Heo Hwang-ok

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Heo Hwang-ok
Queen of Geumgwan Gaya
Issue Geodeung of Geumgwan Gaya
Heo Hwangok
Queen Suro Tomb.jpg
Tomb of Heo Hwang-ok in Gimhae
Other names Hurh Hwangok, Huh Hwang-ok
Korean name
Hangul 허황옥
Hanja 許黃玉
Revised Romanization Heo Hwang-ok
McCune–Reischauer Hŏ Hwang'ok

Heo Hwang-ok is a legendary queen mentioned in Samguk Yusa, a 13th-century Korean chronicle. She was the wife of King Suro of Geumgwan Gaya. The legend states that she arrived on a boat from a distant kingdom, and married the king in the year 48 CE. She was the first queen of Geumgwan Gaya.


The legend of Heo is found in Garakgukgi (the Record of Garak Kingdom) which is currently lost, but referenced within the Samguk Yusa.[1] According to the legend, Heo was a princess of the "Ayuta Kingdom". The extant records do not identify Ayuta except as a distant country. In the 20th century, Kim Byung-Mo, an anthropologist from the Hanyang University, identified Ayuta with Ayodhya in India based on phonetic similarity.[2] Historians consider this as a myth,[3] and there are no records of this legend in the Indian history.[4] Moreover, the Indian city now called Ayodhya was called Saketa in the ancient period.[5] Grafton K. Mintz and Ha Tae-Hung implied that the Korean reference was actually to the Thailand's Ayuhatta.[5] However, according to George Cœdès, the Thai city was not founded until 1350 CE, after the composition of Samguk Yusa.[5][3] Some suggest that Heo came from Ayi, a vassal state of the Pandya Kingdom in present-day Tamil Nadu.[6]

Marriage to Suro

After their marriage, Heo told Suro that she was 16 years old.[7] She stated her given name as "Hwang-ok" ("Yellow Jade") and her family name as "Heo" (or "Hurh"). She described how she landed up in Gaya as follows: The Heavenly Lord (Sange Je) appeared in her parents's dreams. He told them to send Heo to Suro, who had been chosen as the king of Gaya. The dream showed that the king had not yet found a queen. Heo's father then told her to go to Suro. After two months of a sea journey, she found Beondo, a peach which fruited only every 3000 years.[8]

According to the legend, the courtiers of King Suro had requested him to select a wife from among the maidens they would bring to the court. However, Suro stated that his selection of a wife will be commanded by the Heavens. He commanded Yuch'ŏn-gan to take a horse and a boat to Mangsan-do, an island to the south of the capital. At Mangsan, Yuch'ŏn saw a vessel with a red sail and a red flag. He sailed to the vessel, and escorted it to the shores of Kaya (or Gaya, present-day Kimhae/Gimhae). Another officer, Sin'gwigan went to the palace, and informed the King of the vessel's arrival. The King sent nine clan chiefs, asking them to escort the ship's passengers to the royal palace.[9]

Princess Heo stated that she wouldn't accompany the strangers. Accordingly, the King ordered a tent to be pitched on the slopes of a hill near the palace. The princess then arrived at the tent with her courtiers and slaves. The courtiers included Sin Po (or Sin Bo 신보 申輔) and Cho Kuang (or Jo Gwang 조광 趙匡). Their wives were Mojong 모정(慕貞) and Moryang 모량(慕良) respectively. The twenty slaves carried gold, silver, jewels, silk brocade and tableware.[10] Before marrying the king, the princess took off her silk trousers (mentioned as a skirt in a different section of Samguk Yusa) and offered them to the mountain spirit. King Suro tells her that he also knew about Heo's arrival in advance, and therefore, did not marry the maidens recommended by his courtiers.[8]

When some of the Queen's escorts decided to return home, King Suro gave each of them thirty rolls of hempen cloth (one roll was of 40 yards). He also gave each person ten bags of rice for the return voyage. A part of the Queen's original convoy, including the two courtiers and their wives, stayed back with her. The queen was given a residence in the inner palace, while the two courtiers and their wives were given separate residences. The rest of her convoy were given a guest house of twenty rooms.[10]


Heo and Suro had 12 children, the eldest son was Geodeung. She requested Suro to let two of the children bear her maiden surname. Legendary genealogical records trace the origins of the Gimhae Heo to these two children.[8] The Gimhae Kims trace their origin to the other eight sons. According to the Jilburam, the remaining seven sons are said to have followed their maternal uncle Po-Ok's footsteps and devoted themselves to Buddhist meditation. They were named Hyejin, Gakcho, Jigam, Deonggyeon, Dumu, Jeongheong and Gyejang. [11] Overall, more than six million Koreans trace their lineage to Queen Heo.[4] The other two were female and were married respectively to a son of Talhae and a noble of Silla.

The legend states that the queen died at the age of 157.[9]


The tombs believed to be that of Heo and Suro are located in Gimhae, South Korea. A pagoda traditionally held to have been brought to Korea on her ship is located near her grave. The Samguk Yusa reports that the pagoda was erected on her ship in order to calm the god of the ocean and allow the ship to pass. The unusual and rough form of this pagoda, unlike any other in Korea, may lend some credence to the account.[12]

The Samguk Yusa also records that a temple was built in honor of Heo and her husband by King Jilji in 452. The temple was called Wanghusa, or "the Queen's temple." Since there is no other record of Buddhism having been adopted in 5th-century Gaya, modern scholars have interpreted this as an ancestral shrine rather than a Buddhist temple.[12]

Memorial in Ayodhya

Based on identification of Ayuta with Ayodhya in India, several Koreans believe Heo Hwang-ok to be an Indian princess. In 2001, a Memorial of Heo Hwang-ok was inaugurated by a Korean delegation, which included over a hundred historians and government representatives.[13] In 2016, a Korean delegation proposed to develop the memorial. The proposal was accepted by the Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav.[14]

In popular culture

  • Portrayed by Seo Ji-hye in the 2010 MBC TV series Kim Su-ro, The Iron King
  • In June 2007, the Indian Ambassador to Seoul Nagesh Rao Parthasarathi (53) wrote a novel, Silk Empress (비단황후), exploring the Indian princess's journey to Korea to marry the Korean King. The novel was published in Korean, with an English edition in progress.[15]

See also


  1. ^ Il-yeon (tr. by Ha Tae-Hung & Grafton K. Mintz) (1972). Samguk Yusa. Seoul: Yonsei University Press. ISBN 89-7141-017-5. 
  2. ^ Choong Soon Kim (2011). Voices of Foreign Brides: The Roots and Development of Multiculturalism in Korea. AltaMira. p. 34. ISBN 978-0-7591-2037-2. 
  3. ^ a b Skand R. Tayal (2015). India and the Republic of Korea: Engaged Democracies. Taylor & Francis. p. 23. ISBN 978-1-317-34156-7. Historians, however, believe that the Princess of Ayodhya is only a myth. 
  4. ^ a b "Korean memorial to Indian princess". BBC News. 2001-05-03. 
  5. ^ a b c Robert E. Buswell (1991). Tracing Back the Radiance: Chinul's Korean Way of Zen. University of Hawaii Press. p. 74. ISBN 978-0-8248-1427-4. 
  6. ^ Neeraja Ramesh (19 July 2016). "Korean envoy proud of his Tamil 'links'". 
  7. ^ No. 2039《三國遺事》CBETA 電子佛典 V1.21 普及版 Archived 2016-03-03 at the Wayback Machine., Taisho Tripitaka Vol. 49, CBETA Chinese Electronic Tripitaka V1.21, Normalized Version, T49n2039_p0983b14(07)
  8. ^ a b c Won Moo Hurh (2011). "I Will Shoot Them from My Loving Heart": Memoir of a South Korean Officer in the Korean War. McFarland. pp. 15–16. ISBN 978-0-7864-8798-1. 
  9. ^ a b James Huntley Grayson (2001). Myths and Legends from Korea: An Annotated Compendium of Ancient and Modern Materials. Psychology Press. pp. 110–116. ISBN 978-0-7007-1241-0. 
  10. ^ a b Choong Soon Kim (16 October 2011). Voices of Foreign Brides: The Roots and Development of Multiculturalism in Korea. AltaMira Press. pp. 31–33. ISBN 978-0-7591-2037-2. 
  11. ^ Kim Choong Soon Voices of Foreign Brides, Page 35
  12. ^ a b Kwon Ju-hyeon (권주현) (2003). 가야인의 삶과 문화 (Gayain-ui salm-gwa munhwa, The culture and life of the Gaya people). Seoul: Hyean. pp. 212–214. ISBN 89-8494-221-9. 
  13. ^ Korean memorial to Indian princess, 6 March 2001, BBC
  14. ^ UP CM announces grand memorial of Queen Huh Wang-Ock, 1 March 2016, WebIndia123
  15. ^ Indian Envoy in Seoul Authors "Silk Empress" Indian Princess Weds Korean King 2,000 Years Ago, June 2007, The Seoul Times

External links

  • Tomb of Queen Suro
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