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This question has two parts.

1. Did Queen Heo exist?

Is there any evidence that Queen Heo was a historical figure and not just a legend?

Is there any proof that her tomb in Korea really houses her body?

Does she appear in the Samguk Sagi or any other historical records?

Is there any archaeological or other tangible evidence for her existence?

2. Where did she come from?

Is it more likely that she was Indo-Aryan or Tamil (or Thai)?

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Photo from Tomb in Gimhae, Korea, kindly provided by Professor Emeritus KIM Byung-Mo, senior anthropologist from Hanyang University, author of "Heo Hwang-ok Route: From India to Gaya of Korea"

Queen Heo Hwang-ok was the wife of King Suro of Geumgwan Gaya (death 199 AD).

According to the 13th Century Samguk Yusa (Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms) Chronicle she was a Princess of the "Ayuta Kingdom", said to be a distant country.

It is commonly (and officially) held to refer to Ayodhya, India, but there are no records of this foreign voyage and marriage in Indo-Aryan history. This theory is based on 1. phonetic similarity, and 2. the twin fish symbol, but both theories don't seem to hold up.

In ancient times the city was called Saketa, not Ayodhya, but the later name did exist in Medieval times when the Chronicle was written.

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The twin fish symbol, as seen here on a gate to the tomb of King Suro, was used as the emblem of his descendants the Gim clan of Gimhae.

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The Indian state of Uttar Pradesh (which includes the city of Ayodhya) uses twin fish symbology but:

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This Emblem of Uttar Pradesh was designed in 1916 by the Royal Society in the United Kingdom for the (then) United Provinces of Agra and Oudh, and the pair of Matsya fish represented the former Muslim rulers of Oudh.

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The Nawab of Oudh themselves had a single fish symbol, but they were an 18th and 19th Century power (hundreds of years after the Chronicle was written which itself was hundreds of years after the Queen's existence).

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So that theory of Indian (Indo-Aryan) origin seems fundamentally flawed.

There are two other theories as to her origin. Either that she came from the Ayutthaya Kingdom of Thailand -- another theory that seems flawed because the Thai city was not founded until 1350 CE, after the composition of Samguk Yusa.

Or that she was Tamil, from Ayi, a vassal state of the Pandya Kingdom in present-day Tamil Nadu, India. The area is today's Kanyakumari.

The ancient Tamil Pandyan Dynasty ruled from 300 BCE–1650 CE and had a Twin Fish Flag and Emblem:

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Kanyakumari is said to have been called Ayuta in ancient times, and the Tamil and Korean language and cultures are said to have commonalities.

It seems most likely to me that the Tamil theory is the strongest.

Was she Tamil or Indo-Aryan?

Notes

There are quite a few interesting Quora discussions on the topic: Such as this.

An interesting mitochondrial DNA test from the Royal Gaya tombs is talked about in this article (source, kindly provided by sempaiscuba◊), showing maternal DNA traceable to South or South East Asian ethnic groups like Indian, Malaysian or Thai.

“Archaeological evidence indicates that the people of Tamna [of Jeju Island just under the Southern tip of the Korean Peninsula] were engaging in active trade with Han Dynasty China and Yayoi Japan, South-east-asian nations, with the Tamil Chola dynasty, as well as mainland Korea, by the 1st century AD.” So Tamil-Korean trade links have existed from ancient times.

This page showing her tomb mentions expansions on the tomb including that "with the Tomb of King Suro, the tomb area was expanded in the 28th year of King Sejong’s reign (1446) to include several auxiliary buildings" and that "records indicate that the tombs were robbed over a century later during the Imjin War (Japanese Invasion, 1592-1598)" and "a headstone and stone tablets erected in 1647 (25th year of King Injo’s reign)".

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – sempaiscuba Dec 4 '18 at 3:38
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    Very important information for researches on Indo-Korean migration and cultural links. – Prof. Rana P.B. Singh Sep 29 '19 at 23:39
  • Thanks Professor! :) – Johan88 Sep 30 '19 at 1:10
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Queen Heo is legendary, but not necessarily mythological.

Certain historians do indeed believed Queen Heo likely existed.

Heo Hwang-ok

Heo Hwang-ok is a legendary queen mentioned in Samguk Yusa, a 13th-century Korean chronicle. According to Samguk Yusa she became the wife of King Suro of Geumgwan Gaya at the age of 16, after having arrived by boat from a distant kingdom,1 making her the first queen of Geumgwan Gaya. According to some Korean historians there are more than six million present day Koreans, of which the majority are from Gimhae Kim clan with surnames Heo and 이 (Lee/Yi) that trace their lineage to the legendary queen. Hao Hwang-ok

However nobody knows much about her, and several Korean historians believe her to have been an Indian princess

Indian

Based on the phonetic similarity of Ayuta with Ayodhya in India, several Koreans believe Heo Hwang-ok to be an Indian princess. Memorial in Ayodhya

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  1. The fact that there are so many similarities between Korean and Tamil, up to 500 words according to researchers with the exact same sounds and meanings too, there could be more but these words have less similarity...

  2. Queen Heo-Hwang-ok was cleary stated to have travelled via ship on a journey by sea (not possible between North India and South Korea but definitely possible from South India - Tamil Nadu to South Korea)

  3. She is said to be from Ayuta, a “distant kingdom across the sea”, but the name doesn’t correspond to the name of any country or city from that time period in India or any other country.

  4. The Indian government (situated in North India) don't have any records of there being any such city, country from that time period

  5. If you ask any Tamil person, usually above the age of 50 they'll tell you that present day Kanyakumari was called Ayuta in the past, unfortunately as of writing this (August 8th 2020) I searched everywhere and there's no written record of this :(

  6. Heo-Hwang-ok or 'Suriratna' I have no idea where the name Suriratna came from but she was also called 'Seembavalam' - which is undoubtedly Tamil

  7. Lastly the only thing which backed the belief that Heo-Hwang-ok was from Ayodhya in North India is the fact that Ayodhya reassembles Ayuta, even this... as the Indian government said, did not exist during Heo-Hwang-ok's time.

Another thing which is unsettling is the fact that the memorial for Queen Heo-Hwang-ok is in Ayodhya so thousands of South Koreans may be going to the wrong place to trace back and pay respects to their ancestry

I'm leaning towards queen Heo-Hwang-ok being of Tamil decent for the above reasons, I hope that was helpful

P.S. I'm a sixth form student studying art, psychology, histroy and English language in the UK

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  • Sources would greatly improve this answer. – Tom Sol Aug 9 at 11:18

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