India and the Republic of Korea have enjoyed strong relations for almost 2,000 years. It is heartwarming to see the ties deepen even more with Korea investing in further research on its "shared heritage" with India.
According to the "Samguk Yusa," a 13th-century Korean historical chronicle, India-Korea friendship began in 48 A.D., when Princess Suriratna ("precious gem") journeyed from Ayodhya, India, to Korea to marry King Kim Su-ro and subsequently became Queen Heo Hwang-ok ("yellow jade") of the Gaya Kingdom (42-562 A.D.).
After reading a book titled "Heo Hwang-ok Route: From India to Gaya of Korea" by Kim Byung-mo, a senior archeologist and emeritus professor at Hanyang University, I developed a greater sense of appreciation for the ancient cultural and genetic connection between Ayodhya and Gimhae.
Ayodhya itself has a rich history. According to the Indian epic, Ramayana, the city is 9,000 years old and the birthplace of Lord Rama, the seventh incarnation of Lord Vishnu, one of the principal deities of Hinduism.
Although two millennia have passed since the founding of the Gaya Kingdom, its influence still resonates in Korea's modern society as the Gimhae Kim, Gimhae Heo and Incheon Yi clans trace their origins to this ancient kingdom. The majority of Gimhae and Incheon citizens are very proud of their old and unique connections with India, particularly because they are direct descendants of Queen Heo Hwang-ok's 12 children with King Kim Su-ro.
Professor Kim, whose family (clan) originates from Gimhae, shared his decades-long extensive academic research in the book portraying the Kims' genetic link with the royal family of Ayodhya. The people of Korea and India not only traded commodities, but also shared genes since the union of King Kim Su-ro to Queen Heo Hwang-ok.
During my recent visit to the city of Gimhae in the southern part of Gyeongsang Province, I paid tribute to the grave of King and Queen Kim Su-ro. Interestingly, the tomb has a stone pagoda with exotic engravings and red carvings originating from India. It is believed to have been brought by Queen Heo Hwang-ok from Ayodhya.
At the tomb is one of the most impressive cultural relics, a pair of fish that was carved onto the tomb's gate. The twin fish is the state symbol of Uttar Pradesh, to which Ayodhya belongs. This symbol is a significant clue to the cultural connection between ancient Korea and India.
Archeologists assumed that the twin fish symbol originated from the Mediterranean states, was transmitted to some parts of the world, and then settled around Lucknow, the largest city of the state of Uttar Pradesh, India. A similar style of the twin fish symbol is also visible in ancient buildings in Nepal, Pakistan and China.
Today in Ayodhya there is a memorial to Queen Heo Hwang-ok. It is widely believed that more than six million Koreans are her descendants. When the memorial was inaugurated in 2001, hundreds of Indian and Korean historians and government officials, including the North Korean ambassador to India, were present at the unveiling ceremony.
Queen Heo Hwang-ok's marriage to King Kim Su-ro is a shining example of cross-cultural collaboration, especially when Korea is now in a transition period from an ethnically homogeneous society to a multicultural society. The royal union promoted strong bilateral ties between Korea and India, and continues to spark interest even to this day. Whether the queen is known by her Indian name of precious gem or Korean name of yellow jade, she has been a highly valuable part of Korean society.
Choe Chong-dae is a guest columnist of The Korea Times. He is president of Dae-kwang International Co. and director of the Korean-Swedish Association. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.