Sengunthar, also known as the Kaikolar and Sengunthar Mudaliyar, is a community
of Tamil people commonly found in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and
also in some other parts of South India and Northern Province of Sri Lanka. They
are traditionally a weaving community. They are sub divided into numerous clans
based on a patrilineal system called Koottam or Kulam, which is similar to
evidence about sengunthar
Sengunthar Traditions and Festivals
Culture and Customs
Sengunthar Mahajana Sangam
The ancient occupational name of Kaikkolar comes from the words kai (hand) and
kol (a shuttle used in looms). The appended -ar means people. Kaikkolar also
means men with stronger arms.
Sengunthar means red spear people, which the community believes connects them to
the god Murugan, who is known as a red god. They believe that the original nine
Kaikolars, called Navaveerargal, served in an army fighting on behalf of Murugan
and that they descend from these nine people.
In ancient times they were also called as Kaarugar (weaver), Thanthuvayar
(weaver), Sengunthar padaiyar (soldiers), Senaithalaivar (army commander),
The adoption of the Mudaliyar title, thus Sengunthar Mudaliyar, is probably
aspirational. It was traditionally used by higher-ranking non-Brahmin castes but
various less prestigious communities have come to use it as a means of
expressing their desire for upward social mobility. Mudali means first,
suggesting that the title bearer is of the first-ranked among people. They
also use the title Nayanar after their names.
Myth of origin
Shiva was enraged against the giants who harassed the people of the
earth and sent forth six sparks of fire from his eyes. His wife, Parvati, was
frightened, and retired to her chamber and in so doing, dropped nine beads from
her anklets. Siva converted the beads into as many females, to each of whom was
born a hero. These nine heroes (Navaveerargal), namely Virabahu, Virakesari,
Viramahendrar, Viramaheshwar, Virapurandharar, Viraraakkathar, Viramaarthandar,
Viraraanthakar and Veerathirar with Subrahmanya at their head, marched in
command of a large force, and destroyed the demons. Sengunthar claim to be the
descendants of these warriors. After killing the demon, the warriors were told
by Siva that they adopt a profession, which would not involve the destruction or
injury of any living creature and weaving being such a profession, they were
trained in it. Chithira valli, daughter of Virabahu, one of the above commanders
was married to King Musukuntha Cholan. The descendants of Navaveerargal and
Musukunthan were claimed as first generation of Sengunthars.
The earliest literary evidence about Sengunthar occurs in Adhi Diwakaram, a
Tamil lexicon written by Sendan Diwakarar. This dictionary, probably from the
8th century CE, is thought to refer to them as weavers and army commanders,
which may be indicative of their dual role in society at that time.
Inscriptions from the 11th century suggest that by the time of the Chola
dynasty, the Sengunthar had already developed its involvement in weaving and
trading, together with a role in military matters that was probably necessary to
protect those interests. They were a part of the Ayyavole 500 trading group
during the Chola period and there are also
references in the 12th century that suggest they had armies and that some
specific people were assigned to act as bodyguards for the Chola emperors. Such
historical records emphasise their military function, with the poet Ottakoothar
glorifying them and suggesting that their origins lay with the armies of the
They were militarized during the medieval Chola period, when some of them held
the title Brahmadaraya or Brahmamarayan, which was usually reserved for
high-ranking Brahmin officials in the Chola government.
Some were chieftains and commanders-in-chief of the later Cholas. Kaikkolar
commanders-in-chief were known as Samanta Senapathigal or Senaithalaivar.
According to Vijaya Ramaswamy, in early thirteenth century large number of
Kaikolars were migrated to Kongu Nadu from Tondaimandalam.
After the 13th century, Sengunthars became associated with weaving
completely. According to Deepak Kumar, the Sengunthar weavers very often figure
in the capacity of kudi, i.e. tenant-cultivators and also holders of kaniyachi,
that is hereditary possession over the land. During the period of Sadasiva Raya
of Vijayanagara empire, the sthanathar of the Brahmapuriswara temple made an
agreement that they would cultivate certain lands of the Kaikkolar regiment.
According to Himanshu Prabha Ray, in 1418 in Tiruvannamalai temple, Sengunthars
were given the right to blow the conch, ride palanquins and elephants and wave
the temple fly whisk. In 16th century some of the Kaikolars were migrated to
Kerala region from Tamil region.
Literary evidence about sengunthar
The following literature
mention about Sengunthar as early as 9th century AD.
Tivakaram – tamil lexicon
The earliest literary evidence
about Sengunthar occurs in Tivakaram, a Tamil lexicon (dictionary) from
the 9th century AD. This dictionary refers to Cenkuntarpatai – an army of
Sengunthars. This proves that the dual name of Sengunthar or Kaikolar was
existing for over 1000 years.
Ittiyelupathu – Seventy Spears – By OttaKuttar
The major book about
Sengunthar was written by Ottakuttar in 9th century AD. This book called
Ittiyelupathu refers to the historical and mythological account of origin
of Sengunthar and their relationship with the Chola monarchs.
Senguntha Prabanda Thiratu – Editor Sabapathi Mudaliar
The book Senguntha Prabanda
Thiratu was published by editor Sabapathi Mudaliar. This is a collection
of songs collected from old manuscripts. These are songs mainly about
Sengunthar and their tradition.
Kaikolars using Mudali title from the Diary of Ananda Ranga Pillai
It is customary for Kaikolars
to use Mudali title after their personal name. In Pondicherry there were
many weaver families in the 18th century. Since each caste was
represented by two head-men known as nattars, the weavers also were
required to select two head-men. Since there was dispute in selecting
these two-headmen, the chief dubash of that time Ananda Ranga Pillai was
requested by the Governor of Pondicherry to select the two head-men.
The two head-men selected were
Muttu Mudali and Ana Nayakka Mudali both from Kaikolar caste. From this
we understand that Mudali surname was used by Sengunthars as early as
pillaittamil by Ñanappirakacacuvamikal, Tiricirapuram Kovinta
Cenkuntar pillaittamil was a
book published in later 19th century. This is also a collection of songs
from palm-leaf manuscripts about Sengunthars. It was published by
Ñanappirakacacuvamikal, Tiricirapuram Kovinta Pillai, Ilatcumanacuvami
Sengunthar Traditions and Festivals
Sengunthar Shaivite priests are vegetarian, wear the sacred thread,
and shave their foreheads in the Brahmanic fashion. Both alcoholic and sexual
abstinence are valued, as is control of the passions. But when they are
concerned with the sacred locus of the interior, meat eating, blood sacrifice,
spirit possession, and the worship of small gods are all prominent. Sengunthars
thus follow both a priestly model and a Dravidian tradition.The Kaikola Teesikar
or Desigar who were non Brahmin priest at temples of Murugan. Sengunthar
community practices both the vegetarian and non vegetarian traditions.
Each family (kulam) of the Sengunthar had their own Kula Deivam (deity).
Sengunthars share Murugan as a common deity and additionally have any one of
several other deities, such as Angalamman or Ambayamman.
The Sura Samharam festival is a traditional ritual where the Sengunthars dress
as the lieutenants of Karthikeya and re-enact the killing of the demon Suran.
Kandaswamy Kovil, Nallur, Sri Lanka , where flag ceremony held: In the
flag hoisting ceremony at Sri Lanka Nallur Kandaswamy temple, the Sengunthar
families who were military heroes in old Jaffna Kingdom have rights to bring out
the temple flag and carry the flag as the ceremony of Sura Samharam battle. The
houses of Sengunthars are beautifully decorated curtains with the picture of
rooster, the legendary vehicle of Lord Muruga hang in their houses, in the day
of the flag ceremony.
Historically there were 4 thisai nadus, which in turn was divided into 17
kilai nadus, exclusive of thisai nadus, totally making 72 nadus in the
Sengunthar. The thisai nadus were Sivapuram (Walajabad) to the east,
Thonthipuram to the south, Virinjipuram to the west, Chozhasingapuram (Sholinghur)
to the north.
The head of 72 nadu was Kancheepuram nadu which was called as Mahanadu by the
Sengunthars. The head officer of Mahanadu were called as Aandavar and Aandavar
is highest authority leader for Sengunthars. The head officer of the each nadu
council were called as Naattaanmaikarar or Periyadhanakarar or Pattakarar.
Culture and Customs
Sengunthar caste consists of
diverse group of people even though they are classified under the same
group by the government of India. There is a diverse culture and customs