The efforts by Vijayanagar commanders in the fifteenth century to consolidate their power were closely connected to the rise in power by the Nayakas. Consolidation of power seems to have been related to the establishment of Nayakkatlanam (land granted to Nayakas by kings) by the Vijayanagar rulers. The Nayaka's authority was superior to the Nattavars. Although the subordination of Nattavars to Nayakas in the sixteenth century cannot be questioned, they are shown in these inscriptions as collaborators with the Nayakas or their agents in controlling local affairs. Nattavars seem to have had the right to impose certain taxes on the people of their locality. The Nattavars had also been in control of local production. They must have been the leading landholders and in that capacity, they occupied the key position in the political structure linking the Nayakas and the common people of the locality.
Composition of Nattavars
Men comprising the Nattavars included members of various communities such as Pillai, Mudali, Reddi, Vanniya, etc. and also Kachchirayars. Some of them have the title Arayan. Arayan was a title taken by many big landholders in the later Chola period. Many Reddis are found among the big landholders whose names are recorded in the British revenue documents of this area in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Though there is no other clear evidence, one may say from the above that the Nattavars were mainly representatives of the big landholders (Kaniyalar) of the locality.
The Kachchirayars, who were powerful in the fifteenth century, were deprived of their political power by the Vijayanagar commanders and seem to have been downgraded and absorbed in the social stratum represented by the Nattavars.
Function of Nattavars
The Nattavars are known to have collected certain dues such as Nattu-Kanikkai and Nattu-Viniydgam from various communities for their local administration. It is stated in some inscriptions that the Nattavars imposed forced labour on all the people of their locality, and reported this to the higher authority. The Nattavars in the upper valley of the Vellar River in the fifteenth century, however, are known to have defended themselves from the exactions of Vijayanagar commanders and soldiers. The Nattavars of that area were successful in having the Nayakas accept their practice of controlling local production. It is also known from sixteenth-century inscriptions of the same locality and from inscriptions in other localities as well, that they collaborated with local rulers (Nayakas or chiefs) in granting lands or tax remissions to temples. Judging from this, they must have been the actual controllers of local production, having under them small landholders, cultivators, and perhaps artisans and merchants also, and providing a link with local rulers such as Nayakas, or chiefs like the Kachchirayar.
Decline of Nattavars
The position of the Nattavars seems to have become precarious in the course of the sixteenth century. This situation must have been related to the consolidation of Nayaka rule in most parts of the region, as the Nayakas started to administer their territory employing their own agents by the beginning of the sixteenth century. During the Vijayanagar period, the importance of the Nadu as the territorial unit for local production seems to have decreased in many localities for some reason. Establishment of a new trade centre (Pettai), might have been the cause, or the re-organization of the local production system after the establishment of the Nayakkattanams.
Although the term Nattavars (literally, people of the Nadu) continued to be used, the actual unit of local administration shifted from the Nadu to the area called Parru in many localities during the Vijayanagar period. The fact that the number of Nattavars of one Parru varies from one to seven in the five inscriptions referred to above may indicate the appearance of very big landholders who might have controlled more than one Nadu or Parru, becoming the agents of a certain Nayaka. In that event, the original character of the Nattavar as a corporate body of landholders in a locality must have been lost, even if the name was retained for some time.