Karaiyar in Sri Lanka

Send Joshua Project a photo
of this people group.
Map Source:  People Group data: Omid. Map geography: UNESCO / GMI. Map Design: Joshua Project
People Name: Karaiyar
Country: Sri Lanka
10/40 Window: Yes
Population: 201,000
World Population: 201,000
Primary Language: Tamil
Primary Religion: Hinduism
Christian Adherents: 15.81 %
Evangelicals: 0.00 %
Scripture: Complete Bible
Online Audio NT: Yes
Jesus Film: Yes
Audio Recordings: Yes
People Cluster: South Asia Hindu - other
Affinity Bloc: South Asian Peoples
Progress Level:

Introduction / History

Sri Lanka has been called one of the most beautiful places in the world. Unfortunately, a 26-year civil war starting in 1983 took place in the island country. Up to 100,000 died and there was millions of dollars in property damage. The majority Buddhist Sinhalese declared victory over the Tamil Tigers in 2009. Since that time the Sri Lankan economy has begun to rebound, and tourists have returned to the island. The Karaiyar are a Tamil caste of Sri Lanka found mostly on the northern and eastern coasts of the island. Traditionally the Karaiyar are a maritime community who served as naval forces for the empires of South India and Sri Lanka. They fought against the European colonial powers in modern times. Many leaders and soldiers of the Tamil Tigers were from this people group.

What Are Their Lives Like?

The Karaiyar are slowly rebuilding their lives since the ending of the Sri Lankan war. Much of their property was destroyed in the war. Many of this Tamil group lost their lives in the war. The Karaiyar are still involved in fishing and transporting goods by sea. They trade pearls, fish, shells, tobacco, and other goods on an international scale. They own tracts of land that is worked by others. They encourage their children to obtain university degrees and learn English. The Karaiyar marry within their group. Marriage to one wife is the norm. Sons inherit property upon the death of their father. The Karaiyar consider it part of their identity to be Hindu.

What Are Their Beliefs?

The Karaiyar practice Hinduism, the ancient religion of India. They worship and serve the gods of the Hindu pantheon. Hindus believe that by performing rituals and good works that they will attain moksha or freedom from the endless cycle of birth, death and rebirth. The Karaivar visit Hindu temples and offer prayers, food, flowers, and incense to their gods in hope of gaining protection and benefits. They do not have a personal or familial relationship with their gods like Christians do with their heavenly Father. There are many forms of Hinduism, each with its own deities and beliefs. The main yearly holidays of the Karaivar people are Holi, the festival of colors and the start of spring, Diwali, the festival of lights, Navratri, the celebration of autumn and Rama Navami, Rama's birthday.

What Are Their Needs?

The Karaiyar need to put aside the bitterness caused by the Sri Lankan war and rebuild their lives. They need to see that they are sinners who can only be forgiven by the grace of God known through Jesus Christ and the Bible. They must comprehend that Jesus is much more than another Hindu god or guru.

Prayer Points

Pray for a spiritual hunger among the Karaiyar leaders and heads of households that lead them to seek the truth about Jesus. Pray that Karaivar followers of Christ may grow in their knowledge of the faith and live exemplary lives before their family and neighbors. Ask the Lord to raise up a Disciple Making Movement among the Karaivar of Sri Lanka in this decade. Ask God to lead many believers all over the globe to pray for the Karaivar.

Text Source:   Joshua Project