Curious case of cultural similarities between Tamil and Japanese societies

Even as a kid I loved Tamils and their culture. I could forget myself in the story of Silappathikaram and Tholkappiyam. I dreamt of living during the time when valiant Cholas emperors reigned the South. It is during their period thousands of temples renowned for their superior architecture materialised. The big temple in Thanjavur is a testimony to the fact that extraordinary artisans existed during their time. Somehow just reading about them in Tamil academic books just were not enough for me. I had always wanted more. 

If I had to say one another culture that fascinated me as much as the Dravidian culture, it would be that of Japan. Just like Tamils, Japan is known for its rich culture and tradition. As you must have noticed, I have written and read enough about Japan through videos, novels, non-fiction and its popular culture manga and anime over the last five years. It really was a surprise when I realised that these two cultures have a lot in common. The similarity spans across customs, belief and ceremonies, some of which I had covered in my previous blog posts.

Initially I felt it just had to be a sheer coincidence, until I read a book written by Professor Susumo Ohno. In his book ‘World view and rituals among Tamils and Japanese’, Ohno says that many similarities between Tamils and Japanese can be recognised in several aspects, particularly in customs, marriage ceremonies, beliefs and funeral rites.

The book compares belief of three worlds – heaven, earth and the netherworld recorded in Tamil Nadu, with that of beliefs in Japan. It could be understood from the book that funeral rituals too have remained the same in the two societies. Harvest festival Pongal festival celebrated in Tamil Nadu and Little New Year celebration in rural community in Japan share similar characteristics. Both of them are celebrated for four days starting from burning the old and cooking red rice to eating sugar or sugarcane on January 15. The festival primarily is to celebrate good harvest of the year. Professor Ohno elaborates on linguistic similarity between Tamil and Japanese.

I have to accept that these similarities were more than coincidental and there are strong evidences to prove that some of them have origins in ancient Tamil Nadu, which could be termed as Dravida Nadu.

But obviously there is always more. For, deeper I dug more interesting the similarities became. I had written a blog piece about how food habits of Tamil and Japanese society were similar right from rice as the staple ingredient to presence of proteins, in form of red bean soup in Japanese food and lentils in sambar or paruppu rasam, and meat. Both cultures follow doll festival, which is golu and hinamatsuri, to ward of the evil, bless women in the family and also for prosperity. Latest one I had written was about arranged marriage culture, where the man and woman brought together by relatives or third party based on socio-economic factors court with an intention of marriage. These were the obvious ones I picked up on when I was reading manga.

Probably Tamils and Japanese culture are the only ones with the custom of sprinkling water outside house for cleansing, which is referred to as uchimizu and vaasal thelipu in Japanese and Tamils customs respectively. The main objective for sprinkling water, which is more common in summer, was to cool down the hot earth. Sometimes turmeric is added to the water before sprinkling, which is thought to have purification powers. In Tamil Nadu, after sprinkling water it is our custom to decorate the ground with kolam. 

The practice of sprinkling water before making kolam in Tamil Nadu
Uchimizu, sprinkling water outside one’s home exists in Japan as well. Source: Cool Japan

What I have unearthed are very few similarities between the two societies and obviously not enough proof to establish the link clearly. But I believe they are enough to establish the fact that two societies indeed have a lot in common and the very topic is worth looking it.


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