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A brief note on the Kamma community of Andhra Pradesh

by v ramchandra rao

The most influential community in Andhra Pradesh today is the Kamma, or Chowdhary community. In a numerical ranking (by population size) they would probably be fifth or sixth, but they are concentrated in some areas like Krishna, Guntur, Southern parts of the Godavari river delta, Nizamabad in Telangana and some places of Rayalseema like Anantapur. But the influence they wield is all out of proportion to their numbers. There are good reasons for this: as communities go, they are very wealthy, besides they have a progressive social outlook and work VERY hard at anything they take up. This includes education, culture and arts, industry too, not just farming and they are justifiably proud of their accomplishments. One very great and striking characteristic is their readiness to undertake manual labour in agriculture, which is generally considered something to be avoided in India for the upper castes.

Thus they are rivals at one stroke of several communites....the reddis, the yadavs or traditional aryan cattlemen, the vaishyas or merchants, the various cultural groupings, the kaapus in agriculture, and the brahmans who had a monopoly of higher education in ancient times.

(And they're so rich! naturally everybody envies them ;-)

Roots of the Kammas:

There are three or four distinct ethnic streams which make the kamma community of today. (choose whatever you want )

1. The early "kamma" section could be immigrants into these parts later than 100 AD, probably part of the great kaambhoja migrations from central asia along with the Saka Pallavas who clashed and ultimately merged with the Satavahanas. It has to be remembered the caste thing was not rigid then: Buddhism was prevalent. The pallavas settled in Guntur-Nellore areas. (for further details, read the inscriptions of the early pallavas).

2. The next stream seem to be from Northern Uttar Pradesh/Haryana area, during the period when large parts of Andhra pradesh region were coming under the plough for the first time. Forests used to be cleared, a frontier outpost was built round a small temple, the "agraharam" village was given by the kings to brahmins imported from far away lands. Their job was to popularise agriculture in the area to the hunting and food gathering peoples. Note that each such immigration was not just that of brahmins, but a large number of people from that area. In several places the so called backward tribals picked up education very rapidly and intermarried too. According to one theory Kammas are descended from the foreign immigrant aryas (i.e. brahmins and the warriors and the other people who had a patriarchal system) and the local independent minded tribal warrior girls following a 'matriarchal' social pattern, where women are important and not the men : the head of household is the woman's brother, while the husband is still considered to be of another clan. This is possible, for the later Kammas maintained a military connection and the girls are still of independent mind.

3. Another theory is that kammas are one of the trading communities who regularly travelled between krishna delta and Uttarapatha via Gujarat Rajasthan ( Malwa) and Haryana. There were several well-established and powerful trade guilds and castes. The inscriptions don't mention kammas as such. These guilds are noticed right from 200 AD to 1500's.

All these might be correct, but the evidence is indirect and we have little concrete direct proof. So one can't take these as hard proven facts.

Some friends said Kammas could be descended from Eastern Chalukyas. I have not come across any such inscription. Karmarashtra is a geographical term. Sometimes crudely spelled kammarashtra. This does not refer to the specific community.

Some said, the Eastern chalukya kings had several concubines, and their progeny could be the kamma community. Not so: the concerned community is clearly mentioned in all the inscriptions of this nature and they are not kammas.

The one link which has solid evidence backing it, pertains to one section of the Kammas, and is linked with the latter times of the Kakatiya kingdom. I've given the details below.

The kammas are not kakatiyas.. Now several kammas cherish a view that kakatiyas were kammas. Nothing of the sort. But actually the kammas were quite prominent during the later part of the dynasty. The kakatiyas proper themselves were descended from bonded slave labourers (as the 1000-pillar Hanmakonda inscription of a later king Kakatiya Ganapati proudly states), but they gradually rose to found a kingdom as the Kalyani Chalukya empire started breaking up. In this endeavour, the Kakatiyas were assisted by the Velamas and Reddis. In the early kakatiya times there is no trace of any kamma. During Kakatiya Ganapati's times, there was disorder and confusion in rajasthan gujarat. An accomplished soldier migrated from Dhar to Warangal and took up employment under the Kakatiyas. He soon became the commander in chief. His name was Gangeya Sahini. He is called the founder of the kayastha vamsa, and there seems to be some link to the marathi CKP community (Chandraseniya Kayastha Prabhus) (e.g. Bal Thakre).

Gangeya Sahini can be considered the founder of the important section of Kammas whose names end in -neni today. ( There are several other sections.)

Gangeya sahini's descendants were called Ganganeni. Another general Tripuraya Sahni's descendants are Tripuraneni. Thus we have Ambaneni, etc. (There was more than one Gangeya Sahini, by the way). Gangeya sahni's clanspeople were appointed as goverors and feudal lords of rayalseema area. Hence the aristocratic kammas, descendants of the early settlement are from Rayalseema areas.

* inscriptions of Gangeya Sahni in Nalgonda district (which are in nagari script, by the way)
* details of titles gandapendera and sahini bestowed by the kakatiya monarchs, including Rudrama
* accounts of the unsuccesful rebellion by descendants of Gangeya sahni and their rehabilitation
* Dr.Parabrahma Sastry's overview of Kakatiyas
* inscriptions of various districts published by the AP State Archeological Department, The Archeological Survey of India, etc.

Gangeya Sahni I did not migrate from Dhar on his own: he came along with a huge crowd, including Brahmins, Merchants, Soldiers, elephant riders etc etc. (Which is probably why the Kammas claim a section of Brahmins and Kshatriyas are actually closely related to them).

There is one more strand in the Kamma community. The close knit reformist group called veera vaishnava ( similar to veera saiva) which tried to do away with community distinctions also took up service under the later Kakatiyas: several of them became Nayaks, or regional commanders or barons. ( further reading--various accounts of the Palnad war). When the kakatiya capital was captured by the Delhi Sultans, the nayaks resorted to guerilla warfare quite successfully. Some of them were called nayakudu, in telugu which ultimately became nayadu or Naidu. (The Naidu surname is mainly found among Kapus today, but there are some Kammas with Naidu surname too.) One of the kammanayaks called Gana had intrigued with the Sultan, for the price of viceroyship, and became Malik Maqbul. Ultimately he retreated to Delhi where he made himself indispensable as wazeer, and ruled Multan as his fief.

By then, however the various clans under the kakatiyas quarrelled among themselves and founded their own little kingdoms.
( Details in response to casteist emails--) During this period, only the Reddis and Velamas managed to establish independent kingdoms. Not even Rajus. And kammas, no evidence of any kamma states is found : the early leaders of the rebellion against sultans, Musunuri Kaapaya Nayaka and Prolaya Nayaka never wrote anywhere that they had any link to the kamma community (most likely they were Kapus).
This does not mean there were no kamma nayaks during those times : they certainly were active. The kammas as such were unlucky, they did NOT found their own state: only a handful could manage to grab large landholdings: so it seems they turned their attention and energies to trade and farming. and did very well.

I have not found any evidence that Musunuri Kaapaya Nayaka had any connection to kammas, except that surname is also found among Kammas and other communities today too. It is a common village name 'of Musunur'. Also, please remember there were other generals of other communities....Velama Chennaya Sahni 's descendants became chennamaneni. Some of the recent survivals of large Chowdhary estates are Challapalli and Muktyaala.

Some nayaks migrated south where they were important pillars of the Vijayanagar empire and sometimes governed places like Anantapur. Source: Several Vijayanagar inscriptions, where military officers ( knights), some of them from a kamma background are appointed as nayak or regional governor, duke or baron). Also read J Isvar Dutt's article in Journal of the Andhra Historical Research Society no. 20

The term Chowdhary refers to tax collection of a fourth of the farm produce. This "chauth" is said to have been introduced during maratha times, and seems to have become fairly popular all over India, and we find "choudharies" in haryana and bengal as well. But it was a revenue post, and sometimes the head of the local merchants' and traders' guild is also called chowdhary.

Alternately, the term chowdhary could be derived from "saudari", meaning someone engaged in "sauda" i.e. business. There is a saudari clan among Reddis too. Maybe a section of kammas took up business and trade apart from farming, as mentioned earlier.

In coastal Andhra area, with the English development of the river Canal system, the river delta Kammas turned to capitalist farming (compared to small scale peasant farming earlier) and other businesses. With their brisk learn and get on with the work attitude, the have never looked back. They run huge sugar, chemical and cement factories, the film industry, cultural institutions, newspapers, etc. (-- The etc includes the state of Andhra Pradesh--the legendary N T Rama Rao, a hugely successful film star and household word, who later became the chief minister after successfully trumping Indira Gandhi, and the previous chief minister Chandrababu full of new ideas too hail from the community)

In the Krishna district kammas were active in the struggle against feudal (kamma) landlords and several joined the Communist party. The kammas fully backed the struggle against the feudal Nizam and several gave their lives, too. They still are dominant in the various Communist parties --curiously most of them hail from very wealthy 'feudal' backgrounds. They also dominate the film industry: they are heavy into IT and computers, and finally, as mentioned earlier they used to run the state of Andhra Pradesh. (The top leadership and backers of the Telugu Desam party are Kamma, claims to the contrary not to be believed. The TDP is bascially a party of the "backward castes" ie small farmers, but in recent times they are trying to shake off this Kamma tutelage : large section of Kammas also are not so keen about being openly associated with it, even in coastal andhra. ).

The educated Kammas are at a sort of crossroads today. Are they impatient, forward looking , leftist, creative, artistic, bold, a young and rebellious "anti-brahmanical" caste/community who don't fit and dont wish to fit into the old feudal society structure anyplace? Or, are they prosperous, right wing, conservative, reactionary, cautious, money minded, clannish, highly "brahmanoid" community? This dilemma is real, and several Kammas have expressed such views. The remote descendant of General Tripuraya Sahini, and also recent one of a firebrand poet and social reformer is today reportedly one of the leading lights of a quite reactionary cultural-political group. Several such examples abound: now with increased global horizons, like prospering in the USA and Russia, it will be interesting to see what route the creative Kammas will take. Most probably there will be a split between the wealthy and not so wealthy sections, each allying with various other similar groups but overall maintaining a trend towards progresive views.

things to add further , readers also invited:---' inti perulu' (kamma surnames) : noted kamma people today : list of prominent kammas in vijayanagar service especially Tamilnadu and Karnataka, text of inscription of Gangeya Sahni, activities of Ambaya sahni in rayalseema, old kamma mentions in inscriptions : whether the Nayak kings of Madurai and Tanjavur had kamma connections, etc. Please send your information to be added and shared. By the way, apart from facts with evidence, your opinions too are welcome, provided you clearly indicate they are opinions. (or if you wish to support research....Chowdharygaru--send cash! ;-)

Notes, queries, additions on this topic, like More details on Kamma traditions and discussion


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© by v ramchandra rao . all rights reserved.
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