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Sri Lankan Chetties (Sinhala: ශී ලංකා චෙට්ටි, romanized: Śī laṁkā Ceṭṭi, Tamil: இலங்கை செட்டி, romanized: Ilaṅkai Ceṭṭi) also known as Colombo Chetties, is an ethnicity in the island of Sri Lanka.[2] Formerly considered a Sri Lankan Tamil caste, were classified as a separate ethnic group in the 2001 census.[3][4] They were a class of Tamil speaking Hindu Vaishyas, who migrated from the South India under Portuguese rule.[5]

Sri Lankan Chetties
Total population
6,075 (2012 census)[1]
Regions with significant populations
 North Western279
Christianity (mostly Roman Catholic and Anglican)
Related ethnic groups



The word Chetty is a generic term denoting all merchant and trading groups of South India.[6] The word is thought to have been derived from the Tamil word Etti, a honorific title bestowed on the leading merchants by Tamil monarchs.[7]


A Sri Lankan Chetty of 18th century

Most of them trace their origin from Madurai, Tirunelveli and the Coromandel Coast of Southern India.[8] They settled mostly in westernSri Lanka, especially in the ports of Colombo and Galle from the 16th century to mid 17th century, during the rule of the Portuguese and Dutch.[9][10] Some of the Chetties in Northern Sri Lanka were absorbed in other communities, mainly in the Sri Lankan Vellalar community, considered a subcaste known as Chetty Vellalar.[5][11] The Chetties of Western Sri Lanka converted to Roman Catholicism under Portuguese rule. Other converted to Anglicanism or Protestantism under Dutch rule and British rule.[12] Intermarriage and alliances between Sinhalese and Chetties were not uncommon thus many also got Sinhalised.[13][14]

2001 10,800—    
2011 6,075−43.8%
Source:Department of Census
& Statistics
Data is based on
Sri Lankan Government Census.

Representatives of the Colombo Chetty Association stressed out their distinctiveness, appealing for forming a separate ethnic group. The Chetties were notably also from 1814 to 1817 listed as a separate ethnic group.[5] The Chetties used dress distinctive from rest of the population in the colonial era.[16]

As an elite and prosperous group they no longer strictly marry amongst themselves. In addition, migration to Australia, England, United States of America and Canada has tended to dilute their numbers.[citation needed]

See alsoEdit


  • Casiechitty S, The Castes, Customs, Manners and Literature of the Tamils. Colombo: Ceylon Printers, 1934.
  • Pulle Tissera Shirley - History of The Colombo Chetties - 2000
  • Thurston E, Castes and Tribes of Southern India
  1. ^ "A2 : Population by ethnic group according to districts, 2012". Census of Population & Housing, 2011. Department of Census & Statistics, Sri Lanka.
  2. ^ "Census of Population and Housing 2011". Retrieved 2018-01-24.
  3. ^ Reeves, Peter (2014-03-07). The Encyclopedia of the Sri Lankan Diaspora. Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore: Editions Didier Millet. p. 27. ISBN 9789814260831.
  4. ^ Holt, John (2011-04-13). The Sri Lanka Reader: History, Culture, Politics. Duke University Press. p. 70. ISBN 978-0822349822.
  5. ^ a b c Wickramasinghe, Nira (2015). Sri Lanka in the Modern Age: A History. 165, 174, 274: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780190225797.
  6. ^ Population Review. Indian Institute for Population Studies. 1975. p. 26.
  7. ^ West Rudner, David (1987). "Religious Gifting and Inland Commerce in Seventeenth-Century South India". The Journal of Asian Studies. 46 (2): 361–379. doi:10.2307/2056019. JSTOR 2056019.
  8. ^ Peebles, Patrick (2015-10-22). Historical Dictionary of Sri Lanka. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 64. ISBN 9781442255852.
  9. ^ Sivaratnam, C. (1964). An outline of the cultural history and principles of Hinduism. Stangard Printers. p. 276.
  10. ^ Silva, K. M. De (1981). A History of Sri Lanka. University of California Press. p. 175. ISBN 9780520043206.
  11. ^ F. Nyrop, Richard (1986). Sri Lanka, A country study. American University, Washington, D.C.: Foreign Area Studies. p. 108.
  12. ^ Vijayalakshmi, E.; Studies, International Centre for Ethnic (2005-01-01). Cultural minorities of Sri Lanka: their growth, achievements, and relevance today. International Centre for Ethnic Studies. p. 8. ISBN 9789555800969.
  13. ^ Vijayalakshmi, E.; Studies, International Centre for Ethnic (2005-01-01). Cultural minorities of Sri Lanka: their growth, achievements, and relevance today. International Centre for Ethnic Studies. p. 10. ISBN 9789555800969.
  14. ^ Peebles, Patrick (2015-10-22). Historical Dictionary of Sri Lanka. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 78. ISBN 9781442255852.
  15. ^ "Population by ethnic group, census years" (PDF). Department of Census & Statistics, Sri Lanka. Archived from the original (PDF) on 13 November 2011. Retrieved 23 October 2012.
  16. ^ Kemper, Steven (2001). Buying and Believing: Sri Lankan Advertising and Consumers in a Transnational World. University of Chicago Press. p. 82. ISBN 9780226430409.

External linksEdit