A divine dream united two souls and two nations. The Karak clan was born when Indian Princess Suri Ratna sailed in a ship from Ayodhya to marry Korean king Kim Suro.
words: Ambica Gulati
India might be 4,711 km away from Republic of Korea (ROK) but hearts and souls know no distance. This lies proven at the ancient royal tomb of Gimhae in South Gyeongsang province. Like the love of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan lives on in the tombs in Taj Mahal, in this tomb lies the romantic legend of an Indian Princess Suri Ratna married to a Korean king Kim Suro of the Gaya dynasty in 48 CE. The two were the reason the Karak clan came into being.
The divine dream
Better known as the tomb of Heo Hwang-ok, this is a story designed in heaven and enacted on earth. The 13th century Korean chronicle, Samguk Yusa, narrates how Princess Suri Ratna of Ayuta, historians have identified this as Ayodhya, came to Korea to become the first queen of Geumgwan Gaya. On a hot May night, both her parents had a dream that the Korean King Kim Suro was looking for a queen. The Heavenly Lord or Sange Je told her parents to send Suri to Korea. And the young girl set sail for Korea, guided by her parents’ divine dream.
It was after her marriage that Suri told her husband King Suro that her name was Hwang-ok which means Yellow Jade and her last name was Heo or Hurh. She was only 16 years old. Now Heo is a common family name in Korea.
Birth of Suro
In that period, the Gimhae region had never united into a single kingdom, being ruled by nine chieftains. In 42 AD, during the spring festival, a divine voice from the sky told the people to go to the top of a mountain. There they found a golden bowl wrapped in red cloth. In the bowl were six golden eggs from which emerged six princes. On a full moon day, one boy was named Kim meaning gold, given the title Suro and proclaimed king. Within no time of his birth, he had grown to be nine feet tall. The other five children were made chiefs of the Gaya tribes. King Kim Suro founded a kingdom named Karak with its capital in the present Gimhae city.
The ship set sail
Legend also states that Suri came in a ship with a red sail with a red flag. It took her three months to reach the shores of Korea. During the journey, she also found Beondo, a peach which fruited only ever 3000 years. As this was the sacred fruit of love, she ate it steamed.
In her convoy were courtiers and 20 slaves, all seven feet tall. The courtiers were Sin Po and Cho Kuang with their wives Mojeong and Moryang respectively. The ship was laden with gifts of gold, jewels, silk, brocade, tableware and a tea plant. Later Suri planted the tea sapling in Korea, leading to tea cultivation in the country.
During this time, King Suro had been evading marriage set up by his chiefs as he was also following heavenly guidance. At the guided time, he sent one of his officers Yuch’ŏn-gan to take a horse and a boat to the island of Mangsan-do. There, Yuch’ŏn saw a ship with red sail and red flag. He escorted it to the shores of Gaya. And another officer, Sin’gwigan informed the King who sent nine clan chiefs to escort the ship’s passengers to the royal palace. But the chaste Princess refused to be accompanied by strangers. The King then got a tent to be pitched on the slopes of a hill near the palace.
The royal wedding
The entourage got Korean costumes to wear, and embroidered quilts and pillows to sleep in. Just before marrying the king, Suri Ratna performed a ritual of thanksgiving to the mountain spirit. She went to the top of the hill, took off her lower garment, which was made of silk brocade, and gave it as an offering to the mountain spirit. When it was time for some of the Queen’s escorts to return home, King Suro gave each of them 30 rolls of hempen cloth (one roll was of 40 yards) and 10 bags of rice to each person. The two courtiers and their wives stayed back with the queen. Legend states that the queen died at the age of 157.
Birth of Karak clan
Heo and Suro had 12 children—10 sons and two daughters. She requested Suro to let two of the children bear her maiden surname. So most Koreans with the surnames Kim and Huh/ Hoon/Heo from Gimhae and Lee from Incheon belong to the Karak clan. In 2014, this clan of more than six million people accounted for more than a tenth of Korea’s population of 50 million.
Years later, King Suro constructed a grand temple on the spot where he met the princess. This is the stone pagoda in front of Hwang-ok’s tomb called Chimpungtap or the Wind-Calming Pagoda. The stones it has been built of are from India.
Roots to India
In March 1999, the then Prime Minister Kim Jong-pil had invited the scions of the Mishra dynasty of Ayodhya to a memorial ceremony for King Kim Suro. In 2001, the mayors of GimHae and Ayodhya signed a Sister City Bond. BM Kim, of King Suro’s clan, granted Rs.2 billion to improve the infrastructure of Ayodhya and also build the monument dedicated to Hwang-ok.
In 2014, Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Akhilesh Yadav had extended an invitation to the Governor of Gyongsangnamdo province Heon Dang Haw to visit the memorial and strengthen relationships between the two countries. The Department of Tourism, Government of Uttar Pradesh, had also written to H.E. Ambassador of Korea to India Joon Gyu Lee asking for architectural support for the monument. The state government plans to upgrade the monument and build new facilities which are in sync with Korean designs.
As the bonds between the two nations are made by a divine marriage, the new Gimhae Gaya Theme Park in ROK will also house an Indian food restaurant. Here, visitors can experience the magical love story through a musical rendition.