The shepherds who became kings



There is no denying that the sense in which the term ksatriya has been conventionally used is very different from the sense in which we use it. Conventionally ksatriya signifies the warrior community – the second occupational category in the caturvarn vyavastha; the kings are supposed to be of ksatriya lineage. We have used the term to designate the community that migrated into India from Near East sometime around 8,000 BCE (Before Common Era); these were largely herders and farmers. In the context of the political history of the Deccan (as of the rest of India) this becomes essentially the warriors v/s shepherds contradiction.
But the contradiction vanishes once we get down to the ground. Most of those who rose to the throne in Deccan, and to a large extent even in the Indo-Gangetic plain, did not come with a martial pedigree. The Tondaimandal Yadavraya king Bittarasa came from a cattle herder family, as the very word yadava implies. So did Hakka or Hariyappa who founded the Sangam dynasty of Vijayanagar, Dhadiyappa of the Yadavas of Devgiri and Bitiga of the Hoysalas; not to forget Shivaji and Ahilyabai Holkar [Dhere, 2001: Sikhara Simganapuraca Sambhu Maharaja; Dhere, 2011: The Rise of a Folk God, The Viththal of Pandharpur]. According to the Annals of the Mysore Royal Family, Yadu Raya, the progenitor of the Wodeyars of Mysore, was of yadava descent and came from Dvarka [Rao, 1943: History Of Mysore, 21]. We have already seen that the Wodeyars of Mysore were arasu. Chandragupta Maurya too was a cowherd, an yadava [Yadava, 2006: Followers of Krishna – Yadavas of India, 109]. To that probably we have to add the Pallavas or the Pallavar, who are claimed to be of kurumba origin.
However it is necessary to understand one small but crucial difference between the yadava of Indo-Gangetic plain and the Deccan. The former constitute peasant-pastoral communities in North India and Nepal that claim descent from Yadu, a mythical Vedic king; their distinguishing attribute has been cattle herding. The best known yadava is Krsna of Mathura. The real etymology of the word is not known. That takes us to the word yadava (yaddava) as used in the Deccan. Yadava comes from yadu (yaddu) the Tamil word for sheep; yadava means a shepherd; just as kuruba comes from kuru (goats). Southworth considers the Indo-Gangetic plain word yadava to be possibly of Dravidian origin, as it has no known Indo-European etymology, and conjectures that even mythical Yadu could have been a back formation (that is derived from yadava = yaddava) [Southworth, 1995 : Reconstructing social context from language : Indo-Aryan and Dravidian prehistory, 266]. Whether yadava or yadava (yaddava), they carried a ksatriya, Near Eastern herder-farmer ancestry; and they rose to be the kings.
And we have identified the process of this shepherd to king transformation: farmers -> village chiefs -> bigger chiefs, and so on, rising in the hierarchy -> petty kings in a principality (polegar =palaiyakkarar meaning chieftain or little king) -> bigger kings -> empire builders. Or if we are to put it in terms of the hierarchy we recently discovered in the Chola domain: udayan (gavud / gaudo) -> velan -> muventavelen -> araiyan (arusu). There is another aspect to it as pointed out by Rawlinson while describing the Pallavar: “(Pallavar) collected round them members of Kurumbas, Maravas, Kallas and other predatory tribes, and formed them into a strong and aggressive power” [Rawlinson, 1937: India – A Short Cultural History, 194]. So it appears that these ‘chiefs’ or ‘nayak’ or ‘arasu’, be they of kur or Deccan ksatriya origin, mobilised their kin in the villages under their control, the gavud or gamvkar, herder-farmers like them, to create an army. That very effectively describes the process of transformation of the ancient system of village republics into the modern monarchical states.
This phenomenon is observed not only in the Kannad territory but also in the Tamil domain adjoining it. Good examples are Ramnad, Pudukkottai and Tondaimandalam. Ramnad was ruled by a maravar polegar by name Raghunatha Kilavan Setupati. The middle name ‘kilavan’ shows his origin; kilavan (or udeyan) was the Tamil equivalent of Kannad odeya or gavud, or Komkni gaudo. Pudukkottai was ruled by kallar chiefs. Though Tondaimandalam acquired importance during the Chola rule, it was earlier ruled by the Pallavar; according to Kanaksabhai its beginnings lie with the kurumbar.
That there was nothing like a warrior class in the Indian sub-continent was but natural. The aborigines here were just moving from hunter-gatherer stage to a herder-farmer stage; a good lot of them, living in the hills and the forests, were still to take to herding-farming. We do not yet have a name for them. We said they could be vedar. We know that there was some sort of organisation among these people at the local level, as most of the tribal communities tend to have. As they took to farming, that organisation could have become more elaborate. Eventually it might have evolved into a ‘gamvkari’ sort of an organisation. Over time it must have developed a sort of a pyramid, with local level organisations nesting under a bigger organisation, and so on. These organisations or their chiefs did have persons dedicated to security and eventually to thwart the aggressions of competing organisations. But formal armies did not seem to have been formed; at least, warrior as an occupation does not seem to have begun. As seen above, the heads of the agrarian organisations rose to be the chiefs of principalities, ‘little kings’, bigger kings and eventually empire builders. Only at these later stages formal armies might have been formed, which called for ‘professional’ warriors. As in Mysore for instance, we see the emergence of a position of ‘dalavayi’ or ‘dalvoy’, a supreme commander of the royal army; but these too rose from the ranks of the chiefs of agrarian bodies (According to Bloch, the modern surname Dalvi seems to have been derived from dalvoy.) Sometimes these dalvoy overthrew their kings and seized their kingdoms and eventually became kings themselves. Therefore ksatriya as a warrior class seems to be an idea alien to the Indian context, purely theoretical or brought in from outside; more likely, it seems to be an idea created by the bramhan to avail of the services of the ksatriya as protectors; we have dealt with this synergistic relation between the bramhan and the ksatriya earlier.