NEW DELHI—Two thousand years ago when there was no internet, no social media, and no matrimonial apps for cross-cultural and cross-national alliances, a 16-year-old princess from India sailed to Korea to meet her husband in a journey that changed the course of dynastic history and continues to drive forward the diplomatic and cultural relations of India and South Korea.
The marriage of Indian princess Suriratna, known as Hur Hwang-ock to the Koreans and King Kim Suro of the Gaya Kingdom in 48 A.D. started the Karak dynasty to which six million Koreans today historically trace their ancestry.
The love between the iconic couple continues to pave the future of diplomacy between the two countries and the cultural connection between the ancient towns of Ayodhya in India and Gimhae City in South Korea from where Hwang-ock and Suro respectively were.
“President Moon’s administration is trying to develop the political relations and strategic ties based on this historical partnership,” Dr. Sonu Trivedi, Director of Indian Cultural Centre at the Embassy of India in Seoul told The Epoch Times over the phone. “So that’s why this has been used as a major tool or foreign policy instrument.”
The Gimhae City Office defines the “story of Gimhae and India” as a relationship “made by heavens” and “opening to a new future.”
“The Gaya Kingdom stood at the base of Northeast Asia, blossoming in its prosperity as the center of the Ironware Culture and maritime trade. The love story between the founder of Gaya Kingdom, King Suro, the son of the Heavens, and Hur Hwang-ock from the mysterious land of India transcends two thousand years to open a new future for Gimhae,” said the Gimhae City Office in a storybook shared with The Epoch Times.
Trivedi said the Gimhae clan people tell Indians that they are also from India because their maternal grandparent was from India. “That is the strong connection they still believe in,” she said.
2000 Years Ago
Princess Hwang-ock came from the kingdom of Ayodhya, the origin of which is found in the “Great Tang Records on the Western Region” by seventh-century Chinese Buddhist monk Xuanzhang, said the Gimhae City Office.
Ayodhya is a city of antiquity and was on a major pilgrimage and trade route attracting pilgrims and traders from around the world those days and was thus linked with the global land and sea routes, according to Indian historian Mahendra Pathak, an associate professor of ancient history at the Saket College in Ayodhya.
Prof. Pathak was working with the late Korean Prof. Sung-Kyun KIM whose research questions on the historical connections between Ayodhya and Gimhae include tracing records about Hwang-ock’s brother, Jangyuhwasang who came from Wolji Country, according to the Gimhae City Office.
The Wolji country is also called Yuezhi or the Kushans who at the peak of their conquest ruled from present-day Afghanistan to regions in today’s Central India. According to a Bactrian and Greek inscription found in Afghanistan, the Kushan territory included Ayodhya which was then called Saketa. It was in Saketa that Buddha Sakyamuni spent a total of fourteen years at various intervals of his life.
The Yuezhi were non-Han people who originated from the Gobi desert region of today’s China and one of the five tribes of the Yuezhi in the course of history formed the Kushan dynasty of India which was one of the four main global powers at the time when the princess Hwang-ock sailed to meet King Suro, said Pathak.
He said the princess would have most likely taken the sea silk route of those days, which was already existing among traders and through which Indian Mahayana Buddhist monks also traveled to Korea later.
Princess Hwang-Ock’s and King Suro’s matrimonial process finds its description in “Samguk yusa” (“Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms”), written by Il-Yeon that actually described the period of the foundation of ancient Gaya.
King Suro in this memorabilia addresses himself as the son of heaven. Samguk yusa says that the princess’ parents dreamt of the kings of heavens who asked them to send the princess for King Suro, according to the storybook by the Gimhae City Office.
“I departed on a ship, but the God of the Oceans did not let me pass with his anger. So I returned and embarked with a stone tower on the ship, and could safely arrive here,” quotes the Gimhae City Office in its narration of the Princess Hwang-Ock’s journey. The mythical stone tower is currently found in the royal tomb of Hwang-Ock in Gimhae.
The Fish Symbols
Dr. Trivedi said a few fish symbols have today become reminiscent of the connection between Ayodhya and the Gimhae’s ancient ancestry—a pair of fish are found at the entrance of royal tomb and gate and they are also in the state emblem of Uttar Pradesh, the Indian state in which Ayodhya lies today.
When The Epoch Times visited Ayodhya in early December, it found fish symbols on many traditional architectural buildings and temple entrances at exactly the same location as that seen in the Royal Tomb entrance pictures shared by the Indian Embassy in Seoul.
“Following his will, the people painted a pair of fish, Pasa Stone Tower, and an elephant statue, the symbol of Ayodhya Kingdom,” said the Gimhae City Office in its booklet about the pair of fish painted on King Suro’s Tomb.
Pathak said in all major civilizational literature there’s are stories about a massive flood disaster that is indicated with metaphors of fish and boats. “Fish as a metaphor in Indian mythology means creation and reincarnation,” he said.
In the narrow bylanes of Ayodhya, The Epoch Times found a book on Ayodhya’s history by three local writers that mention that Ayodhya was called Matsyakar in Sanskrit, meaning the shape of a fish in the ancient Indian epic of Ramayana. Ayodhya is also believed to the birthplace of King Rama whose life story the Ramayan narrates. This however couldn’t be verified from other sources.
Everywhere around #Ayodhya I found fish motifs adorning the doors. Most locals don’t know what they mean.
— Venus Upadhayaya (@venusupadhayaya) December 6, 2020
“It has been a decade since the Queen passed away. I will also follow the order of the Heavens and join the Queen. We met through the fate of a thousand years and we will reunite in another fate of a thousand years. When I die, put marks of the Queen on my grave,” the Gimhae City Office quoted King Suro’s death wish as narrated in the “Samguk yusa.”
When Hwang-ock arrived in Korea, she was not alone. Along with her arrived her Indian retinue who were later integrated into the kingdom’s royalty and started playing a crucial role in the maritime trade between the two nations. Her seven sons went on to follow Jangyuhwasang to study Buddhism while another son was married to Japan, creating the nation of Yamatai, said the Gimhae City Office.
Jangyuhwasang is believed to have built one of the oldest temples on the Korean peninsula, the Eunhasa temple on the western side of Sinosan Mountain, meaning “a sacred fish.”
Princess Hwang-ock also brought along with her matrimonial gifts, which included an Arabian horse for the king and tea saplings that produce Janggun tea, one of the best teas that became a part of the Korean culture and her legacy.
“Kushans were famous for their horses. Kamboj (a border region between today’s Afghanistan and Pakistan) produced good quality horses in that period,” said Pathak.
Ayodhya and Gimhae became sister cities over two decades ago and since then both the Indian and South Korean governments have started various commemorative public projects in the sister cities. The diplomatic relations also involve interaction between the current royalty of Ayodhya and Gimhae.
“I told them I don’t have a history of 2000 years. My ancestors’ history can be traced back to only 250 years. They told me since you are of Ayodhya’s royal family, we consider you that,” Bimlendra Mohan Pratap Mishra, the current head of Ayodhya’s royal family told The Epoch Times in his palace called the Raj Sadan.
Mishra was invited to Gimhae and was accorded royal facilitation about two decades ago after which the Republic of Korea sent a monument on Mishra’s name that’s erected at the bank of Ayodhya’s historic river, Saryu, he said.
“Republic of Korea and India’s connection started because of Ayodhya. As part of this two years ago, the first lady of Korea visited Ayodhya as the chief guest at the Deepotsav festival. This has strengthened the camaraderie between India and South Korea in social, cultural, and other aspects,” said Mishra.
The Gimhae City Office mentioned that the sister city affiliation between Gimhae and Ayodhya was accorded in honor of Mishra’s visit.
“In 2017, Gimhae signed a Memorandum of Understanding of Amity and Cooperation with the State of Uttar Pradesh (UP), the center of Indian politics. The relationship with the State of Uttar Pradesh, a grand city of 200 million population, will help Gimhae to enter the Indian market,” said the Gimhae City Office.