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Published on: 07/25/21 11:30 AM

Guest column: Korea`s intriguing Tamil connect

Vanakkam, Seoul: the intriguing Tamil connect

It doesn’t take long for the hardcore Kdrama fan/certified Koreaboo (that would be people obsessed with Korean culture) from India to sit up and take notice of several familiar sounding words that fall from the lips of a Kim, Park, Choi or Song on-screen.

Out in South Korea (and the North too for all we know, except we don`t know) fathers are referred to as appa, abuji. Mothers are eomma. Elder sisters  are eonni. The male object of one`s affection are oppa, which translates to older brother…chetan, which is what many a Malayali woman calls her significant other! Pul is grass…in both Tamil and Korean; pul vettu, is to cut grass. Kundi is butt in Tamil, gungdi is just that in Korean. Nal is day in Tamil and Korean; sandai in Tamil (market) is sanda in Korean, a conjugated form of ‘sada’ (‘buy’ in English) and ‘salda’ (‘live’ in English); nan, I in both languages; pallu=ippal; come in is ulle vaa in Tamil, iliwa in Korean.

Apparently there exists  more than 500 words in Tamil and Korean, words that not only sound similar but hold similar meanings,  too. Comparative linguist Kang Gil-un has identified 1,300 Dravidian Tamil cognates in Korean and suggests that Korean is probably related to the Nivkh language  spoken by the Nivkh people in Outer Manchuria,  and influenced by Tamil.

The Consul General, Republic of Korea, Chennai said some years ago that it was  not simple coincidence that majority of Korean companies are based in Tamil Nadu. The Korean people’s way of thinking matches well with the Tamil ethos.

There are other cultural similarities too, like the fact that both Koreans and Tamils are largely rice-eaters, family is at the centre of society, that elders are given a huge say in the affairs of the younger generation, that most Koreans stay with their parents up until they marry or move away to another city for professional reasons, that a girl is expected to make a good marriage above all else, that an insane amount of pressure is put on youngsters to study, study, study till they drop.

Those who cotton onto the Tamil connect are at first puzzled, then delighted, then avidly curious. And the last category invariably starts to delve into the whys and wherefores of this cultural and linguistic similarity between a state in the south of India and a country some 5,000 kms  away.

Which is when they come upon an intriguing tale first recorded in the Samguk Yusa,  an  ancient Korean chronicle, about how an Indian princess came over to Korea from a distant land called Ayuta some 2,000 years ago,  to marry King Kim Suro and become Queen Suriratna or Heo Hwang-ok,  the first queen of the Geumgwan Gaya kingdom. The royal  couple had twelve children and more than six million Koreans today are believed to be their descendants.

Ayuta might sound similar to Ayodhya but the theory put forward is that it actually is Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu, which was known as Ayuta in olden times. However, a memorial to Heo Hwang-ok  was inaugurated by a Korean delegation in Ayodhya in 2001, and many South Koreans travel to that temple city to pay homage to Queen Heo Hwang-ok. Which pretty much puts the Kanyakumari connection on the back burner. However, a similar Sister City agreement signed in August 2016  between Chennai and the Korean city of Ulsan, too.

Intriguingly enough, this princess legend is not too well known in India. What`s more,  Korean historians do not credit it with holding any authenticity,  for all that it is a charming fable. The bottom line, though, is that be it trade, the Buddhism track or Queen Heo Hwang-ok, the Korean-Tamil connect brings  much happiness to the many thousand Tamil eonnis and ommas who have been happily devouring K-content for over two decades now.

This appeared in the Sunday Express Magazine of 25 July 2021.

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Sheila Kumar • July 25, 2021

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