The Nagarathar (also known as Nattukottai Chettiar) is a Tamil caste found native in Tamil Nadu, India. They are a mercantile community who are traditionally involved in commerce, banking and money lending.[1]

Annamalai Chettiar.jpg
Raja 'Sir' Annamalai Chettiar, Raja of Chettinad
Regions with significant populations
India: Chettinad region of Tamil Nadu, Chennai
Related ethnic groups
Tamil people, Dravidian people

They use the title Chettiar and are traditionally concentrated in modern region Chettinad.[2] They have since the 19th century been prominent entrepreneurs who funded and built several Hindu temples, schools, colleges and universities.[3]


The term Nagarathar literally means "town-dweller".[4] Their title, Chettiar, is a generic term used by several mercantile groups which is derived from the ancient Tamil term etti (bestowed on merchants by the Tamil monarchs).[5]

Since they gained a reputation for living in mansions that were constructed in the 19th centuries and late 20th centuries, are they also known as Nattukottai Chettiar.[6] The term Nattukottai literally means "country-fort" in reference to their fort-like mansions.[4]


Nattukottai Nagarathars were originally from Naganadu. This ancient land Naganadu is believed to be destroyed (either in an earthquake or floods) and this place was either North or North West of Kanchipuram.

Nagarathars migrated and lived in the following places:

· Kanchipuram (Thondai Nadu) - From 2897 BC for about 2100 years

· Kaveripoompatinam (Poompuhar) (Chola Kingdom) - From 789 BC for about 1400 years.

· Karaikudi (Pandiya Kingdom) - From 707 AD onwards.

When they were in Naganadu these Dhana Vaishyas had three different divisions:

1. Aaru (Six) Vazhiyar

2. Ezhu (Seven) Vazhiyar

3. Nangu (Four) Vazhiyar

All these three divisions were devoted to Emerald Ganesha (மரகத விநாயகர்). Only after they migrated to the Pandya_Kingdom they were called as Ariyurar, Ilayatrangudiyar, and Sundrapattanathar.

Nagarathars of Ilayatrangudiyar were later called as Nattukottai Nagarathar. Ariyurar Nagarathars further split into 3 divisions: Vadakku Valavu, Therku Valavu and Elur Chetty (Nagercoil). Sundrapattanathar Nagarathars migrated to Kollam district in Kerala and their history is completely lost now since there was no record keeping.[7]

The Nagarathar or Nattukkottai Chettiar were originally salt traders and historically an itinerant community of merchants and claim Chettinad as their traditional home.[8] How they reached that place, which at the time comprised adjacent parts of the ancient states of Pudukkottai, Ramnad and Sivagangai, is uncertain, with various communal legends being recorded. There are various claims regarding how they arrived in that area.[9] Among those are a fairly recently recorded claim that they were driven there because of persecution by a Chola king[who?] and an older one, recounted to Edgar Thurston, that they were encouraged to go there by a Pandyan king who wanted to take advantage of their trading skills. The legends converge in saying that they obtained the use of nine temples, with each representing one exogamous part of the community.[9]

The traditional base of the Nattukottai Nagarathars is the Chettinad region of the present-day state of Tamil Nadu. It comprises a triangular area around north-east Sivagangai, north-west Ramnad and south Pudukkottai.

They have a reputation for living in characteristic mansions in Chettinad. These were constructed in the 19th and late 20th centuries.[6]

They may have become maritime traders as far back as the 8th century CE. They were trading in salt and by the 17th century, European expansionism in South East Asia during the next century fostered conditions that enabled the community to expand its trading enterprises, including as moneylenders, thereafter.[1][9] By the late 18th century expanded them to inland and coastal trade in cotton and rice.[8]

In the 19th century, following the Permanent Settlement, some in the Nagarathar community wielded considerable influence in the affairs of the zamindar (landowners) elite. There had traditionally been a relationship between royalty and the community based on the premise that providing worthy service to royalty would result in the granting of high honours but this changed as the landowners increasingly needed to borrow money from the community in order to fight legal battles designed to retain their property and powers. Nagarathars provided that money as mortgaged loans but by the middle of the century they were becoming far less tolerant of any defaults and were insisting that failure to pay as arranged would result in the mortgaged properties being forfeited.[10] By the 19th century were their business activities developed into a sophisticated banking system, with their business expanding to parts of Southeast Asian countries such as Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and China.[citation needed]

Varna Classification

In the absence of a proper chaturvarna system in South India, Naattukottai Nagarathars were classified as Vaishyas (Vyshya).[11]

Religious influence

The nine temples connected with the Nagarathar community include: Ilayathakudi, Iluppaikkudi, Iraniyur, Mathur, Nemam, Pillayarpatti,[12] Soorakudi, Vairavanpatti, and Velangudi.[13]


Famous personalities

See also


  1. ^ a b Haellquist (21 August 2013). Asian Trade Routes. Routledge. p. 150. ISBN 9781136100741.
  2. ^ Agesthialingom, Shanmugam; Karunakaran, K. (1980). Sociolinguistics and Dialectology: Seminar Papers. Annamalai Univ. p. 417.
  3. ^ Ramaswami, N. S. (1988). Parrys 200: A Saga of Resilience. Affiliated East-West Press. p. 193. ISBN 9788185095745.
  4. ^ a b Contributions to Indian Sociology. 36. Contributions to Indian Sociology: Occasional Studies: Mouton. 2002. p. 344.
  5. ^ West Rudner, David (1987). "Religious Gifting and Inland Commerce in Seventeenth-Century South India". The Journal of Asian Studies. 46 (2). p. 376. doi:10.2307/2056019. JSTOR 2056019.
  6. ^ a b Indian & Foreign Review. Publications Division of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India. 1986. p. 48.
  7. ^ Pattu Veshti Ramanathan, Chettiar (2015). Analytical History of Nagarathar(நகரத்தார்களின் பகுத்தாய்ந்த வரலாறு). Sivakasi: Surya Print Solutions.
  8. ^ a b Chaudhary, Latika; Gupta, Bishnupriya; Roy, Tirthankar; Swamy, Anand V. (20 August 2015). A New Economic History of Colonial India. Routledge. ISBN 9781317674320.
  9. ^ a b c Pamela G. Price (14 March 1996). Kingship and Political Practice in Colonial India. Cambridge University Press. p. 13. ISBN 978-0-521-55247-9.
  10. ^ Pamela G. Price (14 March 1996). Kingship and Political Practice in Colonial India. Cambridge University Press. pp. 103–104. ISBN 978-0-521-55247-9.
  11. ^ Sripati Chandrasekhar. The Nagarathars of South India: an essay and a bibliography on the Nagarathars in India and South-East Asia, Volume 1. Macmillan, 1980. p. 22.
  12. ^ Aline Dobbie (2006). India: The Elephant's Blessing. Melrose Books. p. 101. ISBN 1-905226-85-3.
  13. ^ "Chettinad's legacy". Frontline. 20 November 2018. Retrieved 27 December 2018.
  14. ^ Krishnaswami Nagarajan. Rajah Sir Annamalai Chettiar. Annamalai University, 1985. p. 7.
  15. ^ India. Office of the Registrar General. Census of India, 1961, Volume 25, Part 6. Manager of Publications, 1969. p. 136.
  16. ^ Jagran Josh. Current Affairs December 2015 eBook: by Jagran Josh. Jagran Josh. p. 301.
  17. ^ Vijaya Ramaswamy, Jawaharlal Nehru University. Historical Dictionary of the Tamils. Rowman & Littlefield, 2017. p. 98.