The Vanni is a distinct caste group in medieval Sri Lanka and is still considered a sub-caste among the Govigama/ Vellala castes of the island. They enjoyed elite status in the forest clad settlements in the peripheral regions which were also known as the Vanni, after the masters of the regions. The Vanni chieftains were autonomous or semi- autonomous rulers of the Vanni principalities which were numerous, but covered a larger area of the island when considered collectively.
The origin of the Vanni caste and the formation of the Vanni principalities are among the lesser understood factors of Sri Lankan history. The present study looks into the possibilities and investigates the origin of the Vanni caste both in India and the Sri Lanka. The aspects of the formation of the Vanni principalities and the rise of the Vanni caste into an elite group in the peripheral regions of the island will also be investigated in this study.
Key Words: Medieval Sri Lanka; South India; Peripheral principalities; Caste groups; Forest regions; Vanni
Sri Lankan Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences Vol.1(1) July 2009