History and origins
There are many theories about the origins of the word "Kamma" and the social group known as Kammas but none is conclusive. One such theory is that the people who lived in the Krishna valley, where Buddhism prevailed, got the name from Theravada Buddhist concept of Kamma (Pali) or Karma (Sanskrit). This region was once known as Kammarashtram / Kammakaraatam / Kammanadu.
Some historians opined that the name Kamma is probably derived from Kambhoja, an ancient Aryan warrior clan1 Avadh Bihari Lal Avasthi comments on the above references as follows:
1. We find Kambhi, Kamma, Kumbhi etc castes in South India. There is also a famous city Koimb-toor. Possibly, there has also been a Kamboja country in Southern India.
2. The Kambojas in west, south-west India are also attested from inscriptions of kings Sadasiva Raya of Sangama Dynasty (1336-1478), Harihara, Bukka & Deva Raya of Narasinga Dynasty (1496-1567), and from the references of Vishnuvardhana of Hoyasala Dynasty/Mysore (of 12th century AD).
3. Inscription of 1050 AD from Mysore Tract (EC, VII SK 118) attests Trading Corporations of Nanadesa Tisaiya Yirattu Ainnurruvar which traded, among other commodities, in elephants,horses, sapphires, moonstones, pearls, rubies & other gems. The countries of trade are mostly located in middle to southern India. These corporations are stated to have trading links, among others, with the Kambhojas and Pallavas.
4. Kambhoja Raja Kathalu (Story of the king of Kambhojas) is still very popular i n Andhra Pradesh which treats the military exploits of an adventurous king of Kambhojas. The story probably refers to some historical brush of the Kambojas with the people of Andhra around Christian era.
In medieval times the region now known as Palnadu, which was named after the Pallavas that ruled there, was called Kammanadu, indicating that they may have been present for a very long time (2). The famous Kamma kings among palnadu are Bhrammanaidu, Nalagama raju, Balachandradu.
Kammas grew to prominence during the Kakatiya reign. In the middle ages they are the wise leaders possessed a strong army. Two Kamma chieftains, Musunuri Prolaya Nayaka and Musunuri Kapaya Nayaka lead the Kakatiya kingdom with Prataparudra. After the fall of Warangal they united the Nayaka chieftains, wrested Warangal from the Delhi Sultanate and ruled for 50 years (2).
Subsequently Kammas empowered the Vijayanagar kingdom. During the Vijayanagar rule they concured half of indian land from Tamilnadu, Andhra, Karnataka upto upper Orissa, Madhyapradesh and sustained Hindu culture fighting against Bahamany sulthans. Kamma Nayaks formed the bulwark of Vijayanagara army and were Governors in Tanjore, Madurai and Coimbatore areas of Tamil Nadu. The famous Kamma emperor Sri Krishnadevaraya flourished the glory of Vijayanagara kingdom to a wide region. He is very wise and organized. All leaders of Vijayanagara are so brave, deterministic, hard working and honest patriots. For an instance a Cheiftain Pemmasani Vishwanatha Nayudu suggested Srikrishna Devaraya to suppress the rebellion of his father Pemmasani Nagama Nayudu in Madurai. Later, Vishwanatha Nayudu was made Governor of Madurai. The Pemmasani Kamma clan still has a Zamindari near Madurai called Nayakarpatti.
An interesting historical episode was that another brave Kamma Nayak Pemmasani Thimma Nayudu saved the life of Krisnadeva Raya in the battle of Raichur with a nice strategic approach, ultimately rewarded as the Governor of Gandikota (Cuddapah district). Thimma Nayudu constructed a large number of temples in Rayalaseema region.
Kammas controlled parts of south and north Tamil Nadu for several years under the title of Nayacker, which was a legacy of the Vijayanagar Empire. Thirumala Nayacker of Madurai was the most famous among them.
A recent census showed there are over seven hundred thousand Kammas in Tamil Nadu.
After the decline of major kingdoms they still owned large fertile lands. Owing mainly to this they continued to dominate in the villages as village heads, especially in coastal A.P., much akin to the Reddys in the western parts of the state. One of the well-known dynasties that is linked to the Kamma community is the Vasireddy dynasty in Amaravati, established around 1413 AD. The prominent ruler was Vasireddy Venkatadri Naidu