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Who is Heo Hwang-ok? Get to know Korea’s legendary queen with Indian roots

October this year will mark the inauguration of a memorial park in Ayodhya dedicated to Heo Hwang-ok – a revered Indian princess who features prominently in South Korean legends. Believed to have travelled by boat from an Indian kingdom – she’s credited for starting the Karak dynasty. Here’s what you should know about her.

In 2001, a monument commemorating the life of a Korean queen – and Indian princess – was inaugurated on the banks of the Sarayu river in Ayodhya. A few years later in 2018, South Korea and India signed an agreement to upgrade and expand the said structure. In line with this, the then First Lady Kim Jung-sook laid the foundation stone for the project on a visit. Today, a memorial park is set to open on October 23 in the presence of a delegation from the East Asian country. Built at a cost of Rs 21 crore, it will trace the life of princess Suriratna of Ayodhya who married Korea’s king Kim Suro in 48 AD and adopted the name Heo Hwang-ok.

Indian princess Hwang-ok features in a 13th century Korean chronicle

Legend – as stated in the 13th century Korean chronicle Samguk Yusa by monk Il-yeon – has it that a 16-year-old princess arrived in Korea on a boat from the distant land of Ayuta – phonetically similar to Ayodhya, hence the connection – her native kingdom. Post this, she married Kim Suro, the king of Geumgwan Gaya – modern day Gimhae city in Gyeongsang – and started the Karak dynasty – a lineage over six million Koreans from the Gimhae Kim, Heo, and Lee clans lay claim to today. Many have made the visit to Ayodhya to pay their respects.

Other reports add that she was the daughter of king Padmasen and queen Indumati of Kausala – a region that extended from the present-day Uttar Pradesh all the way to Odisha. The king had dreamt of his daughter marrying Suro and sent her along with an entourage on a boat to fulfil the prophecy. “Ayodhya has important relations with Korea,” South Korean Ambassador to India Shin Bong-kil was quoted saying in a report by Deccan Herald. “In archeological findings from the king’s tomb, artefacts belonging to Ayodhya have been found,” he added.

Queen Heo has different origin stories

In line with the above, professor Byung Mo Kim – Emeritus of Hanyang University – an archeologist from Korea visited Ayodhya since he shared a ‘genetic connection’ with the city. His work on the Ayodhya princess’ marriage to the King of Korea’s Kara dynasty received widespread recognition and points to the fact that the twin fish – Uttar Pradesh’s state symbol that appears across ancient buildings – is also the symbol of Geumgwan Kingdom.

Another theory by Dr Kannan Narayan – a retired professor and former Scientific Adviser and Coordinator of Korea Institute of Ocean Science and Technology – notes that based on Chinese legends – the name Heo Hwang-ok points to the South Indian kingdom of Pandya – Pandyas of Madurai – one of three most popular in Tamil culture. “Heo Hrang-ok, when translated from Chinese sounds more like ‘Chempavalam’ or ‘Chemba’ not Suriratna as proposed” – he noted before adding that the fish symbol seen on walls possibly dates back to a time when it was a part of the United Provinces. Interestingly, it was also the national symbol of the Pandya Dynasty. “It’s highly likely that the queen left the port of Athiyuthu from Tamil Nadu and not Ayodhya which might have been modified over time to ‘Ayutha’ in Korean.” he noted. It’s worth mentioning that – at the moment – there’s no concrete proof to these theories.

Queen Heo Hwang-ok Memorial Park is set to be a tourist attraction

The park, Economic Times reports, has been built on the Sarayu river in Ayodhya at a budget of Rs 21 crores. The legend – as discussed above – is inscribed on a stone structure in English and Hangul. The material for the same is a 7,500 kg, 3 m high stone shipped from South Korea. A Queen and King pavilion is in place with a pond and a footbridge to symbolise the royal’s boat journey. A golden egg – which lore adds the princess took with her to Korea – is also a part of the attraction, albeit with a granite rendition. The park will be inaugurated on the occasion of Deepotsav and authorities expect it to be a major tourist attraction.

Hero image: Courtesy India Post, Government of India, GODL-India <https://data.gov.in/sites/default/files/Gazette_Notification_OGDL.pdf>, via Wikimedia Commons; Feature image: Courtesy NamuWiki, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Who is Heo Hwang-ok? Get to know Korea’s legendary queen with Indian roots

Eshita is a food, alcohol, travel, and entertainment writer who spends her days thinking of the next big trend to write about. She’s a communication graduate with bylines in Conde Nast Traveller India, GQ India, Deccan Herald, and Girls Buzz. When not at work, you’re likely to find her hunting for a good read or charting out the perfect itinerary for a solo trip across Asia.


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