Sri Lankan Chetties

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Sri Lankan Chetties
Total population
6,075 (2012 census)[1]
Regions with significant populations
Christianity (mostly Roman Catholic and Anglican), Hinduism
Related ethnic groups

Sri Lankan Chetties (Sinhala: ශ්‍රී ලංකා චෙට්ටි, romanized: Śī laṁkā Ceṭṭi, Tamil: இலங்கை செட்டி, romanized: Ilaṅkai Ceṭṭi) also known as Colombo Chetties, is an ethnicity in the island of Sri Lanka.[2] Formerly considered a Sri Lankan Tamil caste, were classified as a separate ethnic group in the 2001 census.[3][4] They were a class of Tamil speaking Hindu Vaishyas, who migrated from the South India under Portuguese rule.[5]


The word Chetty is a generic term denoting all merchant and trading groups of South India.[6] The word is thought to have been derived from the Tamil word Etti, an honorific title bestowed on the leading merchants by Tamil monarchs.[7]


A Sri Lankan Chetty of 18th century

Most of them trace their origin from Madurai, Tirunelveli and the Coromandel Coast of Southern India.[8] They settled mostly in westernSri Lanka, especially in the ports of Jaffna, Colombo and Galle from the 16th century to mid 17th century, during the rule of the Portuguese and Dutch.[9][10] Some of the Chetties in Northern Sri Lanka were absorbed in other communities, mainly in the Sri Lankan Vellalar community, considered a subcaste known as Chetty Vellalar.[5][11] The Chetties of Western Sri Lanka converted to Roman Catholicism under Portuguese rule. Other converted to Anglicanism or Protestantism under Dutch rule and British rule.[12] Intermarriage and alliances between Sinhalese and Chetties were not uncommon thus many also got Sinhalised.[13][14]

Historical population
2001 10,800—    
2011 6,075−43.8%
Source:Department of Census
& Statistics
Data is based on
Sri Lankan Government Census.

Representatives of the Colombo Chetty Association stressed out their distinctiveness, appealing for forming a separate ethnic group. The Chetties were notably also from 1814 to 1817 listed as a separate ethnic group.[5] The Chetties used dress distinctive from rest of the population in the colonial era.[16]

As an elite and prosperous group they no longer strictly marry amongst themselves. In addition, migration to Australia, England, United States of America and Canada has tended to dilute their numbers.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  • Casiechitty S, The Castes, Customs, Manners and Literature of the Tamils. Colombo: Ceylon Printers, 1934.
  • Pulle Tissera Shirley - History of The Colombo Chetties - 2000
  • Thurston E, Castes and Tribes of Southern India
  1. ^ "A2 : Population by ethnic group according to districts, 2012". Census of Population & Housing, 2011. Department of Census & Statistics, Sri Lanka.
  2. ^ "Census of Population and Housing 2011". Retrieved 2018-01-24.
  3. ^ Reeves, Peter (2014-03-07). The Encyclopedia of the Sri Lankan Diaspora. Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore: Editions Didier Millet. p. 27. ISBN 9789814260831.
  4. ^ Holt, John (2011-04-13). The Sri Lanka Reader: History, Culture, Politics. Duke University Press. p. 70. ISBN 978-0822349822.
  5. ^ a b c Wickramasinghe, Nira (2015). Sri Lanka in the Modern Age: A History. 165, 174, 274: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780190225797.CS1 maint: location (link)
  6. ^ Population Review. Indian Institute for Population Studies. 1975. p. 26.
  7. ^ West Rudner, David (1987). "Religious Gifting and Inland Commerce in Seventeenth-Century South India". The Journal of Asian Studies. 46 (2): 361–379. doi:10.2307/2056019. JSTOR 2056019.
  8. ^ Peebles, Patrick (2015-10-22). Historical Dictionary of Sri Lanka. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 64. ISBN 9781442255852.
  9. ^ Sivaratnam, C. (1964). An outline of the cultural history and principles of Hinduism. Stangard Printers. p. 276.
  10. ^ Silva, K. M. De (1981). A History of Sri Lanka. University of California Press. pp. 175. ISBN 9780520043206.
  11. ^ F. Nyrop, Richard (1986). Sri Lanka, A country study. American University, Washington, D.C.: Foreign Area Studies. p. 108.
  12. ^ Vijayalakshmi, E.; Studies, International Centre for Ethnic (2005-01-01). Cultural minorities of Sri Lanka: their growth, achievements, and relevance today. International Centre for Ethnic Studies. p. 8. ISBN 9789555800969.
  13. ^ Vijayalakshmi, E.; Studies, International Centre for Ethnic (2005-01-01). Cultural minorities of Sri Lanka: their growth, achievements, and relevance today. International Centre for Ethnic Studies. p. 10. ISBN 9789555800969.
  14. ^ Peebles, Patrick (2015-10-22). Historical Dictionary of Sri Lanka. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 78. ISBN 9781442255852.
  15. ^ "Population by ethnic group, census years" (PDF). Department of Census & Statistics, Sri Lanka. Archived from the original (PDF) on 13 November 2011. Retrieved 23 October 2012.
  16. ^ Kemper, Steven (2001). Buying and Believing: Sri Lankan Advertising and Consumers in a Transnational World. University of Chicago Press. p. 82. ISBN 9780226430409.

External links[edit]