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Legends and folk tales

Legend of King Suro's descent from the sky

It is a foundation legend that says the founder of Garak, King Suro descended from the sky and founded the country. The legend is recounted in Garakgukgi(Record of Garak Kingdom) in Samgukyusa. It is as follows.

Since the creation of the world, this land did not have a name, nor the titles of kings or vassals.

In the old days, 9 kans(princes) ruled 75,000 people. In March of the 18th year of Emperor Guang Wu Di's reign(Later Han Dynasty), strange sounds came from Gujibong peak and 9 kans and hundreds of people rushed to the peak.

And a sound came from the sky, 'I am here because heaven told me to establish a country here and be the king. You sing and dance while digging the ground.'

"Turtle, turtle, give me your head. If you don't, I will grill you and eat you."

9 kans and the people sang the Gujiga song and danced. Suddenly, a purple rope descended from the sky and a golden box wrapped in red cloth was attached at its end. When the people opened it, there were six golden eggs.

At the crack of dawn next day, 6 boys were born from the eggs. They were very good looking. They were seated on a bench and revered. On the 15th day of that month, they all became kings. King Suro was called such because he was the first born. He was also called Sureung. Suro became the king of Daegarak Kingdom and the other 5 became kings of other Garak Kingdoms.

This legend is also the foundation legend of Garak Kingdom. However, the legend was embellished over time and imaginary things were added according to the historical perception of the time. The claim that Garak Kingdom was founded in 42 or King Suro ruled the country for 158 years can not be taken at face value.

Various aspects of this legend have been studied by field, such as heaven's grandson legend, tradition, folk ritual, and coronation ceremony of agricultural society. However, to find the historical truth, the thoughts of ancient people and historical background need to be studied more comprehensively.

In the story, the part about 'a golden box containing eggs and wrapped in red cloth coming down to the peak from the sky' represents the essence of the legend of King Suro. It contains the elements of heaven's grandson's descent from the sky, and egg-born.

Since the legend of Dangun, the foundation legends of Korea have the element of heaven's grandson's descent from the sky. The legend of King Suro also has the typical structure, i.e. coming down to Gujibong peak. Using such a concept, ancient rulers justified their power and made people to consider them sacred.

King Suro's ability to transform into a bird and his marriage to queen Heo Hwang-ok also raised the grandeur of his rule and justified his position as the founding father.

Legend of descent from the sky indicates the arrival of new group of people. King Suro does not represents just one individual. He symbolizes a group of people with advanced civilization arriving in Gimhae area or Gaya area. Of course, there were groups of indigenous people in Gimhae area already. And these groups were represented by 9 gans. These indigenous people and newly arrived Suro's group probably joined together and formed Garak Kingdom. 9 gan groups probably had bronzeware culture while Suro's group had advanced ironware culture. Historical facts or archaeological materials do not indicate that the founding year of Garakguk was 42.

The King Suro's legend, which consists of the elements of egg-born king and descent from the sky, is related to the legend of egg-born kings that is prevalent in East Asia. The record of the egg being golden and round as the sun indicates a trace of sun worship.

The concept that King Suro is heaven's grandson and thus the chosen one reflects later generation's ideas. By using the concept of heaven's heir, he was able to justify, legalize, and sanctify his power.

However, the legend of 5 kings in addition to King Suro being born from eggs can not be taken as a historical fact.. According to Wiseo, Dongijeon of Sanguo Zhi(History of Three Kingdoms), there were 12 kingdoms in Byeonhan, the predecessor of Gaya. Also, the archaeological findings of the time, when the group equipped with advanced ironware culture arrived here, do not indicate the existence of kingdoms other than the 5 kingdoms recorded in '5 Gaya Dynasties' in Samgukyusa. Probably the theory of 6 eggs was embellished by the concept of 'Gaya federation'.

The legend of King Suro also contains the elements of marine culture.

The sky, an element in the legend of descent from the sky, means north. But the legend also contains turtle, a spiritual sea creature. In Eosanbulyeong section of Samgukyusa, it says that 'Maneosan is Ayasan in the old days. A kingdom called Garak was next to the mountain. Long time ago, an egg came down to the beach from the sky, became a person and ruled the kingdom. He was King Suro.' Garak Kingdom's connection to the sea can be also found here. In other words, from the location of Garak Kingdom and its characteristic as a marine trading force using iron, the marine culture represented by turtle probably had a close relationship with King Suro.

Lastly, the surname of King Suro will be examined. Currently in Korea, the largest number of people have the surname of Kim from Gimhae. Its origin is found in the Garakgukgi and Wangryeok sections of Samgukyusa and it is as follows.

King Geodeung's father was King Suro and his mother was queen Heo. According to Gaehwangryeok, his surname was Kim because the founder of his country was born from a golden egg.

King Suro was born from an egg in March of the year of Imin, became the king the same month, and ruled the kingdom for 158 years. According to Gaehwangryeok, as he was born from a golden egg, his surname became Kim(meaning gold).

These two records show that his surname became Kim because he was born from a golden egg. However, a different story is told in Kim Yusin's biography in Samguksagi.

According to the story, people of Silla thought they were the descendents of Sohogeumcheon and took Kim as their surname. And the record of the tomb stone of Kim Yusin shows that he was a descendent of Heonwon and Soho was his direct ancestor. And the founding father of Namgaya, Suro, had the same surname as Silla people. Using the theory of 'Sohogeumcheon' from China, sacredness and permanence were emphasized. From the facts that Gaehwangryeok was compiled after the fall of Gaya and the tomb stone of Kim Yusin was built in late 7th century, we can conclude that both stories did not originate in the Gaya period. But, by mid 7th century, King Suro's line used the surname Kim just like the royal family of Silla.