|WEST ASIAN CONTRIBUTION TO THE MALAYALAM LANGUAGE AND CULTURE OF KERALA AND KERALA CHRISTIANS
( Malayalam words transliterated in English are in italics )
Malayalam is the language of Kerala state in southwest India. Most scholars believe that the present day Malayalam language came into existence between 7th century and 9th century AD by a mixture of Tamil and Sanskrit languages. Before that Tamil was the prevailing language of Kerala. The oldest south Indian classic, “ Silappadikaram” written in Tamil by a Kerala prince in the 3rd century AD, mentions about “ Yavana”
( Greek ) seamen living in the city of Puhar of Chera empire (1).
Surprisingly, yavan is the word in Hebrew language for the Greek (2). The Greek civilization was at its peak around the period of Alexander the Great ( 4th century BC ) and the Greeks might have travelled all over the world by sea around that time. If the Greeks were in Kerala before the Jews and Arabs, the Greeks would have called themselves “ Ehleeneekoss” ( Greek people ) coming from the land of “ Ehlahdhah”
( Greece ) (3). Because the Greeks were called yavan, a Hebrew word, it could be well assumed that the Jews were in Kerala well before the Greeks. The Arabs were also involved in spice trade with Kerala well before the Greeks and the Romans.
The ships of King Solomon traded spices, ivory and peacocks from Kerala around 1000 BC (4). Some scholars disagree with the fact that the peacocks were introduced to Israel as early as King Solomon’s time. Actually, only the peacock tail feathers (plumage) were intoduced to Israel at the time of King Solomon (5). The peacock tail feathers are known as “ thokei” in Tamil language and “ tukki” in Hebrew language.
Many Bible scholars believe that the word tukki was derived from thokei. King Solomon was enriched with Indian spices, Indian perfumes, ivory and peacock tail feathers by Jewish trading with India.
Because of ths trade with Israel, some Jews could have stayed in Kerala. According to Johanna Spector, a well known filmmaker of Jewish Diaspora, Jews of South India are thought to have settled there during the era of King Solomon. The music of Cochin Jews ( Kochi ) contained strong Babylonian influences. The version of “ Ten
Commandments” with Cochin Jews, was almost identical to a Kurdish version. Some Jews might have immigrated to Kerala during the persecution by Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. The Hindu Kings of Kerala were very tolerant and received the Jews with warm welcome. If there were Jews in Kerala before Jesus Christ, what happened to them?
The white Jews of Kochi think that their ancestors came to Kerala when the Temple of Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD by Titus. When they arrived at Kodungaloor ( Cranganore ) in Kerala, black Jews ( not African ) and brown Jews were already there. These black and brown Jews had mingled with local people and had too much sun tan after living in a hot country for several centuries. Some of the Jews might have been converted to Christianity along with local people when St. Thomas, the apostle came to Kerala in 52 AD. The Kerala Christians are also known as St. Thomas
Christians. Historical evidences point to the immigration of Jewish Christians from Assyria and Persia to Kerala in the 4th and 9th centuries AD. Because of the mingling of two cultures, Kerala and West Asian, cultural exchanges involving spoken words, social customs etc could have experienced by the people of both groups for several centuries. But, the present day Christian population of Kerala may not want to admit any Jewish heritage. There are only a few Jews left in Cochin now, most of them immigrated to Israel after Indian independence.
Now, take the case of the letter “ ta ” in the Malayalam language. Many experts think that “ ta ” ( pronounced as the ta in paata meaning cockroach ) is a double-letter formed by two “ rha ”s ( pronounced as the “ ru ” in “ rush ” in English). Many words
that use “ ta ”, are considered as double-letters of “ rha ”. For e.g. Nooru ( 100 ) -> Nootandu ( century ), Naruka ( smelling bad ) -> Natom ( bad smell ). “ Ta ” is considered as a double-letter of “ rha ” because of the way it is written, one “ rha ” upon another “ rha ”.
Malyalam has many double-letters such as “ nka, ncha, ntha ” etc. All of them except “ ta ” have phonetical similarity to the component single letters. “ Ta ” is phonetically completely different from “ rha ”. “ Ta ”, similar to the English alphabet “ t” , is pronounced with the tip of the tongue touching the upper teeth. In contrast, “ rha ” is pronounced with the tip of the tongue twisted backwards a little bit with forcing of air outwards. Hence, “ ta ” should not be considered as a double-letter, rather, an alphabet letter derived from foreign sources.
Sanskrit and Dravidian languages do not have a letter or double-letter phonetically similar to “ ta ” which is similar to the English letter “ t”. The West Asians have an alphabet letter “ t ” which is very similar to the English letter “ t ”.
There are about 80 Malayalam words with the letter “ ta ” in them, most of them being considered as the double-letter derivatives of the words with single letter “ rha ”. Interestingly, these “ ta ” containing words are associated only with the Dravidian derived letters and not with the Sanskrit derived letters except in European derived words. That means the letter “ ta ” was in Kerala even before the development of Malayalam language. Since the letter “ ta ” does not belong to Sanskrit or Dravidian languages, it should have come along the sea route from the West Asian countries, most likely from Hebrew language. S. J. Mangalam, the author of “ Palaeography of Malayalam Script (1988)”, does not give a proper origin for the letter “ ta ” in his book even though he discusses in detail about each and every alphabet in Malayalam (6). If a foreign alphabet has to be used in Malayalam, that letter should have been used by people for several centuries before absorbing into the Malayalam language.
A similar problem exits with another so called double-letter, “ nta” as in avente in Malayalam or as in Antartica in English. This “ nta” is written as “ nrha”, but pronounced as “ nta”. This particular syllable, similar to the letter “ ta”, may also be of foreign origin.
Modern day Malayalees may have forgotten a vowel, “ kn ” in Malayalam language. There seems to be only one word, knuptam ( meaning – limited ), with this particular vowel. Because there were not many words with this vowel, “ kn ” was discarded from Malayalam language several years back and replaced knuptam with kliptam. This vowel may be similar to a letter used in Hebrew language words such as Knesset, Knanan etc. Sanskrit and other Dravidian languages do not have such a vowel.
Another connection is the Malayalam Calendar. Malayalam Calendar was started in 825 AD. In 2001 AD, Malayalam year is 1176. International horoscope ( signs of Zodiac ) using signs of Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius, Pisces, Aries, Taurus, Gemini and Cancer, appears to have derived from the Jewish Calendar (7). Malyalam Calendar also uses the names of the signs of Zodiac for its months, e.g. Leo is Chingam, Virgo is Kanni etc with the same meaning. Tamil Calendar or Saka Calendar have no similarity to the Jewish Calendar or Malayalam Calendar. Therefore Malayalam Calendar is derived from Jewish Calendar or Jewish Calendar is derived from Malayalam Calendar.
Moreover, Greek, Phonecian and Jewish coins were excavated from
Karur in Tamil Nadu, not far away from Kerala.
There are many similar words in Hebrew and Malayalam languages. Therefore it can be very well confirmed that connections between West Asia and Kerala existed in the ancient times, even before Jesus Christ.
For more reading:
Adigal, Prince Ilango ( translated by Alan Danielou ): Shilappadikaram ( The Ankle Braclet ); George Allen & Unwin Ltd, London ( 1965 ).
Gross, David: English-Hebrew-English Conversational Dictionary;
Hippocrene Books, New York ( 1991 ).
Berlitz: Greek for travellers; Editions Berlitz, Switzerland ( 1985).
The Holy Bible ( NRSV ); Collin Publishers, Glasgow ( 1989 ).
Cherian, Thomas: Names of Kerala Christians; Canada ( 1997 ).
Mangalam, S.J: Palaeography of Malayalam Script; Eastern Book Linkers, New Delhi ( 1988 ).
Triestman, Robin: A short explanation of the Jewish Calendar; www.wzo.org.il
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