Haarini Balasubramaniam, Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu
Queen Heo Hwang-ok was the first queen of Geumgwan Gaya, present-day Gimhae in Southeastern Korea. She was born in 33 A.D. in India and is the legendary queen mentioned in Samguk Yusa (Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms) in the 13th Century. In Korea, she is known to be a native of the Ayuda Kingdom. She was one of the wisest and greatest queens of all dynasties that ruled Korea.
Queen Heo, also known as Suriratna was first believed to be from the Ayutthaya Kingdom of Thailand. However, later it was found that she was from India. Due to the similarity in sounds, it was concluded that she was from Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh, India. It was also officially acknowledged by the Korean Culture Centre India (KCCI), the press and culture department of the South Korean Embassy in India.
Later, some researchers claimed that Queen Heo was actually from Kanyakumari in present-day Tamil Nadu. It is believed that the boat in which she came to Korea had a flag with two fishes. The two fishes indicated that she was the princess of a small kingdom under the Pandya dynasty. The similarities between the Korean and Tamil languages also support this claim. It has been found that there are almost 6000 similar words between Korean and Tamil.
Queen Heo’s maiden name is also said to be Seembavalam. She went to Gaya because her parents told her to do so. The heavenly lord Sang-je appeared in her parents’ dream and told them to send her to Gaya and get her married to Kim Su-ro, who had been chosen as the King of Gaya. She was sixteen years old when she started her journey to Gaya. She went to Gaya in a boat with 22 people who were sent to accompany her. After a 2-month long sea journey, she finally reached Gaya.
King Su-ro, the founder of Geumgwan Gaya had refused to marry any of the maidens who were selected to marry him. The Samguk Yusa mentions that King Su-ro believed in the will of the heavens in the selection of the rightful woman for him. It is also believed that he knew already about Queen Heo’s arrival and was waiting for her. History tells that he decided to marry her the moment he saw her. The historical records of Gaya strongly indicate that King Su-ro and Queen Heo’s marriage was the will of the heavens.
Seemabavalam took on her first name Hwang-ok meaning yellow jade, and her surname Heo, to become the queen. After her marriage with King Su-ro, she had twelve children, two of whom took her surname. Her eldest son, Geodeung of Gaya, became King Su-ro’s successor while seven of her other children devoted themselves to Buddhism.
Queen Heo lived a long life even after her husband died and guided two generations of kings. She was actively involved in politics and palace affairs. She was one of the main reasons for the stability, peace, and prosperity of Geumgwan Gaya. She faced death when she was over 150 years old. Her tomb was built in Gimhae. It is believed to be located near King Su-ro’s tomb. Even after her death, she was remembered as a great queen and a prominent historical figure.
Queen Heo Hwang-ok did not only connect Korea and India in the past alone but is still a strong connection between the two countries today. In 2001, the Indian Government built a memorial for Queen Heo in Ayodhya that was inaugurated by Korean delegates. In 2018, the First Lady of South Korea laid the foundation stone for the expansion of this memorial. The Indian Government is also planning to collaborate with Korea to make a musical about Queen Heo. It was said that the musical would star Indian and Korean actors.
There are over 6 million people who track their lineage back to the Indian princess turned Korean queen. They are the Kim clan of Gimhae and the Lee (Yi) clan of Incheon. Her descendants include famous idols like Yesung of SUPER JUNIOR, Key of SHINee, and Xiumin of EXO. Her life story was portrayed in the 2010 drama “Kim Su-ro, The Iron King” played by actress Seo Ji-hye. Hundreds of South Korean people come to India every year to visit the memorial of this great queen. It is a matter of great honour for India that the Indian Princess is still being worshipped like a goddess in Korea.
What are your thoughts about this? Tell us in the comments!