The Vanniyar, who were once known as the Palli, are a community or jāti found in Southern India.
Researcher Lloyd I. Rudolph notes that as early as in 1833, the Vanniyar, who were then known as Pallis, had ceased to accept their "low caste" status, more specifically described as that of shudra by Christophe Jaffrelot and Kathleen Gough. They tried to get an order in Pondicherry that by descent they were not a low agricultural caste. In preparation for the 1871 Indian census they petitioned to be recognised as being of the kshatriya (warrior) varna of Hindu society. By 1931, due to their successful politicking (a process known as sanskritisation), the term Palli was removed from the Madras census, with the term Vanniya Kula Kshatriya appearing instead.
Traditionally, most Vanniyars are agricultural labourers. Increasingly, however, they are benefiting from political influence and organisation and they now own 50 per cent of the lands of the traditional landowners. The Vanniyars who previously were of the Backward Class category, were now designated as a Most Backward Caste after successful agitations by them in the 1980s. The reason for the agitation and subsequent re-classification was to avail more government benefits for the community.
The Vannimai chieftains in what is now Sri Lanka arose from a multi-ethnic and multi-caste background. A primary source, the Yalpana Vaipava Malai, states that some were descended from Vanniyar caste immigrants from modern Tamil Nadu. Some Sri Lankan historians derive the title Vannimai from the Tamil word vanam, meaning "forest", with Vannia or Wannia meaning "person from the forest", and Vannimais being large tracts of forested land.
Many castes today claim descent from Malayaman. Dennis B. McGilvray states "Malayaman is a section of the Udaiyar caste in South Arcot today, but Burton Stein also finds the title in a thirteenth-century inscription identifying Vanniyar subcastes of South Arcot in the left-right caste classification typical of the Chola empire."
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