Beyond Caste and Creed: Shared Ancestry Unites Diverse Warrior Communities of the South-west Coast

A groundbreaking genetic study has shed new light on the ancestral origins of the traditional warrior class and feudal lords from the southwest coast of India. The communities in focus include the Nairs, Thiyyas, and Ezhavas from Kerala, as well as the Bunts and Hoysalas from Karnataka. This comprehensive research, led by JC Bose Fellow Kumarasamy Thangaraj at CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), involved the analysis of DNA from 213 individuals belonging to these communities.

The study reveals a closer genetic connection of these groups to populations in North-west India, resolving longstanding debates about their genetic origins. Historically, there have been two primary theories about their origins: one linking them to migrants from Ahichhatra in the Gangetic plain and the other to Indo-Scythian clan migrants from North-West India.

The researchers employed genome-wide autosomal markers and mitochondrial DNA markers in their analysis. They compared their findings with both ancient and contemporary Eurasian populations, ranging from the Bronze Age to present-day groups. This approach has unveiled that the Nair and Thiyya warrior communities predominantly inherited their ancestry from ancient migrants from North-west India. Moreover, they possess an enhanced Iranian ancestry, akin to the Kamboj and Gujjar populations. The maternal genome of these communities reflects a higher distribution of West Eurasian mitochondrial lineages, indicating female-mediated migration.

This study not only sheds light on the genetic makeup of these communities but also highlights the complex migration patterns and cultural transformations that have shaped the diverse genetic landscape of South-west India. The findings of this study, published in the journal ‘Genome Biology and Evolution’, underscore the rich heritage and complex history of migration, settlement, and admixture that characterizes the region. The south-west coast of India, as a result, stands out as a region of high genetic and cultural diversity, having been inhabited by various groups like Jews, Parsis, and Roman Catholics over millennia. This new genetic evidence confirms that the South-west coastal groups are remnants of very early migrations from North-west India, following the Godavari basin to Karnataka and Kerala​​​​.

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