Queen Heo Hwang-ok of Korea and her Ayodhya connection

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    In News

    • The Queen Heo Hwang-ok Memorial Park will be inaugurated in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh. 

    About

    • It is named after a Korean queen believed to have had Indian roots.
    • It lies on the banks of the River Sarayu in Ayodhya.
    • It has acres of green space, mostly known as Ram Katha Park.

    Who was Queen Heo Hwang-ok?

    • Daughter of Padmasan: 
      • She was a Korean queen who is believed to have been born Princess Suriratna of Ayodhya, daughter of King Padmasan and Indumati. 
    • Padmasan Kingdom: 
      • Padmasan ruled the ancient kingdom of Kausala, a region that extended from present-day UP to Odisha.
    • Samguk Yusa: 
      • Her story is described in Samguk Yusa (Memorabilia of Three Kingdoms), a 13th-century collection of legends, folktales and history of Korea’s three kingdoms — Goguryeo, Baekje and Silla — and some other regions.
    • Married to Korean King: 
      • In 48 BC, the princess, then 16, travelled to Korea from the ancient land of ‘Ayuta’ and married Kim Suro, founder and King of Geumgwan Gaya in south-eastern Korea. 
      • She became the first queen of Geumgwan Gaya, believed to be located around modern-day Gimhae city in Southern Gyeongsang province. 
    • Her legacy: 
      • More than six million present-day Koreans trace their lineage to Heo Hwang-ok. They belong to clans such as Gimhae Kim, Heo (the queen had asked the king that two of their sons be given her maiden name) and Lee. 
      • Her direct descendants include Kim Yoon-ok, wife of former South Korean President Lee Myung-bak. King Kim Suro and Queen Heo Hwang-ok birthed the Karak dynasty, whose descendants include former South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and former Prime Minister Kim Jong-pil.
    • Paying homage: 
      • Memorial Park: For years now, many Koreans have visited Ayodhya to pay homage to the queen’s ancestral home. In Gimhae in South Korea, two tombs, believed to be of Kim Suro and queen Heo Hwang-ok, are maintained as a memorial park. 
      • Pagoda: A pagoda, believed to have been brought by the queen from India to calm the ocean gods, is placed next to the tomb. 
      • Plays: Culturally, the queen has been part of Korea’s popular culture for years, with many plays and musicals based on her.

    Why a Memorial Park in Ayodhya?

    • Agreement: 
      • In 2000, India and South Korea signed an agreement to develop Ayodhya and Gimhae as sister cities
    • In 2016, a proposal was sent by a South Korean delegation to refurbish the existing memorial. 
    • Subsequently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and South Korean President Moon Jae-in signed an MoU for developing the memorial. South Korean First Lady Kim Jung-sook attended the inauguration of the beautification work in 2018.
    • The memorial now comprises Queen and King pavilions with their busts in place, and a pond to represent Princess Suriratna’s journey. 
    • According to the legend, the princess had taken a golden egg to Korea, and the park includes an egg made of granite.

    Conflicting Connection

    • The story has helped boost the relationship between India and South Korea. 
    • But there is some debate about her Indian origins as there are many versions of the same story. 
    • India: While Samguk Yusa talks about the queen from a distant land named Ayuta and popular culture considers it Ayodhya, no Indian document or scripture has any record of her. 
    • Thailand: Some historians also believe that the princess could actually be from Thailand’s Ayutthaya kingdom. But the kingdom in Thailand came about in 1350, years after Samguk Yusa had already been written.

    India – South Korea Relations

    • Political:
      • In May 2015, the bilateral relationship was upgraded to a ‘special strategic partnership’.
      • India has a major role to play in South Korea’s Southern Policy under which Korea is looking at expanding relations beyond its immediate region.
      • Similarly, South Korea is a major player in India’s Act East Policy under which India aims to promote economic cooperation, cultural ties and develop strategic relationships with countries in the Asia-Pacific.
    • Regional Stability:
      • The regional tensions in South Asia especially between India and China create a common interest for India and South Korea.
      • This could be a collaborative approach for regional stability.
    • Nuclear: 
      • South Korea’s key interest in managing their nuclear neighbour (North Korea) is similar to India’s considerations toward Pakistan.
      • The US alliance system, established with South Korea and Japan, puts pressure on North Korea to cap its nuclear programme.
      • Containing North Korea is beneficial to India’s economic and regional ambit in East Asia.
      • It also adds to its approach to the nuclear non-proliferation regime as a responsible nuclear state.
    • Economic:
      • The current bilateral trade between India and South Korea is at USD 21 billion and the target that has been set is USD 50 billion by the year 2030.
      • India and South Korea have signed the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), 2010 which has facilitated the growth of trade relations.
      • To facilitate investment from Korea, India has launched a “Korea Plus” facilitation cell under ‘Invest India’ to guide, assist and handhold investors.
    • Diplomatic:
      • There is a long-lasting regional security dilemma with the continued verbal provocations and a conventional arms race.
      • Thus, despite the alliance system, Seoul appears to be searching for a stronger diplomatic stand on imminent regional issues beyond the alliance system.
      • South Korea’s approach to India comes with strategic optimism for expanding ties to ensure a convergence of interest in planning global and regional strategic frameworks.
    • Cultural:
      • Korean Buddhist Monk Hyecho or Hong Jiao visited India from 723 to 729 AD and wrote the travelogue “Pilgrimage to the five kingdoms of India” which gives a vivid account of Indian culture, politics & society.
      • Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore had composed a short but evocative poem – ‘Lamp of the East’ – in 1929 about Korea’s glorious past and its promising bright future.

    Challenges

    • Stagnation in Economic relationship:
      • The economic partnership is struck at $22 billion annually. 
      • Also, the defence partnership appears to have receded from great all-around promise to the mere sale and purchase of weapon systems. 
    • Cultural Prejudices on both sides prevent people-to-people ties
      • Cold War Era perception: There may be a widespread perception among South Koreans of India as a third world country, rife with poverty and hunger.? 
      • Indian Diaspora: Within South Korea, the integration of Indians in the local population is far from complete, with some instances of racial prejudice or discrimination toward Indians 
      • Inadequate acknowledgement of Korean Culture: To a certain extent Indians are unable to distinguish between the cultural and social characteristics of South Koreans from that of Japanese/Chinese. 
    • Unfulfilled potential of Cultural Centres
      • Indian Culture Centre (ICC) was established in Seoul 10 years ago?to promote people-to-people contacts. 
      • However, ICC has to reach an exponentially wider audience and its focus has to expand beyond the urban, English-speaking elite of Seoul.  
      • The same may be applicable to South Korean culture centres in India. 

    Conclusion

    • India-Republic of Korea (RoK) relations have made great strides in recent years and has become truly multidimensional.
    • The bilateral relations are spurred by a significant convergence of interests, mutual goodwill and high-level exchanges.

    Source: IE