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Religions Hinduism
Languages Telugu, Tamil, Kannada
Populated states Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Karnataka, Kerala

Balija is a social group of the Indian states of Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, and Kerala. In Karnataka, they are known as Banajigas. In Tamil Nadu, the Balija merchants are called Kavarai (Gavara).[1][2]


Variations of the name in use in the medieval era were Balanja, Bananja, Bananju, and Banijiga, with probable cognates Balijiga, Valanjiyar, Balanji, Bananji[3] and derivatives such as Baliga,[4] all of which are said to be derived from the Sanskrit term Vanik or Vanij, for trader.[3]

The Banajigas comprised a trade guild, the Five Hundred Lords of Ayyavolu, appearing in inscriptions throughout the Kannada and Tamil areas beginning in the eleventh century.[5][4][6]

Starting in the thirteenth century, inscriptions referring to "Vira Balanjyas" (warrior merchants) started appearing in the Andhra country. The Vira Balanjyas represented long-distance trading networks that employed fighters to protect their warehouses and goods in transit. The terms balanjya-setti and balija were also used for these traders, and in later times naidu and chetti.[5] These traders formed collectives called pekkandru and differentiated themselves from other collectives called nagaram, which probably represented Komati merchants. The pekkandru collectives also included members of other communities with status titles reddi, boya and nayaka.[7] They spread all over South India, Sri Lanka, and also some countries in the Southeast Asia.[8]

Rao et al. note that the Balijas included a configuration of castes representing a combination of the martial and the mercantile. They were mobilised politically by Vijayanagara emperor Krishnadeva Raya. Afterwards they went to colonise the Tamil country in the 15th and 16th centuries, establishing Nayaka chieftaincies. By this time, the term Balija came to include the Boyas, Gollas, Gavaras, and other castes.[9]

Balija branches[edit]

There are numerous branches, sub-divisions or social groups which make up the larger Balija social group.

  • The Kondeti Balija claim to have migrated from the princely state of Kondaveedu while the Gopathi Balija, who mainly inhabit Chittoor and Ananthapur, claimed to have divided from the Perike Balija or Gonegunta Balija over cattle.[10]
  • Balija Chettis (or Chetti Balija): Mentioned in several Vijayanagar accounts as wealthy merchants who controlled powerful trading guilds.[11][12] To secure their loyalty, the Vijayanagar kings made them Desais or "superintendents of all castes in the country."[13] They were classified as right-hand castes.[14][15] David Rudner claims that the Balija Chettis became a separate caste from the Balija Nayak warriors as recent as the 19th century; and accordingly they have closer kinship ties to the Nayak warriors than to Chetti merchants.[16] However, Veera Balingyas or Vira Banajigas were mentioned in the inscriptions of the Chalukyas of Badami and the Kakatiya dynasty as powerful and wealthy merchants who were known as the Five Hundred Lords of Ayyavolu.[17]
  • Gajula Balija/Kavara Balija/Sugavansi (pure) Balija: Mythic records say that Shiva's wife Parvati did a severe penance in order to look beautiful for Shiva. Himavanta (father of Parvati) sacrificed a bull to Brahma and from the fire emerged a person who brought forth combs, bangles, perfumes, sandals, powder, beads, and colored palf-leaf rolls for the ear for Parvati.[18] Titles found amongst them are Nayudu, Nayakkan, Chetti, Setti and Nayak. Kavarai or Gavarai is said to be a corrupt form of Kauravar or Gauravar; as they claim to be the Kurus or Kuru descendents of Mahabharata.[19]
  • Rajamahendravaram Balija or RajaMahendram Balija: A numerically strong group across Andhra Pradesh, they are said to have originally belonged to Rajahmundry where their ancestors were employed in the army.[20]
  • Kambalatars/Thottiyans: The Gollavar, Sillavar and Tokkalavar were the subdivisions of the Raja Kambalattars and functioned as strictly endogamous units.[21][dubious ] TK Venkatasubramanian states

The Kambalattar (Kambalaththu Nayakar) are practically extinct. Remnants of their traditional agnates or cognates in the Telugu country are not to be traced. The polegars of Ettayapuram and Panchalamkurichi belong to this community. Their ancestry is traced to a community of hunters. Being dwellers of quasi-agricultural surroundings they were experts in reclaiming waste lands.[22]

Caste titles[edit]

Some Balijas use surnames such as Naidu or Nayudu, and Naicker, which share a common root. Nayaka as a term was first used during the Vishnukundina dynasty that ruled from the Krishna and Godavari deltas during the 3rd century AD. During the Kakatiya dynasty, the Nayaka title was bestowed to warriors who had received land and the title as a part of the Nayankarapuvaram system for services rendered to the court. The Nayaka was noted to be an officer in the Kakatiya court; there being a correlation between holding the Nayankara, the possession of the administrative title Angaraksha and the status title Nayaka.[23]

A more widespread usage of the Nayaka title amongst the Balijas appears to have happened during the Vijayanagar empire where the Balija merchant-warriors rose to political and cultural power and claimed Nayaka positions.[24]


The Vijayanagara empire was based on an expanding, cash-oriented economy enhanced by Balija tax-farming.[25] Some Balija families were appointed to supervise provinces as Nayaks (governors, commanders) by the Vijayanagara kings, some of which are:

Varna status[edit]

Velcheru Narayana Rao and Sanjay Subrahmanyam say that the emergence of left-hand caste Balijas as trader-warrior-kings was evidence in the Nayak period as a consequence of conditions of new wealth, produced by collapsing two varnas, Kshatriya and Vaishya, into one.[30] In the brahmanical conceptualisation of castes, Balijas were accorded the Shudra position.[31] The fourfold Brahmanical varna concept has not been acceptable to Non-Brahmin social groups and some of them challenged the authority of Brahmins who described them as shudras.[32][33]

While seeking a Kshatriya varna position in the Census of 1901, a reference was made[by whom?] to the Srimad Bhagavatham, Vishnu Puranam and Brahmanda Puranam to seek classification as Somavanshi Kshatriyas.[34][dubious ]


  1. ^ Mukund, The Trading World of the Tamil Merchant 1999, p. 46.
  2. ^ Francis, Peter (2002), Asia's Maritime Bead Trade: 300 B.C. to the Present, University of Hawaii Press, pp. 36–, ISBN 978-0-8248-2332-0 
  3. ^ a b Devadatta Ramkrishna Bhandarkar; Archaeological Survey of India (1983). Epigraphia Indica. 18. p. 335:. ISSN 0013-9572. LCCN sa66006469. As regards the derivation of this word, the late Mr Venkayya says:- In Kanarese banajiga is still used to denote a class of merchants. In Telugu the word balija or balijiga has the same meaning. It is therefore probable that the words valañjiyam, valanjiyar, balañji, banañji, banajiga and balija are cognate, and derived from the Sanskrit vanij 
  4. ^ a b Nanjundappa KS (Dec 1982). "Industries and Commerce in Karnataka during the Vijayanagara period (1336 To 1565 A.D.)" (PDF). Indian ETD Collection, Vidyanidhi Digital Library, University of Mysore. Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 April 2012. Retrieved 18 December 2011. 
  5. ^ a b Talbot, Pre-colonial India in Practice 2001, p. 75.
  6. ^ Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (1999). Footprints of enterprise: Indian business through the ages. Oxford University Press. p. 28. ISBN 978-0-19-564774-7. 
  7. ^ Talbot, Pre-colonial India in Practice 2001, p. 81.
  8. ^ Sarma, M Somasekhara; Sōmaśēkharaśarma, Mallampalli (1948), History of the Reddi Kingdoms (circa. 1325 A.D. to Circa 1448 A.D.), Andhra University, p. 396 
  9. ^ Rao, Shulman & Subrahmanyam, Symbols of Substance 1992, p. 10, 74: "These left-Sudra groups – often referred to by the cover-title Balija, but also including Boyas, left-hand Gollas, Gavaras, and others – were first mobilised by Krishnadevaraya in the Vijayanagara heyday ... These Balija fighters are not afraid of kings: some stories speak of their killing kings who interfered with their affairs."
  10. ^ Kumar Suresh Singh (1998). People of India: Volume 4, p.219-223
  11. ^ Vijayanagara, Volume 1, Burton Stein, p.87
  12. ^ Brimnes, Niels (1999). Constructing the Colonial Encounter: Right and Left Hand Castes in Early Colonial South India. Routledge. p. 3. ISBN 9780700711062. 
  13. ^ Brimnes, Niels (1999). Constructing the Colonial Encounter: Right and Left Hand Castes in Early Colonial South India. Routledge. p. 20. ISBN 9780700711062. 
  14. ^ Madras: the growth of a colonial city in India, 1780–1840, page 224
  15. ^ Bowmen of Mid-India: a monograph of the Bhils of Jhabua [M. P.] and adjoining territories, Volume 2, page 243
  16. ^ "Religious Gifting and Inland Commerce in Seventeenth-Century South India", by David West Rudner in The Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 46, No. 2 (May 1987), page 361
  17. ^ Archaeological Survey of Mysore, Annual Reports: 1910–1911
  18. ^ Government of Madras Staff, Gazetteer of the Nellore District: brought up to 1938, page 105.
  19. ^ Alf Hiltebeitel (1999). Rethinking India's oral and classical epics: Draupadī among Rajputs, Muslims and Dalits, p.466
  20. ^ Kumar Suresh Singh (1998). People of India: Volume 4, p.227
  21. ^ Singh KS, Thirumalai R, Manoharan S (1997). People of India: Tamil Nadu, p.592
  22. ^ Venkatasubramanian, T.K (1993). Political change and agrarian tradition in South India, c. 1600–1801: a case study, P.51
  23. ^ The Indian economic and social history review, Volume 31, p. 281
  24. ^ Stearns, Peter N. and Langer, Leonard W. (2001). The Encyclopedia of world history, p.368
  25. ^ Velcheru Narayana Rao, David Dean Shulman and Sanjay Subrahmanyam (1992). Symbols of substance: court and state in Nāyaka Period Tamilnadu, p.10 and p.218
  26. ^ a b Irschick, Eugene F. (1969). Politics and Social Conflict in South India: The Non-Brahman Movement and Tamil Separatism, 1916–1929. University of California Press. p. 8. 
  27. ^ Subrahmanyam, Sanjay (2002). The Political Economy of Commerce: Southern India 1500–1650 (Reprinted ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 304. ISBN 9780521892261. 
  28. ^ Sanjay Subrahmanyam. Improvising empire: Portuguese trade and settlement in the Bay of Bengal, 1500–1700, page 206
  29. ^ [1]
  30. ^ Velchuru Narayana Rao and Sanjay Subrahmanyam Notes on Political Thought in Medieval and Early Modern South India. Modern Asian Studies (2009), 43:175–210 Cambridge University Press. Page 204
  31. ^ Sheldon I Pollock. (2003). Literary cultures in history: reconstructions from South Asia, p.414. University of California Press
  32. ^ G. Krishnan-Kutty (1999). The political economy of underdevelopment in India. Northern Book Centre. pp. 172–. ISBN 978-81-7211-107-6. Retrieved 16 December 2011. 
  33. ^ G. Krishnan-Kutty (1 January 1986). Peasantry in India. Abhinav Publications. pp. 10–. ISBN 978-81-7017-215-4. 
  34. ^ Census of India, 1961, Volume 9, Part 6, Issue 29, p.19-22

Further reading[edit]