The Vanniar caste has close to 92 subcastes among them. The titles are awarded to them based on their contribution to the society. The Titles,” Indicating Authority, Bravery and Superiority,” assumed by them are Nayagar/Nayakar/Naicker,Varma, Padaiyachi (Head of an Army), Goundan/Gounder, Kandar, Sambuvarayas, Kadavarayas, Kalingarayas, Mazhavarayas, Samattiyars, Udaiyars, Bhoopathi,Kondiyars, Nainars, Sozhaganars, Munaiarayas and Kachirayas to name a few. Some say that they belong to Chennai and as such, they should be called as Chembians and the caste history is well known from the Mahabhartha epic at the moment of the birth of Draupathi from Agni kunda.
The following books are available and make references to the various titles.
Vannia Kula Kshatriya is the only Tamil community with an exclusive puranam on their own. The puranam was written in classical Tamil and has now been translated into modern day Tamil.
The excerpt from the puranam is, ‘Vilvalan’ & ‘Vatapi’ were Asura brothers born to ‘Dhurvasar’-a saint & ‘Kajomuki’- younger sister of ‘Sura Padman’ – an Asura later killed by Lord Murugan. Vilvalan & Vatapi played mischief’s with ‘Agasthier’ – saint which resulted in swallowing and digestion of Vilvalan by Agasthier. The left out Vatapi prayed Lord Shiva and attained further strength and started ruling ‘Rathina Puri’ situated in the middle of southern sea. Vatapi married ‘Chokka kanni’ daughter of ‘Mayan’ – Deva’s Viswakarma. The Asura Guru ‘Sukhracharuyar’ supported him with Asura battalion. As expected, he started torturing all the Devas which ‘Naradhar’ noticed and complained to Lord Shiva. Saint ‘Sambu’ maharishi also started ‘Yagnam’ on Shiva to safeguard Devas. Then Lord Shiva came over there and a drop of sweat from his third eye dropped in the yagnam which created the first “Rudhra / Veera Vanniyan’ with his horse, weapons & crown.
Then Lord Shiva & Matha Parvathi were talking to Devendran to offer his second daughter “Mandhira Maalai’-younger sister of ‘Deivayanai’ wife of Lord Murugan, for the marriage of Rudhra Vaaniyan. Upon mutual acceptance & Horoscope matching, marriage between Rudhra Vaaniyan & Mandhira Maalai was solemnized and become parents for four Sons. They were named as “Krishna Vanniyan, Brahma Vanniyan, Sambu Vanniyan & Agni Vanniyan. The boys were getting the entire warrior training from Lord Murugan – their Uncle. Subsequently, they were married to the Four daughters of ‘Kandha(Susheela)’saint, namely-Indhrani, Narani, Sundhari & Sumangali.
Then, as per the advice of Lord Shiva, they moved towards south along with their soldiers created by Lord Shiva to fight Vatapi – Asuran and reached the ‘Durga Parameshwari Amman’ Temple in south. The Rudhra Vanniyan & his four sons requested Durgai Amman to help them in combating Vatapi which she accepted and came along with them with her ‘Boodha’ battalion. While they are crossing the Sea, the sea gave way to them by moving the water away in both sides and reoccupied themselves. However, one pet dog of Vanniyars could not cross the Sea and returned home.
After reaching Rathina puri, Rudhra Vanniyan sent Naradhar as mediator which failed and resulted in full-fledged War between Vanniyars & Vatapi Asuran. The ‘Kali Amman’ Asuras family God was also helping the Asuras in the War. The Fighting was intensive and finally Vatapi was killed by Rudhra Vanniyan. Subsequently, all the Asuras were killed including women. But, finally, Four Asura Women (as per the arrangement of Sukrachariyar – Asura Guru, to protect Asura Kulam) came out in Human form and the Vanniyars did not kill them and took them along with them to home.
After the War, the entire battalion reached back the shore and the Durga Goddess stayed at her Temple at south and Vanniyars after worship returned home. At their surprise, it was noticed that all the four daughter-in-laws of Rudhra Vanniyan already died by jumping into Fire pots after seeing one of their dogs is returning home alone which indicates that all the Vanniyars have died in the War. This event was also due to a ‘Sabam’ by Sukrachariyar to all the four sisters, since the brides were once denied to him by their Father – Kandha Saint.
After that all the Four Sons had ‘Kandharva Vivah’ with the Four Women brought by them (supposed to be Asura Women but in Human Form) and started living with them. Then Lord Shiva & Lord Vishnu have allocated ‘Sambu region’ to First Rudhra /Veera Vannian, up to north of ‘Palar’ to Brhama Vanniyan, up to ‘Pennaiyar’ to Krishna Vanniyan, up to north of Kaveri to Sambu Vanniyan & Western side of East coast to Agni Vanniyan for their Ruling.
After that the First Rudhra Vanniyan had another son named ‘Chandra sekara maharajan’ and became their heir & then both First Rudhra Veera Vanniyan and his wife Mandhira Maalai left to Devalogam at the invitation of Lord Devendran.
This puranam was written at Madurai Tamil Sangam during Sundara Pandian’s regime by Saiva Shri Veera Pillai as a translation from Sanskrit ‘Agni / Agneya Puranam’ which is one of the 18 Puranams written Sanskrit.
It may also be noticed that the descendants of the above Vanniyars viz Agnikula Kshatriya / Vanniyakula Kshatriya / Vahnikula Kshatriya – the Warrior community are predominantly available in Rajastan, Gujarat, West Bengal, Andhra, Kannada, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Srilanka, Malaysia, Mauritious etc. and their main deity is Goddess Durga/Baghavathy/Maiamman etc. in different names in different parts of India.
The name Vanniyar is derived from the Tamil word Vanni (Vahni or Agni in Sanskrit) which means fire. It also means Valour or Strength. At Sirkazhi Vaideeswaran Temple, Inscriptions about Vanniyar Puranam are observed. It denotes that at ancient times there were two Asuras known as Vatapi and Mahi, who worshipped Brahma and obtained immunity from death and subsequently they garrisoned the Earth. At the request of Gods and Lords, Jambuva Mahamuni or Sambu/Jambu Maharishi performed a Yagam, or sacrifice by his yogic powers. Soon armed horsemen sprung from the flames, named VanniRaya; they undertook twelve expeditions and destroyed the Asuras and freed the Earth. Their leader then assumed the government of the country under the name Rudra Vanniya Maharaja or Veera Vanniyan, who had five sons, the Ancestors of Vanniyar Caste. This Tradition alludes to the destruction of the city of Vatapi by Narasimhavarman, the King of Pallis or Pallavas.