Kapu (Telugu కాపు) The word Kapu or Kaapu in Telugu means protector and refers to a community or social grouping found primarily in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. They speak Telugu and are primarily an agrarian community. They are also referred by their Caste title 'Naidu' . Naidu means 'leader'.
Kapu community is also found in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Orissa, Kerala, Maharashtra and Chattisgarh. They constitute about 25% percent of the population of Andhra Pradesh, making them the single largest community in the state.
But their Origin's and settlement patterns show an Aryan connection.
The following are Kapu castes and they simply prefer to be called "Kapus". Naidu is their caste name as well as the title.
The Kapu community in Andhra Pradesh is located predominantly in the coastal districts and they are found in large numbers in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Chattisgarh and Orissa. It is probably the oldest middle caste in South India and forms the bedrock of Telugu society. They have the caste title "Naidu", which is a derivation of the word "Nayaka" (meaning "leader"), which was first used during the era of Vishnukundina period, which ruled from the Krishna and Godavari river deltas during the 3rd Century A.D.
Some Kapu names are associated with occupations practiced during the medieval period:
Agricultural laborers refer to landlords as Kapu. Landlords and farmers who served as village heads are also given the title "Pedda Kapu" or "Reddy". This is why the title Reddy is found not only in the separate Reddy caste but also among the Kapu / Balija / Telaga / Munnuru Kapu castes. It is a title used in many castes by members who are landowners. Another point of confusion is that the Reddy community refers to themselves as Kapus in Rayalaseema and Telangana. Here the Kapu community is referred to as Balija / Balija Naidu.
Balijas/Balija Naidu are found in the Rayalaseema region of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. The term Balija is a Telugu derivative of the Sanskrit word, Vanijya, meaning merchant. Balijas are the merchant branch of the Kapu caste, with subcastes based on occupation (members who are purely merchants use the title "Setty".) Balija's also have a warrior branch whose members use the title Naidu. Some Balija Naidu families were appointed to supervise provinces as Nayaks (governors, Commanders) by the Kakatiya and Vijayanagaram Kings and, after these empires lost power, they continued to rule parts of southern Andhra Pradesh and northern Tamil Nadu independently. This includes the Madurai Nayaks, Tanjavur Nayaks, and the last rulers of Sri Lanka, the Kandy Nayaks, before the British occupied Sri Lanka.
There is regional variation in the Balija community as to how they call themselves. In coastal Andhra, they call themselves Kapu/Telaga, Munnuru Kapu in Telangana, and in Rayalaseema they are referred to as Balija / Setty Balija / Balija Naidu / Naidu. Interestingly in these areas Kapus call themselves Reddy, however they use Naidu in their names.
As per one theory the Balija branch of Kapus migrated from Balijipeta, Srikakulam District and arose by social changes that occurred among some sections of Telugu society. The Encyclopedia of World History states, “ Balijas were originally part of the great Telugu migrations southward into the Tamil country in the 15th and 16th centuries, Balija merchant-warriors who claimed these Nayaka positions rose to political and cultural power and supported an ethos that emphasized non-ascriptive, heroic criteria in legitimizing political power. The new egalitarian ethos made it easier for claimants from a variety of communities to succeed to political control".
Veera Balaingyas were mentioned in Kakatiya inscriptions as powerful tax collectors and wealthy merchants who were highly respected in Kakatiyan society and used the title Setty. They are previosly known as ayyavolu/ihole kshatriyas/lords. Kasturi Nayadu and Peda Koneti Nayudu of the Vasarasi family belonged to the Balija subcaste, and ruled some provinces. The first Rebellion against British Rule was launched by another famous Balija Nayak Katta Bomma Naicker in Tamil Nadu long before the Sepoy Mutiny in Bengal.
It is believed that Vijayanagar emperor Krishna Deva Raya had a Balija origin. In Edgar Thurston's "Castes And Tribes of Southern India" and R.V.Russell's "The Tribes and Castes of Central Provinces of India", the ruling clans of Vijayanagar, Madurai and Thanjavur came from the Balija caste. According to Kante Narayana Desayi's, "Balijakula Charithra", Kings of Vijayanagar, Madurai, Thanjavur, Khandi (Kandy) and Thundeera (Gingee/Chenchi) were interrelated and belonged to Balija caste.
Balija ruling clans:
Perika Balija, Vada Balija (Fishermen), Ediga, Balija/Goud (Toddy Tappers), Setty Balija/Chettu Balija/Goud (Toddy Tappers) of Coastal Andhra are not part of Balija or Balija Naidu Caste.
Refer to Balija for further InformationTelangana region of Andhra Pradesh. They are a military branch of the Kapu community, who farmed during peace time. "Munnuru" means "three hundred". The Munnuru Kapu functioned as interior palace guards or cavalry in kingdoms such as those of the Tanjavore Nayaks, Devarakonda, and Nizam.
There was a professional rivalry that lasted for decades between the Munnuru Kapus and the Mudiraju community during the Kakateeya rule. The Mudiraj's were associated with the Devarakonda Velamas. Origin
There are several stories regarding the origin of the "Munnuru Kapu":
Telagas are the most ancient warrior/agricultural clans of the Deccan and South India, who specialized in warfare and practiced agriculture during times of peace. Modern-day Telagas continue in their traditional agricultural occupation, but also have diversified into trading, industry, IT, films and others.
The Telagas have served as Nayakulu (Governors), commanders and vassals of the Western Chalukya rulers under Pulakesin. They formed the bulwark of ancient armies of the Deccan and South India like Cholas, Chalukyas, Kakatiyas, Vijayanagar and Nayaks. They seem to have a connection with the Eastern Chalukyas. The Vassals of Chalukyas entered into matrimonial alliances and ultimately established the Chalukya - Chola Dynasty. Another important dynasty of Telagas were the Telugu Cholas who were the first Andhra Kings to write inscriptions in Telugu. They ruled over the Palnadu, Velanadu and Renadu regions of Andhra Pradesh for most of the medieval ages. The Telugu Chodas formed the base on which Chalukyan Empire flourished and were the principal combatants of the Palanadu war/Palanati Yuddam. Telugu Cholas supported Bramha Naidu in this war against the Nalagam Raju.
Other Telaga dynasties are mentioned below.
Refer to Telaga for further Information
The Kapu Ontari community is concentrated in coastal Andhra Pradesh. They use the titles "Naidu" and "Dora". The Ontari were soldiers and special forces in Andhra Kingdoms who specialized in weapons. Their surnames start with names of weapons (e.g. Kattula (knife), Tupakula (pistol), Kommula, Bollu).
The Kapu Ontari community are different from the (Bunt Ontari community (who were individual hand to hand fighters) and the Ontari of Mudiraj community, who are not part of the Kapu Ontari caste.
Turpu in Telugu means east. The Kapus living on the eastern frontier of Andhra Pradesh called themselves Turpu Kapus. There have been some rulers of coastal kingdoms from this community. They are hard working poor and middle farmers. They are the majority in Srikakulam District,Vizianagaram District and Visakhapatnam District but many of them still show their feudal loyalty to erstwhile Zamindars of Bobbili and Vizianagaram etc. Of late however the political awakening of this caste has led some representatives of this group to be more politically active.
The Naidu Sub caste is primarily seen in the Krishna District and Guntur District of Andhra Pradesh.Althou this also serves as the title for the entire community through the State irrespective of the Sub- castes Naidu is a title commonly incorporated into the names of members of the Kapu community whose ancestors may have served as an army commander, governor, knight, baron, village headman or tax collector. It eventually became a hereditary title. "Naidu" is a Telugu derivation of the Sanskrit title for a head of a band of soldiers, who is known as Nayaka (i.e. protector). The first usage of the title "Nayaka" was by the Vishnukundinas, who conferred the title "Danda Nayaka" on commanders.
During times of war, rulers would call upon the local farmers to join the army. Amongst the Kapu community, some members who served became specialisst in certain types of combat and were referred to as Munnuru, Telaga or Ontari Kapus. Some were given posts as commanders and given the title of Nayak/Naidu. At the conclusion of service, some were rewarded by being given charge of territories and made responsible for tax collection, administration and security. Initially, the Naidus served only for so long as the rulers felt they were effective, but some declared independence whenever the central government became weak. They had their greatest influence in telugu society during the Chalukya, Kakatiya, Nayaka, Vijayanagar periods and had the greatest independent power following the fall of Vijayanagar in Tanjore, Madurai, Chenchi, Kandy at least until the Moghuls, Marathas and British took over. Basically although staunchly Hindu, over the centuries this large and proud community was involved in all aspects of society and developed their own social, economic and political structure outside of the rigid Hindu Varna system without developing the habit of preventing marriage between the factions.
In the medieval times the Kakatiyas had many prominent nayakas, several from a Kapu background. Vijayanagar also had several Nayakas of Kapu, Telaga and Balija background. During the expansion of Vijayanagar Empire, the Nayak title was conferred upon non-Telugu speaking communities who served in the same function in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. This title is also being used by other communities in Tamil Nadu and southern Andhra Pradesh.
In southern Tamil Nadu, Balija's use the title Naicker. It evolved in the following manner during different phases of history.
Nayaka --> Nayudu -->Naidu--> Naicker --> Naidoo
The following are some ruling clans associated with Kapu community.
Some of the most common gothrams found in the Kapu community are:
History records of the Kapu community state that it lived in the area between the Krishna and the Godavari rivers. This community which has prospered even before the Christian era had Telugu as the mother tongue. According to historians the Kapu community during later centuries spread into other regions developing the Telugu language and culture. It is evident that the Kapus were originally a peace loving community but due to onslaught of the invading forces from the north it formed itself into a force which protected its individuality by war. The ability to defend the cultural and religious fabric of the society from the invading forces allowed the Kapus to elevated themselves to superior status among all the other varnas all throughout the medieval ages. The Kapu caste through the Vijayanagaram Empire and through the various Nayaks played a significant role in the formation and expansion of the Telugu Empire and its culture throughout South India and Sri Lanka. Many inspiration leaders who have contributed greatly to the social, cultural and political aspects of South India came from this community. Some of them contributed greatly to the freedom struggle and in the upliftment of the downtrodden by fighting hard against oppression and social evils. The most prominent among them are listed below:
See List of Kapus
Lot of Kapu Nayak kings themselves being great poets enriched Telugu language by encouraging many Telugu poets. It was a common practice of the king's son to compose a Dwipada poem equating his father with "Vishnu" in Madurai and Thanjavur Nayak dynasties as per the "Literary Cultures in History" by Sheldon Pollack . Two views,one stating the king as the diety Vishnu and the other stating the king as the human being representing an aspect of Vishnu had surfaced during the period of Sreekrishna devaraya.They became more obvious when the warriors/Traders from Balija caste became kings of Madurai and Thanjavur dynasties in the seventeenth century.The revolutionary concept of the king being the diety Vishnu gained even more significance as the Nayaka kings happened to be Sudras of left -hand caste of warriors/Traders ,belonging to Balija caste.The Nayaka Kings' concept of the king being the God led to the sweeping changes in the idealized Brahmanical Varna system and the poets no longer needed to be the males or Brahmins.In the place of Brahmins non-Brahmin male poets and courtesans were encouraged as court poets.Non-Brahmin poets were allowed to use Dwipada style with the subject of the court being the king himself.During Nayak dynasty the differences between court and temple as well as court poet and temple poet were erased.
The following is the list of Balja Naidus that made enormous contribution to Telugu and Sanskrit languages.
See List of Kapus for information.
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