Let me begin with sharing my first experience of Seoul (South Korea) in form of an interaction with an old Korean lady which is fresh in my mind even today. Let me take you to the year 1994 when I went to Korea to join H.U.F.S as visiting professor. After finishing my classes I went to Bus Stand to catch my bus to my residence. My student secretary had handed over a slip on which place of my residence was written in Korean Language. Because of right hand drive system in Seoul about which I was not aware of at that time, I was confused. Nobody was there who could help me, I thought. I kept on waiting at the Bus Stop which was on the wrong side of the road about which I came to know later. After sometime I saw an elderly lady coming towards me. She spoke something in Korean. I could not follow her but using my sixth sense I showed her the slip on which my destination was mentioned. By indication she made me realize that I was on the wrong side. At the same time she uttered a word which again I could not follow and later on I came to know that the word was Token, the accent of which was different to me. She took me to her nearby shop of photography and showed me bus tokens and tried to know whether I had the same with me or not. After knowing that I did not have tokens and perhaps I was not aware of token system she gave me tokens and in spite of request she did not accept money in lieu of them. Not only this she also accompanied me up to right Bus Stand and when my bus came she guided me to board the same and she also instructed the Driver to drop me at the right place. The next day when I visited her with my student -secretary she informed that she could know by my face that I was an Asian and Professor and she was very happy that she helped an Asian. When she came to know that I was an Indian or “Indo” in her words she further became very happy. From her gesture it was obvious that she had special feeling for Indians. Since I come from village basically therefore I could identify the warmth and values of human relationship of that lady. It was really a glimpse of Asian countryside culture which was still visible in one of the most modern cities of world, Seoul. . I can share many more such experiences. This first experience was very encouraging for me and feeling of alienation disappeared to a great extent.
Being Asian countries, Korea and India share a lot of similarities on cultural front. Borrowing the words from Prof. Lee Jeong Ho from his article ‘Literary Contacts and Influences between India and Korea’ I may put them as “India and Korea have long been culturally interacting with one another. The introduction of Buddhism to Korea has brought Indian culture with it and, today, there remain similarities in both cultures. Even into the modern times, the two countries have suffered similar fates, although their backgrounds differed, being subjected to foreign occupation and struggling for independence. Both countries experienced socio-political upheavals after liberation followed by a national division, conflicts and civil wars.”
Truly speaking, main points of contacts between Indian and Korea are Buddha, Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatama Gandhi. Of course, in the present time, some more factors can be traced.
One can trace long history of the cultural fraternity and Influences between India And Korea . Primarily it was Buddhism which played a great role in bringing the two Asian countries very close. The officially acknowledged date in which Buddhism was first introduced to Korea is 372 AD (CE). Korea was divided into 3 states ie. Koguryo, Paeckche and Silla. Silla officially authorized Buddhism as the national religion. Silla unified the three kingdoms. However, in the opinion of Prof. Oh Kuk-Kuen who has been President of the Association of Young Buddhists of Korea the date of introduction of Buddhism into Korea was much earlier than the official record. The route of Buddhism from India to Korea was via China. But as per his findings, the monks who brought Buddhism to the Korea via China were Indians. In his words quoted from his article ‘A Few Aspects of Korean Buddhism’, “Ado, one of the two monks who brought the new religion to Koguryo, was said to be the same monk that brought it to Silla. In Silla, Ado was recorded as Muckhoja, the dark barbarian, meaning Indian. It was Marananda who brought the Holy scripture to Paeckche and he was officially recorded as an Indian. Hus the three states in the peninsula were indoctrinated with Buddhism by Indian monks through China.’ Dr. Anita Sharma of University of Delhi believes that cultural and trade exchanges with India as well as China influenced and helped to nurture the Korean culture over a period of thousands of years. It were Indian merchants who opened the way to expand Indian culture to Korea. They were the first conveyors of Buddhism and other aspects of Indian culture although it was soon overshadowed by missionary activities. The Korean monks who visited India at later stages also brought flavor of Indian culture to their native land. Dr. Anita Sharma has mentioned in her article Indo-Korea Cultural Exchange during the Silla Period: Role of Buddhist Monks’ that “India was a kind of dreamland for many Korean monks who never gave up their arduous travels to India. Some Korean monks preferred to learn Buddhism in the land of its origin and while returning from India to Korea they brought Sanskrit texts with them.” We know that books play a great role in exchanging the culture. Moreover Buddhist monks were authors, artists etc. too apart from being religious figures. In many respects help of Indian side remains necessary to interpret the Korean culture.
Samguk Yusa (Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms) , a book written by a Buddhist monk Ir(l)yeon (1206-1289) reveals points of connection between the two countries in many ways. Even significant influence of Buddhism can be observed on native songs, Hyangga which are known as poetic heritage of the Silla Kingdom. Even the earliest poem written in Chinese characters by King Yuri (19 B.c.-17 A.D.) of the Koguryo Kingdom seems to have echo of Indian author Valmiki’s first composition in spite of the different contexts. The poem reads as follows:
Golden orioles are flitting about,
Male and female enjoying each other.
Left alone to myself in solitude,
Who shall I return home with?
In Valmiki’s composition, the mating birds were killed by a hunter. A Prof. of History Ko Chun Han has written a book ‘-4 Guk Side-Sinbi Wanguk Gaya’ about a fourth small kingdom of Korea, Gaya. It was located along the southern coast of the peninsula. It is said that before Buddha there were 3-4 statues like Buddha in Korea One the basis of this Prof. Ko imagined that Korea and India has contacts even before Buddha. In a formal meeting held in the Chamber of the then Ambassador of India in Korea, Mr. Shashank, Prof. Oh Kuk-Kuen surprised me by his firm guess that in the ancient time there was a colony of Indians in the name of ‘Gaya’. The Indians wanted to spread out Buddhism. These were Indians who introduced the best ways of agriculture. They were the merchant of cloths, Iron, Jewelry etc. They also introduced the rice. Prof. Oh promised to provide proofs for the same in future about which I am still not awared. There is a very interesting legend about Gaya recorded in Samguk Yusa. As per the legend the first king of Gaya, Kim Suro (42-199A.D.) married a princess who came from Ayodhya. Even today, at Kimhea near Busan one can see memorial of these two. When I visited this place, a Korean student very proudly mentioned that their grandmother was from India. This aspect need a great research. Some Korean scholars and many people believe that the name Gaya suggests a town in India near Bodh Gaya. Gaya (or Garak) was conquered by Silla in 562 AD. But its name survives in a couple of very important things: Gaya-geum(Khyagum), the oldest Korean musical instrument which is similar to string musical instrument of India, and Mt. Gaya where one of the largest and oldest temple Haein-sa is located. There are other instruments also which are like Indian flute etc. It is the Haein-sa where the sacred wooden blocks of the world-famous Tripitaka Koreana have been kept and preserved. Although Korean Buddhists knew that Buddhism is the religion of the utmost peace and mercy, yet they enjoyed the freedom of action in doing whatever they consider to the best for the cause of the nation. Koreans found the sublimation of their patriotism in their Buddhist faith, and believed firmly in the power of Buddha to defend their country against any hostile country. In short, I may say as many others trust that for exchange of traditions, thoughts etc., Buddhism has played a great role in context of the two countries. But it is not only the Buddhism which is bond between these two Asian civilizations. On the basis of his experiences, Prof. Brahm Swaroop Agrawal has rightly said as per my experience too in his paper “The Immortal Cultural And Historical Bonds Between Korea And India” that “ …both (India and Korea) are integral parts of a greater cultural milieu of the Orient characterized by the pursuits of knowledge, peace and wisdom, and quest for a harmonious way of life compatible with nature, divinity and other living beings.” Further, I may refer to my own article “Promotion of Korean Studies: With Reference to Cultural Globalization” published in ‘hindi’, Language Discourse Writing, July-September, 2013, a journal of Mahatama Gandhi Hindi Antarrashtriya Vishwavidalaya, Wardha, India.
Here, again I may share my another experience. I had picked up some Korean words by then. An old student of the University where I was Professor and who claimed to be a believer of Buddhism became my friend. He could speak English. So he became my unannounced interpreter. One day we were going somewhere when all of a sudden a boy of hardly 12 years came near to us and uttered in question style “Indo”. I knew he wanted to confirm whether I was an Indian. When I said ‘Ne’ means yes he almost jumped with happiness and uttered some words out of which I could follow Gandi (Gandhi) and Thagore (Tagore). My friend told me that the boy wanted to know whether I was familiar with Buddha, Tagore and Gandhi. On listening yes from me he again expressed his joy and uttered few lines in Korean which I could not follow at all. By now I had come to know that the above three names were like identity of an Indian in the eyes of an average Korean. India here is generally recognized and identified as the land of Buddha, Gandhi and Tagore. I was amazed to know from my Korean friend that the boy uttered Korean translation of four lines poem of the poet Tagore. The poem reads as: In the Golden age of Asia/ Korea was one of its lamp-bearers/And the lamp is waiting to be lightened once again/ For the illumination of the East.
In brief, This poem was written by Tagore during his 3rd visit to Japan in 1929 to leave the same for the Korean patriotic youths in Tokyo who requested him to visit Korea and the poet could not visit this time also. This poem was translated by poet Chu Yo-Han and was published in April, 1929 in ‘East Asia Daily’ under the title “Tongband Ui Tungbul (light of Asia) and soon after independence it found place in text book for high school. Before going ahead in this respect I may add that Mahatma Gandhi also aware of the sufferings of the Koreans and their resolution for independence. He also sent a letter to the same paper i.e. “East Asia Daily’ in January, 1927 in which he hoped “Chosun will be on its own in non-violent ways.” In the words of Prof. Lee Jeong Ho, “ The facts bears historical significance that independence activists of India at the time not only acknowledged but sympathized with the Korean people and encouraged their struggle for liberation. Coming on Tagore again we should understand that the Koreans respect him as a first Nobel laureate of Asia who has influenced many Korean authors. Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore (Thakur) (1861-1941) remained no more unknown to KOREA Just after he won the Nobel Prize in 1913. Between 1916 and 1919 Tagore’s name had entered in the homes of the Koreans. Translation of his works has started in 1916 and it has not stopped till now. Truly speaking Tagore is accepted and respected in Korea not only as a great writer but as a great philosopher too. In a 1925 ‘East Asia Daily ‘article, Kim Ok , a very famous poet and a most prolific translator of his time, commented that Tagore’s poetry presented hope for Asia and shed the light of spiritual culture onto material culture. In 1917 Chin Sun Song, one of the first authors to introduce Tagore to Korean readers, wrote an article in CH’ONGCH’UN (Youth) that referred to Tagore as a great prophet of the twentieth century who would spread the spiritual culture of India to the whole world, overcoming Asia’s inferiority complex and correcting the image of defeated East. Again, Jin Hak moon, a famous Korean writer introduced “ The Song of Defeated” in the magazine Youth in 1917. This poem became very popular among the readers. . It is a known fact that ‘Tagore’s influence on the Oriental world is restricted mainly to China, Japan and Korea, and the common factor in these countries is that all three countries were nationalistic. Of the three countries, the most influenced and the most accomplished work was produced by the sage Manhae.’ as per Kim Yang Shik, the founder president of Tagore Society of Korea founded in 1981. But according to Kim Yong Jik (1991), Tagore’s influence was not limited to Han Yong Un (The Silence of Love) but extended to many other writers of the time, including wang-Su. Tagore was considered a hope in despair. Tagore’s mysticism, naturalism and humanism touched the poet very deeply. During the post war period from 1960s South Korea entered in new phase of increasing its cultural and literary activities. Interest in Tagore remained high and in the early 1970s translation of complete works of Tagore was published by Yu Yong. Mutual cultural and literary exchange programs have become the priority agenda between India and South Korea. For details in this regard I may refer to my own article ‘Tagore: A Hope In Despair” published in Sahitya Akademi’s journal “New Literature” sometime in 2012. Before closing this point I may quote a view of Prof. Man-Young Hwang who was a trustee member of Tagore Society of Korea which is as follows: ‘Indian and Korea, which have suffered from foreign aggression, have a common characteristic of firmly keeping ethnic self-respect and the tradition in cultural arts. Also, aesthetic senses of both nations are very sensitive and in their pure aesthetic expression is a unique national characteristic.” India and Korea have suffered under colonial rule of rulers or foreigners and both the nations have experienced tragedy of division in the eve of their respective independences followed by wars between two parts. In both the countries the rulers kept on suppressing the independence movements but the strong protests through literature and arts also kept on doing their role. Prof. Lee Jeong Ho has shown lot of similarities related to contents, concerns and pboblems expressed in Hindi and Korean short stories. In justification of translating “Tamas” ( a novel of Bhishama Sahani based on partition) in Korean language, Prof. Lee revealed that to understand Indian History, folk life and relations based on religions strudy of ‘Tamas’ is necessary. Korean female author Park Wan-so’s autobiographical novels brings the tragedy of War and division of her country. In fact great concern represented for unification of the two parts of Korea in the writings of poets like Ko Un etc. is based on the tragedy of the division. Here, Indian and Korean concern in this respect is similar to a great extent.
There are other areas like behavior, gestures, some of the traditions and rituals etc. on the basis of which one can find Koreans close/similar to Indians. No doubt Prof. Choi Jong-chan have pointed out some contradictions of the Indian traditions along with the virtues of Indians in his paper “The Indians Know How to Accept New, Strange Things for Modern Stage” published in The Argus, March 1, 1997.He has written, “Things have both bright and dark sides. And I believe that Indian traditions also have both faces: positive and negative. ….For instance, Hindu religion gave birth to the concepts of satyagrah ‘insistence on truth’ and Ahimsa ‘non-voilence’ which contributed to the independence of India. On the other hand it generated case system which made Indian society stagnant. “ Nobody can disagree to this fact pointed out by Prof Choi. But Korea itself has suffered a cast like evil in the name of Yangban (aristocrats). Likewise gender biases ( more importance to male child) can be seen in both the societies. Although the modern Korea has overcome gender biases to a great extent and to study ways and means in this regard may be fruitful but even today one can see some Koreans attaching more importance to male child. In the novel of Park Wan-So(Sue), “Mom’s Pillar” or “Mother’s Stake” one can observe this thinking—“Oh God! Instead of a useless girl (daughter who was saved in the Korean War) why you have sanatched a good and noble boy (son).” Even a number of Korean festivals are attached to agriculture almost in the same way as the Indian Festivals are attached to agriculture. Once I saw a festival “Daljiptaeugi’ (burning the heaps of straw) and I found it like ‘Holi’ festival in India. On this festival the Koreans eat walnuts and groundnuts. In the village side of India one can observe use of walnuts on ‘Holi’ Moreover, like an Indian tradition of eating food of the previous day on a particular day one can see the similar tradition in the evening of ‘Daljippaeugi’ in Korean homes. The shradh (homage or reverence) to the ancestors is also a common bond between the people of these two countries. When I was in Korea I observed other similarities too . They have traditions of hospitality and family attachments like Indians. Koreans also visit the homes of others with a gift in their hands. I fully endorse the observation of Prof. Brahm Swaroop Agrawal according to which “The resemblance of various cultural ethos and beliefs, social customs and traditions, and even the general attitude towards life of both peoples is so astonishing that sometime it is difficult to distinguish what is Korean and what is Indian.’ The Koreans are known as nationalists, but they believe in one peaceful world in which all are happy and prosperous (sarve sukhina bhavantu) like Indians. Yun Sok Chung , a great children’s author has written in one of his most famous and beautiful poem “ World Map”:
I have got a home work
To show the world in a map.
I could not finish the same
I worked hard the whole night.
If there were no boundaries
If there were no countries and nations
It would have been easier /To draw the world in a map.
If we really want to understand the cultural ties of these countries then More and more mutual translation of literature is necessary in this era of globalization in my humble opinion. Along with translation of classical works, emphasis must be given on translation of modern and contemporary literature. While translating the Korean literature, I have seen a lot of similar cultural and philosophical root both in ancient and modern literature. Recently I have translated a world fame novel ‘Our Twisted Hero’(우리들의 일그러진 영웅) written by Yi Munyol and I found how much the Koreans are for the democratic values like Indians. The Economic Globalization is alright, but if we really want to save this world from wars, divisions, aristocracy, consumerism based on pure materialistic and selfish motives, unrest (absence of peace), inhumanity etc. then cultural globalization is more or at least equally required on this earth. And cultural globalizations can be achieved through mutual understanding of art forms including the literature of different countries. And in the case of mutual understanding of the literature, translation is the most feasible way. It is good that India and Korea are heading towards this direction although little slowly.
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