This article is an excerpt from
Government Press, Madras
Kavarai is the name for Balijas (Telugu trading caste), who have settled in the Tamil country. The name is said to be a corrupt form of Kauravar or Gauravar, descendants of Kuroo of the Mahābaratha, or to be the equivalent of Gauravalu, sons of Gauri, the wife of Siva. Other suggested derivatives are: (a) a corrupt form of the Sanskrit Kvaryku, badness or reproach, and Arya, i.e., deteriorated Aryans; (b) Sanskrit Kavara, mixed, or Kavaraha, a braid of hair, i.e., a mixed class, as many of the Telugu professional prostitutes belong to this caste; (c) Kavarai or Gavaras, buyers or dealers in cattle.
The Kavarais call themselves Balijas, and derive the name from bali, fire, jaha sprung, i.e., men sprung from fire. Like other Telugu castes, they have exogamous septs, e.g., tupāki (gun), jetti (wrestler), pagadāla (coral), bandi (cart), sīmaneli, etc.
The Kavarais of Srīvilliputtūr, in the Tinnevelly district, are believed to be the descendants of a few families, which emigrated thither from Manjakuppam (Cuddalore) along with one Dora Krishnamma Nāyudu. About the time of Tirumal Nāyak, one Rāmaswāmi Rāju, who had five sons, of whom the youngest was Dora Krishnamma, was reigning near Manjakuppam. Dora Krishnamma, who was of wandering habits, having received some money from his mother, went to Trichinopoly, and, when he was seated in the main bazar, an elephant rushed into the street. The beast was stopped in its career, and tamed by Dora Krishnamma, to escort whom to his palace Vijayaranga Chokkappa sent his retinue and ministers. While they were engaged in conversation, news arrived that some chiefs in the Tinnevelly district refused to pay their taxes, and Dora Krishnamma volunteered to go and subdue them. Near Srīvilliputtūr he passed a ruined temple dedicated to Krishna, which he thought of rebuilding if he should succeed in subduing the chiefs. When he reached Tinnevelly, they, without raising any objection, paid their dues, and Dora Krishnamma returned to Srīvilliputtūr, and settled there.
Their marriage ceremonies are based on the type common to many Telugu castes, but those who belong to the Sīmaneli sept, and believe themselves to be direct descendants of Krishnamma, have two special forms of ceremonial, viz., Krishnamma pērantālu, and the carrying of pots (gurigelu) on the heads of the bride and bridegroom when they go to the temple before the Kāsiyatra ceremony. The Krishnamma pērantālu is performed on the day prior to the muhūrtam (tāli-tying), and consists in the worship of the soul of Krishnamma, a married woman. A new cloth is purchased and presented to a married woman, together with money, betel, etc., and she is fed before the rest. It is practically a form of srādh ceremony, and all the formalities of the srādh, except the hōmam (sacred fire) and repeating of mantras from the Vēdas, are gone through. This is very commonly observed by Brāhmans, and a few castes which engage a Brāhman priest for their ceremonies. The main idea is the propitiation of the soul of the dead married woman. If such a woman dies in a family, every ceremony of an auspicious nature must be preceded by sumangaliprarthana, or worship of this married woman (sumangali). Orthodox females think that, if the ceremony is not performed, she will do them some harm. Another custom, now dying out, is the tying of a dagger to the waist of the bridegroom.
In the Madura district, the Kavarais are described as being “most commonly manufacturers and sellers of bangles made of a particular kind of earth, found only in one or two parts of the district. Those engaged in this traffic usually call themselves Chettis or merchants. When otherwise employed as spinners, dyers, painters, and the like, they take the title of Nāyakkan. It is customary with these, as with other Nāyakkans, to wear the sacred thread: but the descendants of the Nāyakkan kings, who are now living at Vellei-kuricchi, do not conform to this usage, on the ground that they are at present in a state of impurity and degradation, and consequently ought not to wear the sacred emblem.”
The bulk of the Kavarais in Tanjore are said “to bear the title Nāyak. Some that are engaged in trade, more especially those who sell glass bangles, are called Settis, and those who originally settled in agriculture are called Reddis. The title of Nāyak, like Pillai, Mudali, and Setti, is generally sought after. As a rule, men of the Palli or cooly class, when they enter the Government service, and shepherds, when they grow rich in trade or otherwise, assume this title, wear the nāmam (the trident mark on the forehead emblematic of the Vaishnava persuasion), and call themselves Kavarais or Vadugars, though they cannot speak Telugu, much less point to any part of the Telugu country as the seat of their forefathers.”
One of the largest sub-divisions of the Kavarais is Valaiyal, the Tamil equivalent of Gazula, both words meaning a glass or lac bangle.