Naidu (also spelt Nayudu or Naidoo) is a title used by various social groups of the Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu states of India. It is also used in Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Orissa and Chhattisgarh. It is a Telugu derivation of the Sanskrit Nayaka, meaning “protector” or “leader”.

The word Naidu is etymologically related to the Tamil Naicker, the Nair of Kerala, Marathi Naik and Nayaks (Pattanayak) in Orissa.

The term Naidu is the caste name and the title of Kapu caste (Telaga/Balija Naidu/Ontari) which comprises of about 28% of the population of Andhra Pradesh. Nayaka (Naidu) was an honorary title that was used by the people belonging to the other Telugu castes of Boyar, Mudi Raju, Adi Velama, Kamma etc in Andhra Pradesh and other states.

It was used as a title denoting a village or lineage headman. Medieval Andhra dynasties like the Vishnukundins and Chalukyas and the recent ones like the Vijayanagara Empire conferred the title Nayaka / Nayakudu to a commander or Danda-nayaka (Army Commander) or a leader of a band of soldiers.

Nayaka title was originally conferred upon Telugu communities. In the medieval times, the Kakatiya and Vijayanagara Kingdoms had many prominent nayakas from various castes. During the expansion of Vijayanagar Empire, the Nayak title was conferred upon non-Telugu speaking communities who served in the same function in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. This title is also used by other communities in Andhra Pradesh, Orissa, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

The Nayaka title was conferred upon warriors who received land along with the title Nayaka as a part of  the  Nayankarapuvaram system for services rendered to the court during the Kakatiya dynasty. Nayaka was one among approximately 25 titles used by the Kakatiyas to create a new political infrastructure to undercut the authority of heredity regional elites. The Nayankara system was also used by the Vijayanagar empire wherein land was granted to a Nayaka or Palayakarrar (Polygar) on condition that they would place their military service at the disposal of the king.

However many communities later began using the Naick or Naidu surname. Edgar Thurston (Castes and Tribes of Southern India Vol. 5; p. 138) noted that “Naidu” or “Nayudu” title was in use by several Telugu castes in colonial India (in alphabetical order): Balija, Bestha, Boyar caste, Ekari, Gavara, Golla, Kalingi, Kapu, Mudirajus, Velama, Odde, Tottiyan, Reddy, Telaga, Uppiliyan, Idiga and Valmiki.

 

The Nayaka / Danda Nayaka term started being used during the Vishnukundina dynasty which ruled from the Krishna and Godavari deltas during the 3rd Century A.D. Little is known about the title usage prior to that. A more widespread usage of the term Nayaka can be traced to the expansion of the Western Chalukyas into Andhra country during the 7th Century. However, the most widespread usage of the term Nayak happened during the Vijayanagar rule.

The word Naidu is used by the older writers in southern India in several senses, of which the following example given by Yule and Burnell may be cited:

  • It denoted a Commander or a Governor.
  • Native captain or headman.
  • Title of honour among Hindus in the Deccan. “The kings of deccan also have a custom when they will honour a man or recompense their service done, and raise him to dignity and honour. They give him the title of Nayak.” -Linschoten
  • The general name of the Kings of Vijayanagar.

Though originally not meant to be a heredity title, by modern times, the Naidu title had been inherited by many, although they no longer were governors, army commanders or tax collectors.

In Andhra Pradesh, the title is predominantly used by Kapu (Balija), Velama and Kamma is southern districts. Many Telugu speaking communities like Baljia, Kamma and Gavara’s use the title Naidu, whereas the title Naicker is used by both Tamils and Telugus.

In Kerala there are just about 5000 families spread all over Kerala state. Their ancestors migrated around 200 years back from Madurai region. Some families came from Tirunelveli region. They belong to Balija caste group.

In South Africa a variant spelling “Naidoo” is used amongst its Telugu citizens. The usage does not denote Telugu ancestry any longer as intermarriages had diluted such identities. In Sri Lanka, it is used amongst the Hill Country Tamils of Indian origin and by Sri Lankan Naickers who descended from the Kandy Nayaks. In Mauritius it is a common surname of Telugu populations. In Fiji, Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana, it is a surname of the broader Indian diaspora. In Malaysia it is used by Telugus to denote their Telugu ancestry.

 

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