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Could South Koreans Be Descendants Of This Indian Princess?

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By Chirali Sharma:

The sister cultures of India, Thailand, Bangkok and more are the ones that carry a lot of cultural similarities and close relationship with each other.

Even Japan is related to India through the silk route, where Indian silk helped to create a lot of Japanese clothing including the famous kimonos for the wealthy ladies there.

But the one country that still does not really share much in common with India yet would be South Korea.

However, that might change soon, considering about 6 million South Koreans could be descendants of an Indian princess.

Who Is Heo Hwang-ok?

In July this year, South Korean President, Moon Jae-in while visiting India for the Korea-India Business Forum touched upon the deep and ancient relationship that the two countries share.

He recounted the tale of the Indian princess, Princess Heo, who travelled to Korea and married the King of the Gaya Kingdom of Korea (Silla).

In his speech, he stated that “India and Korea have a long history of exchanges and have been friends helping each other in difficult times. Indian Princess Heo Hwang-ok (Korean name) from the Kingdom of Ayuta in India came to Korea about 2,000 years ago and later became the Queen of Korea’s ancient Gaya Kingdom.”

The fact that Heo Hwang-ok was a queen is supposedly first mentioned in the Samguk Yusa or Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms, which is an ancient book filled with legends, tales and historical accounts revolving and involving the three kingdoms of Korea, namely, Baekje, Goguryeo and Silla.

As stated by the book and historians, Princess Heo was the wife of King Suro of Geumgwan Gaya around the year 48CE when she travelled from the Indian city of Ayodhya to Korea on a boat.

Princess Heo or Suriratna was the first queen of the Geumgwan Gaya kingdom, and presently, a large number of Koreans, about 6 million are said to be descendants of this legendary princess.

According to the legend, it is said that Princess Heo came from the ‘Ayuta Kingdom’ which is supposed to be the ancient city of Ayodhya in India.

The records don’t really clarify where exactly Ayuta was, but sources and popular culture have usually associated Ayuta with India and even an anthropologist from the Hanyang University, Kim Byung-Mo drew the conclusion based on the phonetic similarity between the two names.

As per sources, the city of Ayodhya was called Saketa during that time, which is almost 2,000 years ago, but during the creation of the Samguk Yusa, the name Ayodha did exist.

There was a brief period when it was claimed that instead of India, the Ayuta city’s reference could have been to the Ayutthaya Kingdom of Thailand. This connection was made by an American copy editor Grafton K. Mintz who edited Ha Tae-Hung’s English version of the Samguk Yusa and Hung himself.

But it was later dismissed by George Cœdès a  French scholar of Southeast Asian archaeology and history, who revealed that the Thai city was created after 1350 CE, much later after the Samguk Yusa was composed.

There have also been rumours that the Indian princess actually came from the south of the country that is the Pandya Kingdom of current Tamil Nadu.

But as per a 2017 documentary by Korean historians, there was some evidence of a relation between the KimHae region in South Korea, which was the area that the King marked in the Princess’s name, and certain areas of Uttar Pradesh.

A team travelled to India and China while searching for her origins and found that the symbol of two fishes seen in the KimHae region is similar to the fish icons found in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh in various places like doors, old buildings, police uniform hats, etc.

Apparently, Princess Suriratna or Heo’s family left Ayodhya during the Kushan invasion and moved to China from where they escaped the Han Chinese and eventually ended up at the Gaya kingdom in Korea.

That is why her tombstone also mentions ‘Country of Gaya, Suro’s Wife Queen, Boju (Puzhou) Posthumous, Tomb of Heo Hwang Ok.’

The queen had 12 children, two of whom carried her maiden name and the rest carried the Kim surname, and Korean historians have connected that the current Heo, KimHae (Gimhae) Kim’s and Lee’s of Incheon trace their lineage to the bloodline of Ayodhya of India.

A lot of Koreans especially the Gimhae Kims and the Heo clans trace their origin back to Princess Heo. In this Kim Yoon-ok, the wife of former President Lee Myung-bak and the former President Kim Young-sam (1993-98) are some of the people who trace their lineage to the royal couple.

In 2001, the former Prime Minister of South Korea Kim Jong-pil wrote a letter to the King of Ayodhya Bhimlendra Mohan Pratap Mishra, and recounted how his March visit to India “remaining very meaningful to me”.

He further stated that the visit “fulfilled his desire to visit Ayodhya, a princess of which became the queen of King Suro of Gaya and Heo Hwang-ok. I am the 72nd generation descendant of the King Kim Suro of the Garak Kingdom.”

There are also reports where it is stated that there is a genetic link between some ethnic Indian and Korean groups based on a DNA sample analysis. The samples were supposedly taken from two royal Gaya tombs in Gimhae, South Gyeongsang Province in 2004 and an Indian connection was thus found.

Kim was also part of an 18 member delegation from South Korea, led by Song Eun-Bok, the former mayor of Gimhae who inaugurated a memorial built in the name of  Queen Hwang Huh or Princess Heo on the banks of the Sarayu river that flows between the Indian states of Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh.

First Lady Of South Korea Visiting India?

Now, the First Lady, Kim Jung-Sook will be visiting India from 4th to 7th November 2018 as a chief guest for the Deepotsav festival in Ayodhya.

Besides that, she will also be attending the ground-breaking ceremony for the upgraded and official Queen Suriratma memorial in the city.

A statement from the Ministry of External Affairs said that “She will be the chief guest at the Deepotsav event being organised by the State Government of Uttar Pradesh and the ground-breaking ceremony of the Queen Suriratma (Heo Hwang-ok) Memorial in Ayodhya on 6th November 2018.”

After much discussion and back and forth, the location of Saket Tirth Yatri Kendra has now finally been selected for the memorial. With a budget of almost Rs. 24.66 crores for the project, the foundation stone will be laid by the Korean First Lady on 6th November 2018.

A version of this post was first published here.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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