What is common between Ukrainians and Cholas of South India?
by Jayasree Saranathan on 16 Jun 2021 2 Comments

This article is best understood after reading Swat Valley in Afghanistan: the region of Rama’s ancestors



Two salient features of that article are

(1) King Sibi, the ancestor of Emperor Rama of Ayodhya was associated with the region of the upper reaches of River Swat in Pakistan. That region was home to wise people of those times who were engaged in Vedic rites.


(2) Among the descendants of King Sibi, the lesser known or unknown branch is that of Cholas. Taking up the name of Sibi as Sembiyan for his lineage, the first Chola who happened to be one of the sons of King Bharata (son of Dushyanta) established a dynasty after his name as Chola that came to be regarded as one of the three powerful dynasties of ancient Tamil lands.


We discuss a feature associated with Cholas that might help in solving the conundrum of migration or invasion from central Asia to India or vice versa. That feature is very simple but not deciphered till now – the etymology of the word ‘Chola’.


‘Chola’ is not the way it is pronounced in Tamil. It comes with unique ‘zha’ of Tamil language, the retroflex phoneme. It is Cho-zha. Yet another unique feature of this word is that there is no meaning attached to this word in any dictionary of Tamil. Chola refers to the king Chola, or of Chola dynasty. There is no etymology for Chola in Tamil.


Tracing the meaning of Chola


There are two types of names as per Tamil grammar, Idukuri peyar and Kaarana peyar. The first one refers to the name that is in existence from antiquity without any particular reason behind it. The second one refers to the name that was formed with some reasoning, in other words, a name that can be explained. At the outset one is tempted to identify the name ‘Chola’ as Idukuri peyar. But knowing the background of the first Chola coming from the house of Emperor Bharata, we have an option of looking at the roots of this name from Sanskrit. It turns out this name Chola is a Kaarana peyar - having a meaning.


Outwardly the word Chola does not seem to have a meaning in Sanskrit, but the variations of this word like Choda, Chaula etc., do convey a meaning having relevance to Cholavarman. Taking up the word Choda, its root word in Sanskrit is ‘chud’ which means ‘impel’. It makes sense when we look at the background of Cholavarman. Cholavarman was the son of Bharata according to the genealogy of Cholas found in Tiruvalangadu copper plates. But according to Vishnu Purana, Bhagavata Purana and Mahabharata it was Bhumanya who inherited the throne from Bharata, by-passing nine other sons.


Bharata originally had nine sons from three wives, but the texts say that none of them bore resemblance to Bharata. This made their mothers worried that the king would suspect their fidelity and therefore they killed their own sons! This sounds appalling on first reading, but on further thinking this looks absurd and impossible too. For, a similar situation existed in the life of Bharata, as his birth and existence were not at all known to his father Dushyanta. However, Dushyanta accepted Bharata as his son. If Bharata himself had such an odd background in which his father accepted his mother’s word about his birth, it is strange that he faced similar circumstances not once but nine times with reference to all the nine sons. Stranger still is to believe that the mothers themselves killed their sons. Strangest of all is the fact that our country was named after this king as Bharat!*


So there is something in this story that we are missing. What is implied could be that none of the nine sons were equal to or surpassing their father Bharata. More than Bharata himself, this had troubled his wives (the mothers) who could have censured their sons. Not finding any of them worthy to succeed him to the throne, Bharata did a yajna and got a worthy son (Bhumanya).


What happened to those nine sons? As per Cholan genealogy, one of them came all the way to the southernmost part of the country and established a kingdom of his own. The driving factor was ‘Chud’ – he was ‘impelled’ to prove himself that he was a worthy son of Bharata.


The same word when written as Chuda, it means the crest, the top or the crown of the head or of the lineage. Chuda also means tuft of hair! Another variation, Chaula also refers to tuft of hair. The Chaula ceremony is an important ritual in Vedic culture which is about the first tonsuring ceremony of the boy child when a tuft of hair is left untouched on the head.


One can find a surprising connection between Cholas and the tuft, in the form of an adage in Tamil: “Choliyan kudumi chumma aadaathu” – meaning the ‘Chola (Choliya) does not shake his tuft for no reason! Thurston and Rangachari in their book on castes and tribes of India had recorded that this adage refers to vindictive nature of Choliya Brahmins. But it is understood among Tamil speakers as referring to motive-based behaviour of Choliya Brahmins.


Thurston also says that Chanakya of Arthashastra fame was a Choliya Brahmin for he sported a top-knot. But there is no proof to connect him with Chola lands. Probably his front knot gave him that identity. Even today the Brahmins of Tamilnadu sporting a tuft at the top of the head are identified as Choliya Brahmins - Brahmins belonging to Chola lands. The bottom-line is that Chola is associated with tuft on the head.


Generally the tuft is kept at the back of the head. But Choliya Brahmins have it on top of the head. A popular depiction of a Brahmin of Chola land was that of Azhwarkkadiyaan, a character in the novel “Ponniyin Selvan”, shown with a ‘mun kudumi’ – a front- tuft! This depiction was in tune with the perception of a characteristic feature of Chola Brahmins.


Sporting a tuft is not confined to specific people such as Brahmins. Until a century ago everyone irrespective of varna had a tuft, so it can be assumed that Cholan kings also kept a tuft on their head.


The specialty about the Chola tuft is that it was kept at the crest of the head. The tuft at the top of the head seems to convey a message that Cholavarman stood as a jewel on top of the head (Chuda). The top-knot became a symbolism or a reminder of his position – who was once disregarded by his father, Bharata.


Choosing Sibi over Bharata!


It is only from the inscription we come to know that Chola was the son of Bharata. Nowhere in the history of Cholas do we come across any reference to Bharata. This is perhaps due to the unpleasant circumstances that impelled Chola to leave his parents. But the Cholas had always identified themselves as descendants of Sibi, as Sembiyans. The pigeon and hawk story of Sibi is recalled very often in Sangam Tamil poems whenever the Cholan kings are praised for their compassion for all beings. Compassion is what Cholavarman didn’t experience from his parents. It was lack of compassion that drove him out of his house. This obsession with compassion perhaps made the Cholas cling to King Sibi, known for his exemplary compassion, in the genealogical tree.


Sibi appears in the sibling branch of Yayati’s sons. Yayati had five sons, two from Devayani of Brahmin ancestry and three from Sharmishta of Danava ancestry. Bharata, son of Dushyanta came in the lineage (direct descendants / first son) of Puru, of maternal Danava ancestry. Puru inherited the throne from Yayati. (Mahabharata 1-95)


Sibi appears in the lineage of Anu, another son of Yayati, once again from Danava ancestry on the mother’s side. (Vishnu Purana 4-18).  Sibi’s mother also happens to be the daughter of Yayati (the conflict of relationship may be discussed later). From this it is seen that Cholas had taken up their early ancestors from within the family of early siblings with reputed names, namely Puru and Anu. They had taken up Rama’s early ancestors also. All these patrilineal branches have sprung from a single remotest ancestor, that is, Vaivasvata Manu.


Another feature to be mentioned here is that it was Solar dynasty from Manu onwards, but Sibi and Bharata belonged to the Lunar dynasty.  The Chola who claimed himself as the son of Bharata identified himself with Solar dynasty. In modern scientific terms, there is only one branch of science that could shed light on these shifting dynasties accompanied with discrepancies in lineages. And that science is Genetics! The Cholan genealogy found in the inscriptions offers a valuable clue on how the founder Haplogroup gives rise to diversities at different time periods. Before making my musings on that let me find out the route taken by the first Chola to Tamil lands.




Looking from a migratory angle, the first Chola was a migrant from North India whose ancestor Sibi was in Swat region in present day Pakistan! Today a place or region called Sibi exists in Pakistan but not near the origins of Swat River.


This Sibi is also connected with King Sibi as many dynasties sprang from him in later days, taking up his name. During Mahabharata times there were 20 kingdoms in the region of Indus and its tributaries of which that of Jayadratha was powerful. Jayadratha was the son-in law of the Kurus by marriage with the sister of Duryodhana. The entire region of 20 kingdoms was where the Indus Valley civilization (IVC) flourished.


Today one of the important IVC sites is located in a region called “Cholistan”, a name resembling Chola! It is situated to the east of present day Sibi and to the south of the region where Bharata was supposed to have ruled.


The IVC location is in the dried bed of Sarasvati in the Cholistan desert. A figurine with what appears to be a front knot of hair is found in Harappa, north of Cholistan. This gives rise to a view that persons with top-knot were present in this part of IVC. If it is assumed that Chuda or Choda or Chola was a special name for a people with top-knot, this figurine can be deemed as a proof of his kin living in this part of India – a case of same genetic pool in two places far away from each other – one in South Tamilnadu and another in the Indus region!


But the time period of Cholavarman was much before the date of IVC. This is ascertained from the information in the inscriptions of Tiruvalangadu copper plates on the birth of River Cauvery. This river was not in existence when Cholavarman founded his empire. It was brought later by his descendant Chitradhanvan, inspired by the Bhagiratha’s feat of bringing down River Ganga.


Cauvery River was in existence for a very long period and existed before the IVC period. The sediment analysis on the bed of River Cauvery is needed to know the time period of its birth which could offer a reference-point for determining the date of Bharata and Cholavarman.


Yet another figure with the top-knot is what is called as “Vasishtha’s head”, dated around 3700 BCE! The original location where this artefact was picked up is not known, but it was got from an Indian source and is presently housed at San Francisco. The hair style looks like a gathering of the hair on top and locking it into a knot. The sides of the head are shaved. This gives an appearance of a tuft on top of the head. The figure is certainly not of an ascetic like Vasishtha, but of a Kshatriya. The top-knot is a special identity.


Movement outside India


There are quite a few references in the Puranas and the Mahabharata on the movement of Yayati’s clan to North and West of India. According to Vishnu Purana (4-10), before retiring to the woods King Yayati divided his land into central, southeast, south, west and north and handed them over to his five sons. Of them Druhyu of Danava maternal descent went to the west and Anu of the same Danava maternal descent went north. Sibi was a descendant of Anu’s lineage.


Vishnu Purana (4-18) says that Sibi had 4 sons, Vrishadarbha, Suvira, Kaikeya, and Madra. Of them the names Kaikeya and Madra are self-revealing. Kaikeya must have founded Kekaya country that was further north of Balkh while Madra could be identified with Balkh region – the regions that AIT promoters identify with invading or migrating Aryans. The fact of the matter is that these territories were first occupied and developed by the sons of King Sibi, belonging to the indigenous Indian breed!


Now the question arises: what happened to those who moved to Balkh and Kekaya? Was there any further movement towards north, that is, to central and north Europe? The tradition of keeping top-knot answers this question.


Top-knot as a mark of identity


If top-knot is an identity of the Cholas, the same is the identity of the Ukrainians! The traditional hair-cut of Ukrainians (known as Cossacks) was to leave a tuft of hair on top of the head and have the rest of the head shaved. The tuft was treated as a mark of noble dynasty and self-identity. The amazing similarity with the Indian version is that the Ukrainian word for this top-knot is Chub – closely resembling the Sanskrit root ‘Chud’ for Choda or Chuda which means tuft or crest of the head. In the Ukrainian language also, the same meaning exists for Chub - as ‘crest’!


The top-knot is also known as khokhol, but used as derogatory word by those ill-disposed towards Ukrainians who kept top-knot. Those having the khokhol are referred to as khokhly. This name seems to resemble kukkuta, a Sanskrit word for hen or rooster. Kukkuta bird has a crest similar to chub, the tuft on top of the head. In fact the crest of the hen or cock is known as Chuda in Sanskrit. Any crest is a Chuda. Perhaps seeing the similarity with hen’s crest, people had ridiculed them, by referring to the ‘chuda’ of the hen. This kind of references are possible only if the early Ukrainians had used the Sanskrit word (Chuda) or its corrupt form (Chub) for the tuft.


Another striking similarity is with the Tamil word for hen: ‘Ko-zhi’. Khokhol resembles Ko-zhi or its corrupt form Koli.


The importance attached to this Chub (tuft) is such that many Ukrainian surnames are derived from this word. The origins of this tradition among Ukranians are not known, nor do they know the concept behind this tradition. At the most they remember it as a mark of identity – much like the Cholia Brahmins, who are identified by their top-knot. 


The concept behind the tuft is well marked in Vedic culture. In the Vedic tradition, any boy on reaching the 3rd year must undergo the ‘Chaula’ ritual in which the first shaving of the head is done keeping a small lock of hair untouched. And the tuft will remain throughout one’s life. There are many meanings attached to it. One is associated with the offer of oblations to departed ancestors – which is done by the water dripping down from the tuft after a bath. At the most sublime level, it stands for the qualities needed to know the Supreme Brahman.


The location of the tuft in the head and the strands varied between sects, but they are based on some ideology. For the Chola, its location on the crest comes with a symbolism as already explained. The Ukrainian tuft also seems to imply a symbolism. However, the continuing presence of rituals and meanings attached to the tuft in Vedic culture seem to be a precursor to and also antiquated than the Ukrainian tradition.


A likely cause for the presence of this tradition with a similar root-name at two places, one in India / South India and another in Ukraine could have happened with the movement of people of the same stock between these two places. The missing link is provided by Sibi’s descendants who moved further north of India into Central and north Europe. 


From Sibi’s region to Ukraine


The name Ukrajina for Ukraine sounds like ugra-jina – both Sanskrit words, where Jina refers to the old or wise that is usually associated with Jaina or Buddha. Sibi was an exalted person – though associated with Buddha later. His region had the mountain called Bodhibhavana – the likely name for Hindukush Mountain. His descendants on their northward migration might have taken up that name and image while being fierce or even noble (ugra has several meanings including these two) in their incursions to newer locations.


What genetic studies say...


So far we have discussed two issues:

(1) The similarity in top-knot among Ukrainians and Chola or South Indian sects with some presence in the Indus region as well.

(2) The diversification of a people in India from parental clans into sub-sub clans over a long period of time. This can be articulated as follows:


Cholavarman known for a specific identity of sporting a top-knot had his immediate ancestry somewhere in the northern region of Indus-Sarasvati regions, which can be dated based on a research on the time of origin of River Cauvery in South India. Let us name this ancestry as (a). There is a possibility of a sub-clan of his (Chola) settled down in the Indus-Sarasvati region during the Harappan phase. This is (b).


A branch of his (Chola) ancestral sub-clan had existed near Swat valley and further moved to Balkh (Bactria) and Kekaya (BMAC). From there it had spread out to the north – to Central and North Europe. This is (c). Yet all of them had their paternal origins in Manu that had its presence in North East India in Ayodhya! This is (d).


The relationship between all these (a,b,c,d) can be expressed in the language of genetics. All these pertain to Y-chromosome. All these can be arranged in time scale as follows:

(d) is the founder parent Haplogroup {Manu}

(a) is the first division from (d) from which (a1) deviated {Chola moved out}.

(c) is a division from (d) that appeared after (a) but before (a1). (c) moved out of India in the northern direction possibly creating further diversifications. {Sibi’s descendants}

(b) could be a sub-clan of (d) and / or (a1) with further diversifications. {The location is in IVC}.


Looking for the available genetic studies, Y-Haplogroup R1a1 is found to be present in India (including Pakistan and Afghanistan) particularly in the Indo-Gangetic plain and in Eastern Europe around Poland and Ukraine! Interestingly, it is present in high frequencies among Iyengar Brahmins (31%) of South India (Sengupta et al 2006). It is high among Ukrainians (44%) from a total of 6 haplogroups detected there (Kharkov V.N. et al 2004). In another research its frequency (R1a1) was found to be 50% among the Ukrainians (Battaglia et al 2009)


A clinching revelation of the ancestral location of this Haplogroup comes from the research of Sharma et al (2009). It says,

“...observation of R1a1* in different tribal population groups, existence of Y-haplogroup R1a* in ancestors and extended phylogenetic analyses of the pooled dataset of 530 Indians, 224 Pakistanis and 276 Central Asians and Eurasians bearing the R1a1* haplogroup supported the autochthonous origin of R1a1 lineage in India and a tribal link to Indian Brahmins.”


The ancestral haplogroups R, R1 and R1a are scanty, meaning they are mostly gone. What does this mean to the dispersal of people like Chola and Sibi that we discussed in the beginning?


Y-Haplogroup R1a1 are sub-sub clans of Manu?


The founder person of Indian masses was Manu whose presence started at the beginning of Holocene. He entered River Sarasvati through a flood in the ocean. This is possible only through the Arabian Sea. This at one stroke makes the AIT irrelevant as the Vedic rishis did not come through mountain passes but through waters – Varuna-Mitra and aided by Indra (rains). This puts Manu’s previous abode in the west coast of India or south of it. In other words the pre-Holocene presence of this Haplogroup was very much in South India.


-         The false idea spread by AIT theorists is that the invading Aryans became the Brahmins who dominated others by segregating them into castes lower to them in status. The above genetic study demolishes this theory. The finding that Brahmins were indigenous to India and they were founders of other castes is in tandem with how varnas were recognised and castes developed.


-         The differences in the attitudes and attributes of people were recognised and segregated as varnas. These differences exist in nature and by nature. Even among the sons of Manu, few were ascetically inclined (Brahmins), one was a Vaisya and others were Kshatriyas. That is, those with the same Haplogroup from the same gene pool can be anyone among Brahmins, Vaisyas and Kshatriyas. If one understands this, there won’t be any difficulty in understanding the genetic finding on Brahmins having links with the other castes (identified by occupation and / or mix-up of varnas).


-         At times the Brahmins (and other varnas too) become a separate caste owing to a reason of going away from the traditional vocation or on becoming a vratya. A Tamil Sangam poem says that a Brahmin not engaged in doing Yajna takes up the job of shell-cutting. Castes were identified based on profession. The shell-cutting Brahmin would no longer be recognised as a Brahmin but by a caste name. Genetically both the Brahmin ancestor and shell-cutting descendant would be seen coming from a same gene pool.


-         In Mahabharata (3-82), sage Pulastya identifies a place in Kashmir somewhere to the east of Vitasta (Jhelum River) where Brahmins originated for the first time. This place is the sacred lake called Devika, where Lord Maheswara is worshiped. What this could mean is that the stratification and sanctification of varnas was done at this place of Maheswara by the sages of Manu’s times.


-         The founder groups namely R, R1 and R1a were in India only but mostly extinct. This could refer to Manu and the early people. There is a wide geographical gap between the later formed R1a1 in Eastern Europe and India. This is reflective of the location of the people (Cholas, Ukrainians etc.) identified with a common cultural trait as explained above.



‘Most published discussions of R1a origins are actually about the origins of the R1a1a (R-M17 or R-M198) sub-clade, which is both numerically dominant, and the most studied part of R1a. Data so far collected indicates that there were two widely separated areas of high frequency, one in South Asia, around Indo-Gangetic Plain, and the other in Eastern Europe, around Poland and Ukraine. The historical and prehistoric possible reasons for this are the subject of on-going discussion and attention amongst population geneticists and genetic genealogists, and are considered to be of potential interest to linguists and archaeologists also’.


The sad part of the last sentence of the above quote is that they have failed to recognise the history of India known from internal sources right from the southern tip of India to northern Devika Lake or from an age old tradition of the much ignored tuft at the crest of the head! 




Cholan genealogy found in Tiruvalangadu Copper plate inscriptions:

-        http://www.whatisindia.com/inscriptions/south_indian_inscriptions/volume_3/no_205b_aditya_ii_karikala.html

-        Spread of Y-DNA Haplogroup R1a1: https://sites.google.com/site/induscivilizationsite/3-b-indus---genetic-studies/r1a1-----haplogroup-spread

-        Sharma et al (2009) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19158816

-        Sengupta et al (2006) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1380230/

-        Ukrainian genetic studies: http://www.khazaria.com/genetics/ukrainians.html


Not to be missed:


* Bharata: In the narration of Bharata getting accepted by Dushyanta as his son, on the word of Shakuntala, a verse explanatory of his name runs as follows: “The mother is only the receptacle; it is the father by whom a son is begotten. Cherish thy son, Dushyanta; treat not Sakuntala with disrespect. Sons, who are born from the paternal loins, rescue their progenitors from the infernal regions. Thou art the parent of this boy; Sakuntala has spoken truth.” From the expression cherish, Bharaswa, the prince was called Bharata (Vishnu Purana 4-19)


On the one side Shakuntala had spoken the truth, on the other Dushyanta accepted it and decided to ‘cherish’ the child. Bharas is the root word meaning ‘cherished’. Therefore the child came to be known as Bharata.


As Dushyanta cherished this son, our country is cherished by the Vedic culture. Like father by whom the son is begotten, the Vedic culture has begotten us and is cherishing us. Therefore this country is known as Bharata.


For Vedic culture to cherish us there is one requirement fulfilled by us – we have to be truthful – to ourselves, to this land and to the cherisher, the Vedic culture!




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