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King Suro

King Suro's Incarnation Legend describes King Suro's descent from heaven to earth and the founding of the Garak Kingdom.

King suro

"Garak-gukgi" in Samguk-yusa gives a detailed description of King Suro's founding of Garak-guk. The following is a brief excerpt

When the world began, there were no countries or kings and vassals. Instead, the Nine Gans (九干) ruled over seventy thousand people living in one hundred houses. On Gaeyok Day (浴日) in March, Late Han (後漢) Sejo (世祖) Gwangmu-Je (光武帝) Geonmu (建武) Year 18, Year Im-In (壬寅年), many people, including the Nine Gans heard a strange sound from Guji Mountain and they went to investigate.

The people gathered at the mountain and a voice from the heavens boomed out:
"Heaven has empowered me to set up a country here and become its king. For that reason, dig into the ground of this mountain top and sing and dance!"
They danced and sang the Guji Song: "Poke out your head, Turtle! Turtle! If you don't, we will cook and eat you." A rope then descended from heaven and reached the earth. A golden box covered with a red cloth was at the end of the rope. Six golden eggs were in the box. After twelve days passed, the eggs hatched and six boys were born. In the middle of the month, each boy became a king. Suro became the King of Garak (大駕洛), while the remaining boys became the kings of the other five Gayas (加耶) respectively.

As the founding of Garak is shrouded in myth, we do not have to take at face value the notion that Garak-guk was founded in 42 A.D. or that King Suro ruled for 158 years. Nonetheless, an analysis of the legend can tell us a great deal about Korean history.

King Suro's Incarnation Legend has been interpreted in various ways. To many people of the day, it was the story of the coming of Heaven's Son. To many people today it is merely a legend typical of agrarian societies. To others, the legend's adherents represented no more than a folk cult. Others yet have analyzed the legend as a means to understand ancient coronation ceremonies. Before we consider what is fact and what is fiction, however, we need to examine the time period the legend comes from and the belief systems of the day.

One of the most notable aspects of the Suro Legend is the part of the story that describes how the "balls in a golden box wrapped in red cloth descended from heaven to the mountain peak." This aspect of the myth reveals a lot about the founding of Garak.

Like most of Korea's state foundation myths, the Suro Legend contained the idea of a predestined leader who was somehow an embodiment of divine will. The king's power was justified and sanctified before it was exercised in the real world, thus providing irrefutable political legitimacy to the ruler.

The notion that Suro was the Son of Heaven descending from heaven to earth perhaps indicates that a new group of people had migrated into the area. If this view is accurate, King Suro was the leader of an advanced people who brought a more developed civilization into the Gimhae or Gaya region. To be sure, the Nine Gans represented an indigenous group already living in the Gimhae region. Nonetheless, Garak-guk could have been formed through a convergence of these native groups and the Suro group.

The Nine Gans group was based on bronze culture, while the Suro group was based on iron culture. As such, the foundation date of 42 A.D. attached to the Suro Legend does not correlate with the actual archaeological or historical record.

The notion that King Suro was born from an egg is reminiscent of a common oviparity legend in East Asia. Similarly, the stipulation that the golden eggs were as round as the sun seems to imply a connection to ancient sun god myths stressing the divine nature and origins of rulers. As such, the King Suro foundation myth was likely based on legends which predated King Suro's actual arrival..

Based as it is on myth and legend, the story of the foundation of the Garak Kingdom contains many factual errors. It is, of course, hard to believe that six kings including King Suro were born out of eggs. But putting aside this birth story, the idea that six kings formed six kingdoms does not seem plausible. According to the work Samguk-ji, a pre-Gaya kingdom named Byeonhan consisted of twelve guks. Moreover, archaeological findings in the Gaya regions do not correlate with the five countries mentioned in Samguk-yusa.

The King Suro Legend appears in many ways to be the product of an oceanic culture. For one thing, if "Heaven" in the legend refers to the North in Korea, the turtle in the legend would refer to the South. In addition, the article "Buddha's Shadow in Eosan" in Samguk-yusa reveals a sea connection: "Maneo Temple was previously Mount Ayasa. Alongside the mountain was Gara-guk (呵羅國). Once upon a time, an egg descended from Heaven to the seashore and became a man. The man then ruled the country. This man was King Suro." In view of the geo-political position of Garak-guk and its status as a sea power, the legend of King Suro would seem to be a coastal legend.

King Suro's family name--Kim of Gimhae--is now the most common family name in Korea. The origin of the Kim name is mentioned in Samguk-yusa, Garak-gukgi and The King's Chronicle.

King Geodeung's (居登王) parents were King Suro and Queen Heo. According to The Gaehwang Chronicle (開皇曆), the father of the country was born from a golden egg and crowned a king in March of Year Im-In. Thereafter, the book states, Suro ruled the country for 158 years. The Chronicle further maintains that Suro received the family name Kim because "Kim" originally meant "gold" and Suro was born from a golden egg.

The biography of Kim Yusin in Samguk-sagi disputes this claim. According to this version, the Silla people adopted Kim as their family name because they believed themselves to be descendents of Soho Gumchun (少昊金天). The statement that Kim Yushin was a descendant of Heon Weon (軒轅) and Soho is inscribed on his epitaph. Families adopted Soho Gumchun's family name from China to emphasize sanctity and permanency. Regardless of the origins of the word Kim, both Silla and Suro went by this name.

The Gaehwang Chronicle was written after the fall of Gaya, and Yusin Kim's epitaph was inscribed during the second half of the seventh century. Thus both versions of the Kim family name did not exist until the time of Gaya. However, we can probably safely assume that the Kim name appeared before the middle of the seventh century.