Nothing says more about Korean society than Arirang.

Arirang is a famous Korean folk song about tragedy and separation. Director Kwon Oh-Sung of the Arirang Globalization Committee asserts that “Arirang has always been with the Korean people throughout their moments of happiness and sorrow. This Korean folk song not only reflects various feeling in daily lives but it also expresses the time we live in. It is the history of Korea and the intimate friend of the Korean people.”

What is a folk song?

A folk song covers a vast array of musical styles but is most commonly used to refer to a narrative song that uses traditional melodies  to speak on a particular topic. Topical folk songs address social and political issues such as work, war and popular opinion. Many folk songs have been around so long that nobody is sure who their composers were.


There are different meanings for this song. One of them is that this song is seen like a symbol for Korean independence under Japanese occupation.

Another meaning is presented by the National Folk Museum of Korea: “Arirang represents all the joys and sorrow in the history and lives of Koreans. It is deeply rooted in Koreans’ emotions as the cultural DNA.

Many versions of the song open by describing the travails the subject of the song encounters while crossing a mountain pass. Arirang is one name for the pass and hence the title of the song.

There are a number of passes in Korea called “Arirang Pass”. One such is a pass among some hills in central- northeastern Seoul.  However, that Arirang pass was originally called Jeongneung Pass and it was renamed in 1926, to commemorate the release of the film Arirang.

What is Arirang pass? Arirang Pass is an imaginary rendezvous of lovers in the land of dreams. There is a real mountain pass, called, “Arirang Gogae”, outside the Small East Gate of Seoul. So, the heroine of this song is a fair maid of Miryang and she was killed by an unrequited lover.  As time went by, this tragic story changed in a lady-love story who complained of her unfeeling lover.

There are many variations of the song. They can be grouped into classes like based on lyrics, when the refrain is sung, the nature of the refrain, and so on.


The original form is Jeongseon Arirang, which has been sung for more than 600 years. The most famous version is Bonjo Arirang and it became famous when it was used like a theme song for the film Arirang.

There are other famous folk versions of Arirang like: Jeongseon Arirang( from Jeongseon County in Gagwon Province), Jindo Arirang (from Jindo County in South Jeolla Province) and Miryang Arirang( from Miryang in South Gyeongsang Province).


Korean original Romanization English translation
아리랑, 아리랑, 아라리요…아리랑 고개로 넘어간다.나를 버리고 가시는 님은십리도 못가서 발병난다. Arirang, Arirang, Arariyo…Arirang gogaero neomeoganda.Nareul beorigo gasineun nimeunSimnido motgaseo balbbyeongnanda. Arirang, Arirang, Arariyo..Crossing over Arirang Pass.Dear who abandoned me [here]Shall not walk even ten  before his/her feet hurt.
Korean original Romanization English translation
청천하늘엔 찬별도 많고우리네 가슴엔 희망도 많다 Cheongcheonghaneuren chanbyeoldo mankoUrine gaseumen huimangdo manta Just as there are many stars in the clear sky,There are also many dreams in our heart.
저기 저 산이 백두산이라지동지 섣달에도 꽃만 핀다 Jeogi jeo sani BaekdusanirajiDongji seotdaredo kkonman pinda There, over there that mountain is Baekdu MountainWhere, even in the middle of winter days, flowers bloom.


Bonjo Arirang

  English translation
If you leave and forsake me, my own,Ere three miles you go, lame you’ll have grown.
Wondrous time, happy time—let us delay;Till night is over, go not away.
Arirang Mount is my Tear-Falling Hill,So seeking my love, I cannot stay still.
The brightest of stars stud the sky so blue;Deep in my bosom burns bitterest rue.
Man’s heart is like water streaming downhill;Woman’s heart is well water—so deep and still.
Young men’s love is like pinecones seeming sound,But when the wind blows, they fall to the ground.
Birds in the morning sing simply to eat;Birds in the evening sing for love sweet.
When man has attained to the age of a score,The mind of a woman should be his love.
The trees and the flowers will bloom for aye,But the glories of youth will soon fade away.

Miryang Arirang

  English translation
Look on me! Look on me! Look on me!In midwinter, when you see a flower, please think of me!Chorus: Ari-arirang! Ssuri-Ssurirang! Arariga nanne!O’er Arirang Pass I long to cross today.
Moonkyung Bird Pass has too many curvesWinding up, winding down, in tears I go.
Carry me, carry me, carry me and go!When flowers bloom in Hanyang, carry me and go.Gangwon Arirang

  English translation
Castor and camelia, bear no beans!Deep mountain fair maidens would go a-flirting.Chorus: Ari-Ari, Ssuri-Ssuri, Arariyo!Ari-Ari Pass I cross and go.
Though I pray, my soya field yet will bear no beans;Castor and camelia, why should you bear beans?
When I broke the hedge bush stem, you said you’d come away;At your doorway I stamp my feet, why do you delay?
Precious in the mountains are darae and moroo;Honey sweet to you and me would be our love so true.
Come to me! Come to me! Come and join me!In a castor and camelia garden we’ll meet, my love!

These are some some versions of Arirang

Interesting facts

While I was searching about the meaning of Arirang I found something very interesting about this song.

According to Kim Young-Woon in The Beginning of Arirang, the repetition of “Arirang” or “arari” in the refrain distinguishes Arirang from other songs. So, what makes an Arirang song is not the musical elements but the lyrics.

According to Kim Young-Woon, the following shows the importance of the refrain components of Arirang songs:

[Type A]

arirang arirang arariyo, arirang gogaero nareul neomgyeojuge.—“Jeongseon Arirang, regional folk song”

(Please pass me over to the Arirang bridge)

arirang arirang arariyo, arirang gogaero nareul neomgyeojuo.—–“Seoul-je Jeongseon Arirang”

(Please pass me over to the Arirang bridge)

arirang arirang arariyo, arirang gogaero neommeoganda.—“Bonjo Arirang” “Gujo Arirang”

arirang arirang

(I am passing over the Arirang bridge)

[Type B]

ariari sseurisseuri arariyo ariari gogaero neomeoganga——“Gangwondo Arirang”

( I am passing over the Arirang bridge)

ariarirang ssrissrirang arariga nanne, arirang gogaereul neomeoganda—“Miryang Arirang”

(I am passing over the Arirang bridge)

ariarirang sseurisseurirang arariga nanne, arirang eungeungeun arariga nanne—“Jindo Arirang”

[Type C]

ariari eollssu arariyo, arirang eolssigu noda gase….”Haeju Arirang”

arirang arirang arariroguryo, arirang arieolssu arariroguryo…”Gin Arirang”

ariari eolssu arariyo, arirang eolssigu nolda gase….”Gangwondo Arirang”

Taking this pattern as a reference, scholars have attempted to discover the meanings of these words by tracing the origin of the Arirang songs. There are two theories:

1. Arirang was formed in the era of the Three Kingdoms

2. it was formed in the late 19 th century, when Gyeongbok Palace was being reconstructed by Daewongun( Great Prince Lee Ha-Eung)

According to the first theory, Arirang was formed during the era of the Three Kingdoms relates this song with Queen Aryeong, the wife of King Park Heonkgeose. According to Samgukyusa ( Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms) and Samguksagi( Historical Record of the Three Kingdoms), the Queen was born from a dragon’s side in a well called “Aryeong Jeong“( well). The queen accompanied the king on his royal tour to encourage the people who were working in farming and silkworm cultivation. Along the way, people sang a song to praise Queen Aryeong.

The second theory focuses on the recording of the word “arirang“or “arari” in Chinese characters. This fact leads the scholars to believe that Arirang was formed when The Gyeongbok Palace  was reconstructed by Daewongun . He began the reconstruction  in 1865 but, because of some financial problems, Daewongun issued a new currency with a face value of 500 times greater than the existing currency. This fact forced the rich to make contributions in his project and mobilized people. It is said that the rich used to sing “airong” in a wish that they would rather not hear anything.( “arirong”means  “I wish I were deaf”) . Also, a lot of families  were separated and they were pressed into slavery. They sang “arirang” which means “I am parted with my family”. Another theory is that “arari” is a variant of the word “analli“, meaning “it is difficult for  me to live apart from my family.”


Kim Young- Woon- The Beginning of Arirang


2 thoughts on “Arirang

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s