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Heo Hwang-Ok, the Indian Princess Who Became the Korean Queen

Updated on July 13, 2020
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India and Korea, did you ever imagine these two countries could have something in common? I was, indeed, taken by surprise, when I got to know about Heo Hwang-ok. If you go by the Korean mythology, she was an Indian princess who later became the queen of Korea, two millenniums ago.

The Origins

The 13th-century chronicle, Samguk Yusa, interpreting as the Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms, states that Heo was a legendary princess of the "Ayuta Kingdom."

Legend has it that she arrived on a boat from a distant country and married King Suro of Geumgwan Gaya in 48 CE, becoming the first queen of Geumgwan Gaya.

The chronicle describes Ayuta merely as a distant country. Yet, a few theories are surrounding it. Some scholars identify Ayuta as Ayodhya in India. Whereas, others claim it to be Kanyakumari, located in the southern part of India.

The Ayodhya Theory

Prof Byung Mo Kim, a renowned national archeologist from Korea, has not only done quality research on this topic but also shares a genetic connection with Ayodhya.

Affirming that he shares genes with the royal family of Ayodhya, Prof Kim states that his ancestors belong to the Kara dynasty of Korea. It is the first Kara king, King Suro, who married the Princess of Ayodhya.

Interestingly, the Kara clan comprises over two-thirds of the Korean population, making Queen Heo the ancestor of various Korean lineages.

During his recent visit to Ayodhya, he shared historical evidence of cultural ties between Korea and Ayodhya.

One of the fascinating pieces of evidence is the use of a twin-fish symbol. Prof Kim found the emblem on almost all notable ancient landmarks of the holy place of Ayodhya. Here is the exciting part. He claims the same sign is present at the gate of the royal tomb of King Suro in Kimhae city in Korea.

The Tamil Theory

Scholars suggest Princess Heo was a Tamil, belonging to a vassal to the Pandya kingdom, called Ayi, which is present-day Kanyakumari in India. And they have credible evidence to corroborate their claims.

The first argument being that the ancient name of Kanyakumari was Ayuta in the same period as the Princess set sail to Korea. Besides, the ancient Tamil Pandya Dynasty coined the twin fish symbol as its emblem.

The other astounding evidence is the recent genetic studies on the remains of Princess Heo's tomb, that reveal strong genetic similarities between Koreans and Tamils. The fact that her name means Sem Pavalam in the Korean language, which is a coral ornament found only in Tamil Nadu at that time, makes the Tamil theory stronger.

Language Bond with Tamil

Did you know there are nearly 500 words similar in Korean and Tamil, and that, too, with the same meaning and connotation?

Korean kids call their parents as amma and appa. Wait, the word bonding does not stop there. If you listen carefully, you are for sure to find more words in the Korean language that sound like Tamil words. For instance, naal meaning day, pudhu meaning news, sourru refers to rice, and pull denoting grass.

It is enthralling to know that just like Tamils say vanakkam, Korean greet others with the word Vankkaamtta. The list goes on…

With the linguistic similarities, Tamil theory makes more sense.

Cultural Similarities with Tamil

The similarities between the culture of Korea and Tamil is a testimony, confirming the true origins of Princess Heo.

Just like Tamils, Koreans also follow the tradition of leaving their footwear outside the house. It may be surprising to you, but Koreans hang green chilies outside the house, to chase away evil spirits when a baby is born. Doesn't it seem like the practice followed here in Tamil Nadu!

Moreover, the cultural similarities extend even to the cuisines. Rice is a staple for both Tamils and Koreans. Koreans love their rice cakes, just like Tamils love idlis.

The Thai Angle

The other theory floating around the origins of Princess Heo states she came from the Ayutthaya Kingdom of Thailand. Yet, the scholars categorically rejected the argument. The simple reason is that the Thai city came into existence only in 1350 CE, long after the composition of Samguk Yusa!

The Legacy of Heo Hwang-ok

As per the Korean legend, six eggs, wrapped in red cloth, descended from heaven. From these eggs emerged six kings, and they found the six early kingdoms of Korea. One of the kings was King Suro of Geumgwan Gaya, located in the southeastern part of present-day Korea. During his regime, King Suro transformed the early tribal city-state into a powerful state.

When advised to marry, he stated that since he descended from heaven to rule the land, his selection of a spouse will be a divine command.

Call it destiny, but apparently, the heavenly lord came in Princess's parents' dreams and asked them to send their daughter to Korea to find her soul mate. Just as he wished, King Suro had an instant liking for the 16 years old Princess, and he married her. They had ten children, who later became the ancestors of over 6 million Korean descendants.

If you go with the legend, it states that the queen lived for 150 years. After the king's death, she successfully guided Korea's rulers, ensuring the clan's prosperity.

Two of her children went on to have her last name, Heo of Kimhae, to honor her ancestors. Meanwhile, the rest of her children got the king's last name, Kim of Kimhae.

Final Thoughts

Assuming the myth was true, isn't it intriguing to find similarities between two distinctive cultures, miles apart from each other? It would be great if scholars from the two countries took the necessary steps to establish the theory that indeed corroborates with the findings on this subject.

© 2020 Suganthi S


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