The Thiya and Billava Community is a related ethnic group of “Ezhavas” which form the largest group among Hindu communities in Kerala i.e 73 Lakh populations which contributes to 23% of the Malayali Population. They are considered to be descendants of Villavar the founders of ancient Tamil Chera Dynasty who once ruled parts of southern India. In Malabar they are called Thiyya or Thiya’s, while in Tulu Nadu they are known as Billavas. They were formerly known as ‘Ilavar’. The word Ilavar is derived from Villavar which means archers who were a warrior caste among the Dravidians who ruled most of India. They were Ayurveda Vaidyas, Warriors, Kalari Trainers, Soldiers, Farmers, Cultivators, Siddha Phyisicans, and Traders. Some were also involved in texile manufacturing, liquor business and toddy tapping. Ezhava (Thiyya) dynasties such as the Mannanars also existed in Kerala. The Chekavar, a warrior section within the community, were part of the militias of local chieftains and kings. There were also renowned Kalari Payattu experts among them.
The most widely accepted theory is that the customs and beliefs of Ezhavas and Thiyas are very primitive and their origin go back to the dim past to those ancient pre-Tamil Sangam days. Their Tamil background gave them the God Muruga (Subramanya) and the Goddess Kali. Billava is a sub-caste of Villavar. Billava who reside in Karnataka were also the followers of Shree Narayana Guru like Ezhavas. Billavas are racially same as of Ezhava community of Kerala. Billavas were also previously engaged in Martial Arts, Toddy tapping, Ayurvedic and liquor business like Ezhavas. Reading, writing and teaching of bows, arrows and martial arts were the main activities practiced by some of the Ilava(now known as Ezhava) community in Kerala. There are also group within Billavas also called Thiyyabillas or Malaylali Billavas in South Canara district who considered part of the Malayalee community.
Tulu is the main language spoken by the Billavas. In some areas of Karnataka, Billavas also speak Kannada and identify themselves as “Kannada Billavas”. The dialect spoken by the Billava people is known as “common Tulu”. There are also subgroups within the Billavas (the Thiyyabillavas or Malaylali Billavas in the South Canara district) who are considered part of the Malayalee community.
The Thiya Community is a registered body under the Indian Trust Act and has 6 different governing body catering services to its community members spread out in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, UAE and USA. They all provide similar services to its members in the geography areas and are named as below:
- Thiya Samaj – Mumbai
- Sasihittlu Sri Bhagwathi Thiya Sangha – Mumbai
- Bharathiya Thiya Samaj – Mangalore
- Bhagavati Billawa (Belchadara) Sangha – Bangalore
- Thiya Samaj (Malayali Billava) – Dubai U.A.E.
- Thiya Welfare Association.
The latest amongst them is a newly born registered body that has 467 members and 50 working committee members in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Kerala, UAE and USA. The trustees forming the “Thiya Welfare Association” are stalwarts of the Thiya community and have tremendous experience and contacts to guide the newly formed Association into the next generation of Thiyas.