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Kuruba, (also known as Kuruba Gowda, Kuruma and Kurumbar Halumata Gowda) is a Hindu caste native to the Indian state of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.[1] They are the third-largest caste group in Karnataka.[2] Traditionally, they were shepherds, militiamen from the hills, armed vassals, or postmen.[3] They practiced sheep/goat and cattle pastoralism, in that they either herded exclusively sheep, or a mixed herd of sheep and goats, or cattle.[1]


The term kuruba, meaning shepherd, is derived from kuri, meaning sheep. Shepherding was traditionally their primary occupation[4] and still is for many, who lead a nomadic lifestyle.[5]


Oral traditions of the Kurubas indicate their descent from Neolithic farming villages in South India which also kept cattle. Oral traditions indicate some of these original cattle-keeping agriculturalists branched off into new habitats and quickly came to rely on sheep pastoralism, absorbing Mesolithic hunter-gatherers. Rituals associated with hunting presumably came from the integration of these hunter-gatherers into the Neolithic pastoralists. These pastoralists later became almost totally separated from their villager antecedents and interacted with them only based on initial conflict and acculturation. For pastoralists such as the Kurubas, the horse became an important pack animal after the Iron Age and an animal for fighting. Nanjundaiah claimed the Kurubas were the descendants of the Pallavas.[6] Groups of soldiers from the Kuruba community became important in the armies of Deccan powers in the Medieval era.[7] It is believed that Kurubas are ethnically related to the Kuruvars of Sangam literature. This is also supported by the fact that Kuruvars worshiped Murukan and his Kuruvar wife, Valli whereas Kurubas worship Mailara/Mallanna, who represents Murukan, and his Kuruba wife, Kurubattyavva.[3]

Traditional sources claim that the Kurumas or Kurubas founded the Sangama dynasty, the founding dynasty of the Vijayanagara Empire.[8] According to Ramchandra Chintaman Dhere, a scholar of the religious traditions of Maharashtra:

The history of South India shows clearly that all the southern royal dynasties who arose from pastoralist, cowherd groups gained Kshatriya status by claiming to be Moon lineage Kshatriyas, by taking Yadu as their ancestor, and by continually keeping alive their pride in being 'Yadavas'. Many dynasties in South India, from the Pallavas to the Yadavarayas, were originally members of pastoralist, cowherd groups and belonged to Kuruba lineages.[9][10]


They have three divisions, namely Unnikankan, Hattikankan and Hande. Those who subsist on the wool economy wear a Unnikankan (wool bracelet), while those in agriculture wear a Hattikankan (cotton bracelet). These bracelets are tied during the marriage ceremony. Hande Kurubas claims a higher position than the other two and prefers to be called Nayakas. They were an important part of the armies of Hyder Ali and Ankusagari Poligars. Nayakas were military leaders who often became Inamdars.[11][7]

The priestly class of Kurubas is called Oderu Kuruba. They don't eat meat and wear the lingam, and to that extent they resemble the Lingayats' Jangamas.[12]

In Maharashtra, they are a sub-caste of Dhangar community.[13] Kurubas and Dhangars have the same religious ideas and practices. The Kannada speaking Dhangars of southern Maharashtra can easily be called Kurubas. They are divided into Unnikankan and Hattikankan Dhangars, which are subdivisions of Kurubas.[14] Dhangars' priestly class is called Vadad, derived from Oderu, which is the priestly class of Kurubas. They differ from Kurubas only in name and language.[15]

Varna status

By the 1920s, some of the Kurubas had begun to call themselves Prathama Sudra ('first Sudra') or Indra Sudra ('chief Sudra').[6] In Karnataka, the Kurubas are classified as Other Backward Class in the Indian system of reservation and are generally seen as social equals to the Vokkaligas and Reddis.[16][17] However, the community has been seeking to be reclassified as a Scheduled Tribe. Since the community is more dispersed, the Kurubas have been called a non-dominant minority community. The Kuruba community's population in Karnataka is around fifty lakh (five million), which is 8-9% of the total 6.5 crore (65 million) population of the state.[18]

The Kurubas of Kodagu district are classified as a Scheduled Tribe.[19][20]

Current situation

The Kuruba community mainly inhabits the eastern parts of Karnataka. The region is mainly plateau broken up by hills, rivers and tanks. The soil in this region is mainly red soils, and red sandy loams, unsuitable for agriculture. The low hills and plains have scrub and rocky country, ideal for pastoral lifestyles.[7]

The Kurubas traditionally practiced transhumance pastoralism: moving with large flocks of sheep from one pasture to the other. A secondary source of livelihood was once weaving kamblis, but that had mostly disappeared by the 20th century.[6] With the disappearance of pastureland, they have been settling down to agriculture, some as landlords and other as tenants. Today, the majority of Hattikankan Kurubas practice farming and cattle-breeding, and many Unnikankan Kurubas are also farmers. But some also sell sheep and goats, as well as cow dung, in a symbiotic relationship with local farmers.[7][21]


Although the Kurubas are traditionally Saivites, they worship a variety of deities. Mailara, Mallanna, Mallikarjuna, Vitthal (in his original Shiva form) and Beerappa, who all are forms of Shiva, and Yellamma are some of the important gods of Kurubas. They consider Vitthal and Beerappa as brothers, however, Beerappa has traditionally been their exclusive deity.[3][22][7] Other deities they worship include Batyappa, Irachikappa, Kallu Kambhadappa, Budalappa, Settipalleppa, Karakuappa and Lakshmi Devi. They worship all gramadevatas and sacrifice sheep and goats.[6]

Previously, the Kurubas celebrated parashe where the group of Kurubas throughout a region celebrated the festival of their gods. During this time Goravas, an order of saints dedicated to Mailari Devaru, are initiated. During the parashe, the idol of the temple where the parashe takes place is washed in a river, and decorated with hoovu-vibhuti. The worship is conducted by a Kuruba pujari and the Goravas sing songs dedicated to the deity. However, these celebrations were largely gone by the 1920s. The Kurubas also worship Iragaru, men who die unmarried, by building temples and setting up stones for them.[6] They bury their dead.[7]

Notable people


  1. 1.0 1.1 Murthy, M.L.K. (1 February 1993). "Ethnohistory of pastoralism: A study of Kurubas and Gollas". Studies in History. 9 (1): 33–41. doi:10.1177/025764309300900102. S2CID 161569571.
  2. Ranganna, T. S. (12 August 2006). "Kuruba community sets a new trend at math". The Hindu. Retrieved 30 June 2020.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Feldhaus (1989), p. 106.
  4. Ramchandra Chintaman Dhere, Translated by Anne Feldhaus (2011). Rise of a Folk God: Vitthal of Pandharpur, South Asia Research. Oxford University Press. pp. 240–241. ISBN 9780199777648.
  5. "Bandaru assures ST category for Golla-Kuruma". The Hindu. Special Correspondent. 25 August 2015. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 27 May 2020.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 H.V. Nanjundayya; L.K. Anathakrishna (1988). The Mysore tribes and castes, Vol 4. Mysore, Mysore University. pp. 27–67. OCLC 830766457.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 Murty, M. L. K.; Sontheimer, Günther D. (1980). "Prehistoric Background to Pastoralism in the Southern Deccan in the Light of Oral Traditions and Cults of Some Pastoral Communities". Anthropos. 75 (1/2): 163–184. ISSN 0257-9774. JSTOR 40460587.
  8. Dhere, Ramchandra Chintaman (2011). Rise of a Folk God: Vitthal of Pandharpur, South Asia Research. Feldhaus, Anne (trans.). Oxford University Press. p. 237,238,243. ISBN 978-0-19977-764-8.
  9. Dhere, Ramchandra Chintaman (2011). Rise of a Folk God: Vitthal of Pandharpur, South Asia Research. Feldhaus, Anne (trans.). Oxford University Press. p. 245. ISBN 978-0-19977-764-8. Vijayanagar's kings were Yādavas; therefore they were Kurubas; and therefore Viṭṭhal-Bīrappā must have been their original god. The temple of Anantaśayana depicts a clothed form of Viṭṭhal. At Mallikārjun temple near Mallappanaguḍī, there is a broken image of Viṭṭhal in a shrine. In Hampī, bas-reliefs of Viṭṭhal are sculpted on pillars of the Viṭṭhal temple and Kṛṣṇa temple. In Lepākṣī, there are sculptures of Dhangars standing with a blanket draped over his head, his arm resting on his staff, and his chin resting on his arm. He must be there as a reminder of the family that built the temples. There is no other reason for a human being to be carved here, when almost every other carving on the numerous pillars of these temples depicts a god or a mythological event. These two popular motifs, Dhangars and Viṭṭhal, present a clear image of the family background of the founders of Vijayanagar and the roots of their faith.
  10. Iyer, L.K. (1988). The Mysore Tribes and Castes Volume 1. The Mysore University. p. 68. ISBN 9780836425352.
  11. Feldhaus (1989), p. 107.
  12. Feldhaus (1989), p. 122.
  13. Central Commission for Backward Classes (20 October 2020). Central List of OBCs Maharashtra (Report). Archived from the original on 10 November 2020.
  14. Feldhaus (1989), p. 106-107.
  15. Feldhaus (1989), p. 113,122.
  16. Feldhaus (1989), p. 112.
  17. Central Commission for Backward Classes. Central List of OBCs Karnataka (Report). Archived from the original on 20 October 2020. {{cite report}}: |archive-date= / |archive-url= timestamp mismatch (help)
  18. Gejji, Anil. "Karnataka: Kuruba campaign seen as bid to erode Siddaramaiah's clout". Bengaluru. Archived from the original on 23 December 2020. Retrieved 17 December 2020.
  19. "List of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes" (PDF). censuskarnataka.gov.in. 2010. p. 3.
  20. "Scheduled Tribe List". kstrimysuru.in. 2021.
  21. Feldhaus (1989), p. 113.
  22. Dhavalikar, Madhukar (2014). Socio-economic Archaeology of India. Archaeological Survey of India, 2014. p. 274.