draft notes, more info needed...
The Velamas are one of the ancient feudal communities in Andhra Pradesh controlling land and ruling large areas of andhra for several centuries. There are several ancient velama forts, castles and estates still extant in various parts of Andhra pradesh state, even neighbouring Tamilnadu. Among the famous principalities or "estates" ones are Bobbili, Devarakonda, Rajakonda, Pithapuram, Kollapur. (They are not interested in making hotels out of them, but interested visitors can take a look if the owners are in residence).
There are a few books like Velugodu kings history, accounts of Devarkonda, some details of Velama activity during kakatiya times, then during the Bahamani times. They clashed with the Reddis (regularly) and then had friendly dealings with the Orissa gajapatis and the Bahamanis, but fell afoul of the Vijayanagar empire and suffered a setback. But residual influence of velamas is noted in Karimnagar, Mahbubnagar, Pithapuram, etc.
While "roots" are conventionally traced to similar sounding Vellalas of Tamilnadu it is unlikely. "Vel" can mean white/silver in old language: could refer to their complexions. Or it could also mean Lance . Maybe they were ancient "lance wielders" of some ancient army, even Pallavas and Satavahanas.
Possibly they are connected to Chalukyas, as inscriptions give a hint. From the surnames there could be a connection to medieval Gujarat-Rajasthan : needs detailed research. One section of the Velamas trace their ancestry to a fighting community called Padma-Nayakas of the 13th century.
According to a velamadora friend, among the Velamas today, there are two different physical types commonly seen--the fairer irani-- central asian looking type, and the darker tall well built and wiry type. (ed.--but this is basically amateur anthroplogy not to be taken very seriously : however there are some resemblances to the latter "type" in old paintings, so I've posted it here for people to evaluate)
Singa Bhoopala of Rajkonda (nalgonda district) was a patron of art and literature and learned people adorned his court. Even the well known poet Srinatha, acclaimed all over south India of the 15th century, hesitated when he was about to enter the gate of Rajkonda...this king was a scholar and not just a thug. There are many anecdotes of the Velama kings. They were said also to be a bit fanatic and extremist when it came to warfare.( but apparently that is exactly the required attitude according to a retired colonel I met.)
The Velamas were initially not enemies of the Reddis and both got along fine as feudatories of the Kakatiyas. Then in the jockeying for power, especially during the last phase of the Kakatiya kingdom, the professional rivalry went to extremes: the padmanayakas were favourites of the King. General Bobbareddy decided to show the King who exactly were the valourous and important fighters. He decided to wait till the Velama contigent got mauled, and then jump in to save the Velamas as well as the King. Unfortunately his timing was not good and both got beaten soundly. Since then the Velama Barons always saw red and blamed the Reddys for the kakatiya downfall. And whenever they got a chance it is said they took great pleasure in giving trouble to their neighbouring Reddy lords. After kakatiyas' downfall the velamas founded their independent states, the large one being Rajakonda and later Devarakonda (similarly Reddi kingdoms like Kondaveedu and Rajahmundry were founded). There are several famous Velama estates like Pithapuram and Jatprole ( kollapur).
Now the Reddis accuse the Velamas of sucking up to the Bahamanis to keep their state intact, and instead, indulge in attacking the Reddy kingdoms at every opportunity. The Velamas say if not for General Bobba reddy's extra-cleverness during the battle with delhi sultan army, kakatiyas would be intact at least till the British.
There is one more defence of the Velamas: Kaapaya Nayaka of Warangal, who successfully ejected the sultan's viceroy and was elected King, made a deal with the fledgling Bahmani state of Allaudin Hasan Gangu Bahmani. ( --it seems likely when Sultan Hasan was furnished with grand earth shattering titles for himself and names for his kingdom, he stubbornly insisted he was merely Hasan Gangu Bahmani, and his kingdom be named in memory of one Gangu brahman. He remembered his childhood, Gangu brahman's kindness looking after the orphan Hasan.)
Kapaya Nayaka of warangal made more deals with the Bahmani state at the expense of Velama controlled territory which was on the border. The Velamas were furious, so they made their OWN separate deal with the bahmanis, killed Kapaya nayaka and occupied Warangal as well. They constantly attacked the Reddy kingdoms, too. (These things happened long ago and are just legendary memories now, of course, but the rivalry is proverbial and is said to flare up every three -four hundred years). Finally the huge empires of Vijayanagar and the Orissa Gajapatis clashed, and the buffer states of independent Rajkonda and Devarkonda ceased to exist.
The Velamas had to join the imperial service of Vijayanagar as military contingents and regional governors --but posted far away from their old areas as a precaution. Many Velamas thus settled in Tamilnadu and elsewhere: their contingents included other communities also, and they proudly recalled the legends of their ancestral homes of Recherla, Rachakonda and Devarakonda. One reader suggested, the Tamil Vellalas include a Velama section. I have no information on this, but it sounds likely : landed people need to be ready to fight to retain it anyway.
The Velamas are numerically small but well organised, for instance the AP Velama Association at Himayatnagar, Hyderabad. They even have a magazine called Velama Vyjayanti.
Earlier Velama womenfolk of the landed artistocracy "Velama Doras" observed gosha (pardah) and wore veils. Even today they are somewhat private, though they don't wear veils.
Men of a community called Koppula Velamas is said to have worn their hair in a bun and were traditional warriors in ancient times. Now they are somewhat poor and claim to be "backward class".
Note: Friends, I've recd some over enthusiastic emails, I'd like you to please keep in mind this roots thing is based mainly on cultural history. Dont jump to "casteist" "genetic" conclusions.
addition by JXK : Some famous Velamas--
Maj Gen R Madhava Rao AVSM, Padma Bhushan Dr. Ch, Hanumantha Rao , Ch Rajeshwar Rao MLA , Vinod Kumar TRS MP, B Narayana Rao, film Director
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