Kamma Traditions and Customs

Writing collectively concerning the Kammas, Kapus or Reddis, Velamas, and Telagas, Mr.W.Francis states that ” all four of these large castes closely resemble one another in appearance and customs, and seem to have branched off from one and the same Dravidian stock. Originally soldiers by profession, they are now mainly agriculturists and traders, and some of them in the north are zamindars (land-owners).

The Razus, who now claim to be Kshatriyas, were probably descended from Kapus, Kammas, and Velamas. The Kammas and Kapus of the Madura and Tinnevelly districts seem to have followed the Vijayanagar army south, and settled in these districts when the Nayak Governors were established there. Their women are less strict in their deportment than those of the same castes further north, the latter of whom are very careful of their reputations, and, in the case of one section of the Kammas, are actually gosha (kept in seclusion) like Musalmanis.”

The word Kamma in Telugu means the ear-ornament, such as is worn by women. According to one legend “the Rishis, being troubled by Rakshasas, applied to Vishnu for protection, and he referred them to Lakshmi. The goddess gave them a casket containing one of her ear ornaments (kamma), and enjoined them to worship it for a hundred years. At the expiry of that period, a band of five hundred armed warriors sprang up from the casket, who, at the request of the Rishis, attacked and destroyed the giants. After this they were directed to engage in agriculture, being promised extensive estates, and the consideration paid to Kshatriyas. They accordingly became possessed of large territories, such as Amravati and others in the Kistna, Nellore and other districts, and have always been most successful agriculturists.”

Some Kammas, when questioned by Mr. F. R. Hemingway in the Godavari district, stated that they were originally Kshatriyas, but were long ago persecuted by a king of the family of Parikshat, because one of them called him a bastard. They sought refuge with the Kapus, who took them in, and they adopted the customs of their protectors. According to another legend, a valuable ear ornament, belonging to Raja Pratapa Rudra, fell into the hands of an enemy, whom a section of the Kapus boldly attacked, and recovered the jewel. This feat earned for them and their descendants the title Kamma.

Some of the Kapus ran away, and they are reputed to be the ancestors of the Velamas (veli, away). At the time when the Kammas and Velamas formed a single caste, they observed the Muhammadan gosha system, whereby the women are kept in seclusion. This was, however, found to be very inconvenient for their agricultural pursuits. They accordingly determined to abandon it, and an agreement was drawn up on a palm-leaf scroll. Those who signed it are said to have become Kammas, and those who declined to do so Velamas, or outsiders. One meaning of the word kamma is the palm-leaf roll, such as is used to produce dilatation of the lobes of the ears. According to another story, there once lived a king, Belthi Reddi by name, who had a large number of wives, the favourite among whom he appointed Rani. The other wives, being jealous, induced their sons to steal all the jewels of the Rani, but they were caught in the act by the king, who on the following day asked his wife for her jewels, which she could not produce. Some of the sons ran away, and gave origin to the Velamas ; others restored the Kamma, and became Kammas.

Yet one more story. Pratapa Rudra’s wife lost her ear ornament, and four of the king’s captains were sent in search of it. Of these, one restored the jewel, and his descendants became Kammas ; the second attacked the thieves, and gave origin to the Velamas ; the third ran away, and so his children became the ancestors of the Pakanatis ; and the fourth disappeared.

According to the Census Report, 1891, the main sub- divisions of the Kammas are Gampa, Illuvellani, Godajati, Kavali, Vaduga, Pedda, and Bangaru. It would seem that there are two main endogamous sections, Gampa (basket) Chatu, and Goda (wall) Chatu. Chatu is said to mean a screen or hiding place. Concerning the origin of these sections, the following story is told. Two sisters were bathing in a tank (pond), when a king happened to pass by. To hide themselves, one of the girls hid behind a basket, and the other behind a wall. The descendants of the two sisters became the Gampa and Goda Chatu Kammas, who may not intermarry by reason of their original close relationship.

According to another legend, after a desperate battle, some members of the caste escaped by hiding behind baskets, others behind a wall. The terms Illuvellani and Pedda seem to be synonymous with Godachatu. The women of this section were gosha, and not allowed to appear in public, and even at the present day they do not go out and work freely in the fields. The name Illuvellani indicates those who do not go (vellani) out of the house (illu). The name Pedda (great) refers to the superiority of the section.