Organised by the Consulate General of Korea, International Institute of Tamil Studies and the InKo Centre, the conference on ‘Cultural exchange between India and Korea in antiquity’ brings together researchers and scholars, with an aim to trace and establish linguistic and cultural links between Tamil Nadu and South Korea. Rathi Jafer, Director at the InKo Centre, points out that the link between South India, more specifically Tamil Nadu and South Korea, goes a long way back.
“Researchers have found 500 words which are similar in Korean and Tamil, with the same meaning and connotation. There have been instances of blacksmiths going from here to South Korea. There is the historical journey of Bodhidharma, the monk believed to be from South India who spread Buddhism to China and Korea. We aim to initiate a research project soon to examine the historic links between South India and South Korea, both the ancient trajectories and the contemporary manifestations of this inter-cultural exchange. Of particular interest will be the Buddhist links that existed between the Pandyan, Pallava and the Gaya kingdoms, the manner in which Buddhist scriptures, iconography, language and the introduction of iron and steel are credited as having been transferred from South India to South Korea,” she says.
Korean researcher Jung Nam Kim, who will participate in the conference, says many theories have been proposed to explain the origin of the Korean language. “The most prominent of these link Korean to the Altaic languages of central and east Asia, a family that includes Turkish, Mongolian, and Japanese. However, there are very few words, which have the same pronunciation and the same meaning between Korean and each of the Altaic languages. The competing theory associates Korean with the Dravidian languages, notably Tamil, which has many similar words to Korean,” notes the Canada-based researcher.
Kim’s research delved into the arrival of Tamilians in Korea. “Tamilians must have arrived in South Korea in first century B.C. In addition, the Korean people have been called ‘the nation of white-coloured dress’. Why? Traditionally the Korean people like wearing the white-colored dress despite the cold weather. This custom must have been brought in by Indians including Tamilians who are used to wearing the white-coloured dress because of the hot weather,” he adds.
The Korean drum dance is very similar to Thappaattam of Tamil. Scholar Kannan Narayanaa of Tamil Heritage Foundation, who has extensively been researching on the links between the two nations, says there is also a shared genetic connection. “According to popular legend, Heo Hwang-ok, a princess from the distant land of Ayuta, came by boat to Gaya, with her national symbol twin fish. She then married King Suro and became the first queen of the Gaya kingdom. Researchers thought that Ayuta is actually Ayodhya in India. But there has been mounting evidences to indicate that she was from Tamil Nadu, in particular Pandyan or Aai kingdom. Recent genetic studies by researchers Jeong-Sun SEO and Kim Jong-il on the remains of her tomb revealed genetic similarities between Indians and Koreans,” explains the scholar, adding that a lot more research needs to be done.
Similar words in Tamil and Korean
Kim drew a linguistic parallel between the two cultures. “‘Apahada’ in Korean and ‘Avadhippadu’ in Tamil share the meaning of ‘ to be painful, to suffer’. Similarly, ‘Omomo!’ in Korean is the same as ‘Amama!’ in Tamil, which signifies ‘astonished, stunned, flabbergasted, appalled, shocked, dumbfounded’. The Tamil word ‘thalattu’ is the same as Korean word ‘dalaeda’ because they refer to soothe, calm down, mollify, cajole, coax a person, especially a crying baby,” he revealed.