Velamas are one of the ancient and powerful communities in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. They ruled parts of Andhra Pradesh for several centuries. The history of Velamas is as old as telugu bravery. Their military exploits form an important part of Telugu tradition, history and folklore. The battles of Palnadu, Bobbili and their battles on behalf of Kakatiya and Vijaynagar empires speak volumes about the martial spirit, chivalry and fearless nature of these warriors.
Construction of the Khammam Fort (India) was initiated around 950 when the Telugu area (now Andhra Pradesh) was ruled by the Kakatiya dynasty (10th – 13th century). Later, Musunuri Nayaks and Velama kings were involved in the construction of the fort situated on the hill.
Several conflicting theories have been postulated on the origin of the Velama community. But, the general perception is that, during the time of Kakatiya king Rudra I (1158-1195 CE), the warrior clans of Telugu country have been divided into many castes including Velamas, Kammas and Reddies.
The family name of Rao varu is one of historical importance, but it is not the name of place where the family members lived. The Maharaja Pratapa Rudra of Warangal conferred this name of honor on the family of Bhetala Naidu, the founder of the Venkatagiri Samstanam, and also ordered that every Velama Dora must have Rao added at the end of his name. In the history of “Pratapa Charithra” there is a verse in regard to this family name, which translated runs as follows:
“He who has the title Rao, which was bestowed by the king, prefixed to his name, is the ruler; and if it is affixed to the name, then it is a general mark of the Velama Caste.”
The battle of Palnadu occupies an important place in Telugu history. The heroics of Palnati Brahma Naidu and Palnati Balachandra in this battle are very well known and are taught to children in the state syllabus of Andhra Pradesh.
During the Ganapati Deva period (1199 – 1262 A.D.), Recherla Rudra served as commander-in-chief (Senani) of the Kakatiya army and Recherla Raja Nayaka helped Ganapatideva in conquering parts of Kalinga, Vengi and Bastar.
During the Rani Rudrama Devi period (1259 – 1289 A.D.), Recherla Prasaditya, along with other Reddi and Kayastha Nayaks (Gona Gannaiah, Jannigadeva, Tripurar, Ambadeva) helped consolidate her position.
During the Prataparudra II period (1289 – 1323 A.D.), the defense of Warangal was predominantly entrusted to Velamas.
The Rachakonda and Devarakonda kingdoms were ruled by Velama kings for over two centuries. Velamas also played a crucial role in the Bahamani, Vijayanagar and Golconda periods.
Highlights of British Period
Raja Rao Venkata Gopala Krishna Ranga Rao – Raja of Bobbili of the battle of Bobbili fame.
Rani Mallamma Devi, wife of Ranga Rao and sister of Tandra Papa Rayudu. A brave woman, she wanted to fight the battle of Bobbili along with the men, rather than commit suicide or be killed by her own army. However, prevalent Velama customs mandated that she be stabbed by her own body guard as per the orders of her husband Ranga Rao.
Thandra Papa Rayudu, also known as ‘Tiger Paparayudu’ was a valiant fighter and brother of Rani Mallamma Devi. He was away at the time of the battle, and avenged the killing of all his relatives by killing Vijaya Rama Raju of Vizianagaram. However, he had to kill himself, as did the two accomplices to his act, after they were surrounded by the combined forces of Vijaya Rama Raju and Busey.
Post Independence Period
Traditionally velamas are refered to as Dora (s) and Dorasani (s), traditional titles for men and women respectively in the villages of Andhra Pradesh and enjoyed very high social status in the society since hundreds of years due to their specific, unique, behavior patterns / styles and willingness to suffer and sacrifice in exchange for their perceived notion of individual honor and dignity for themselves as well as for their families and social circles. Politically, socially, and economically, Velamas played a prominent role in the growth of Andhra Pradesh.