the surname ‘Veeramachaneni’ originated from ‘Veeramacha Naidu’. Other surnames indicate the villages to which the persons originally belonged to. Kammas use different titles in different regions such as Chowdary, Naidu, Rao Reddy and Naicker. In Tamil Nadu and Southern Andhra Pradesh, Naidu is commonly used. Naicker title is used in the areas south of Coimbatore districts. However, Telugu speaking Kapu, Velama and other communities also use the titles Naidu and Naicker in Coastal Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu, respectively.
According to the census of British India (1891) there were six divisions viz., Peda Kamma, Godachatu Kamma and Illuvellani Kamma(Krishna, Guntur, Anantapur districts); Bangaru Kamma (North Arcot); Vaduga Kamma (Coimbatore) and Kavali Kamma (Godavari districts). In addition, divisions such as Gandikota Kamma, Gampa Kamma and Macha Kamma also exist. In modern times these divisions have all but vanished.
Kammas are politically active, in all the regions of Andhra Pradesh and parts of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. During the twentieth century a number of leaders like Prof N.G. Ranga, Paturi Rajagopala Naidu, Kotha Raghuramaiah, Gottipati Brahmaiah, Moturu Hanumantha Rao and Kalluri Chandramouli played prominent roles in the national freedom movement. Several Kammas were also attracted to leftist ideals and joined the Communist Party. It was a strong political force in the state until the mid sixties.
During the 1980s, they again played a key role in state and national politics with the inception of the Telugu Desam Party by its then President Nandamuri Taraka Rama Rao also called as NTR. Nara Chandrababu Naidu succeeded him as CM of Andhra Pradesh.