Vokkaliga (Kannada) (pronounced Okkaliga) also known as Gowda is a term for various agricultural, previously endogamous social groups with a martial past, found mainly in the Old Mysore Region, Bengaluru Urban, Bengaluru Rural, Kolar, Chikkaballapura, Ramanagara, Tumkur, Mandya, Shivamogga, Chikmagalur, Madikeri,Dakshina Kannada and Hassan of southern Karnataka. The Vokkaligas are primarily agriculturists. They form a politically and numerically dominant Hindu forward caste group and were the most populous group until the States Reorganisation Act of 1956 which enlarged the erstwhile State of Mysore by the inclusion of predominantly Canarese districts of the State of Bombay, State of Hyderabad and Coorg, (Mysore State was renamed Karnataka in 1973) following which the Lingayats became the most populous social group in Karnataka.
Vokkaliga is a Kannada word of considerable antiquity finding mention in some of the earliest available literary works of the language, such as the Kavirajamarga, Pampa Bharata, Mangaraja's Nighantu et al. and has been used as an appellation for the cultivator community since time immemorial. Generally the term has come to mean an agriculturist though various etymological derivations are available. A few likely derivations are as follows:
- The word Okka or Okkalu in Kannada (Dravidian in origin) means a family or a clan and an Okkaliga being a person belonging to such a family. This is an allusion to the totemistic exogamous clans which together form an endogamous sub group, of which there are many amongst the Vokkaligas. These clans are called Bali, Bedagu, Kutumba, Gotra or simply Okkalu all of which mean 'family'. They are named after their progenitor, primary occupation or in most cases after various birds, animals or objects. All the clans have their very own patron god and goddess (called Mane Devaru or Kula Devata) and it is practice to refer to oneself as belonging to that particular god's Okkalu.
- Great (Royal dynasties) Rulers or founders such as Gangas of Talakadu, Rastrakutas,Kadambas,Badami Chalukyas are vokkaligas.
- Okkalutana in Kannada means agriculture and the epithet Okkaliga has been used to refer to a person belonging to the cultivator community.
- Alternate etymologies include Okku which means threshing, said to refer to their agricultural activities from which is derived Okkaliga. It is also supposed to be a contraction of the name Okkahaalu Makkalu which claims the origin of the castemen from the breastmilk of Parvati. This however is merely attributing a divine origin, a common practise in most of the Indian castes.
- Vokkaligas (15-17%) stands 2nd largest populated community in Karnataka after Lingayats (19%).
- 55 out of 224 MLA's (55/224) are from Vokkaliga caste in Karnataka assembly. Lingayats (52) and Vokkaligas (55) constitute more than 50% in Karnataka Assembly. Etymology of Gauda is also heavily debated by scholars. The term and its archaic forms in Old Kannada such as Gamunda, Gavunda, Gavuda, appear frequently in the inscriptions of Karnataka, recorded in the Epigraphia Carnatica. In fact the Epigraphia Carnatica is replete with such references to land grants, donations to temples, hero-stones (Veeragallu), stone edicts and copper plates dating back to the age of the Western Ganga Dynasty (est. 350 CE) and earlier. Attributing a Sanskrit origin, H. V. Nanjundayya has derived the word from Grama or Gava meaning a village and Munda meaning head, thus a Gamunda being the head of the village. Vokkaligas are traditionally known to have been feudal landlords and village chieftains and to this day remain major land-holders. Edgar Thurston, (Castes and Tribes of Southern India), the popular Kannada linguist Shamba Joshi and others propose a derivation from the Sanskrit - go (cow) and govala (cowherd) (Govala->Goula->Gowda). Moreover, though the Vokkaligas did practise animal husbandry, Govalas (from whence Golla) or the Yadavas/Kurubas form a separate caste group and they were traditionally herdsmen. According to Shamba Joshi all castes are derived from Halumatha community and they are were called as "Gowda's" in his famous research book "Halumatha Darshana". Alternatively Tamil origins to the word claim its derivation from kavundan or kamindan (one who watches over). The Vokkaligas of Tamil Nadu (found mostly in and around Coimbatore,Theni & Dindigul districts) use 'Gowdar (though sometimes addressed by tamils as Kaundar)' as their surname. Whether the name Gauda/Gowda is an allusion to the Gauḍa region or not has not been conclusively proved.