This article is about the Korean traditional song. For other uses, see Arirang (disambiguation).
Arirang, lyrical folk song in the Republic of Korea

Song So-hee performing "Arirang"
Country Republic of Korea
Reference 445
Region Asia and the Pacific
Inscription history
Inscription 2012 (7th session)
Arirang folk song in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea

A man about to depart on a journey through a mountain pass is seen off by a girl. Scene from the Arirang Festival in North Korea.
Country Democratic People's Republic of Korea
Reference 914
Region Asia and the Pacific
Inscription history
Inscription 2014 (9th session)
Revised Romanization Arirang
McCune–Reischauer Arirang

"Arirang" (Korean: 아리랑) is a Korean folk song, often considered as the unofficial national anthem of Korea.[1]

In December 2012, South Korea's submission of the song was inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity program by UNESCO.[2][3] This was followed by the Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea's announcement of a five-year plan to promote and preserve the song. The plan supports "Arirang" festivals by regional organizations with the purpose of building an archive for the song, promoting research grants, holding exhibitions, and so on.[4] The song's first translation into singable lyrics in nine languages was performed in December 2013.

North Korea also submitted the song to the Intangible cultural heritage list and their submission was inscribed in 2014.[5]


Arirang, Lyrics in English Adaptation-2 by GSIT at HUFS in 2013. Adaptation of W. B. Yeats' great poem, 'The Falling of the Leaves,' into the Arirang melody to convey the woe and sorrow with which Korean people sympathize when listening to the song.
Arirang performed by the United States Army Band Strings with a tenor soloist
Arirang performed by the United States Army Band Chorus with a tenor soloist

Many versions of the song start by describing the travails encountered by the subject of the song while crossing a mountain pass. "Arirang" is one name for the pass and hence the title of the song. Some versions of "Arirang" mention Mungyeong Saejae, which is the main mountain pass on the road connecting Seoul and southeastern Gyeongsang Province during the Joseon Dynasty.

There are apparently a number of passes called "Arirang Pass" in Korea. One of them is located in central-northeastern Seoul. This particular pass, however, was originally called Jeongneung Pass and was only renamed as Arirang in 1926 to commemorate the release of the film Arirang.[6] Older versions of the song long predate the movie.

Arirang Pass (아리랑 고개) is an imaginary rendezvous of lovers in the land of dreams, although there is a real mountain pass, called "Arirang Gogae," outside the Small East Gate of Seoul. The heroine of the story from which the Arirang Song originated was a fair maid of Miryang. In fact, she was a modest woman killed by an unrequited lover. But as time went on, the tragic story changed to that of an unrequited lady-love who complained of her unfeeling lover. The tune is sweet and appealing. The story is recounted in "Miss Arirang" in Folk Tales of Old Korea (Korean Cultural Series, Vol. VI).


There are many variations of the song, which may be classified based on the lyrics, the timing when the refrain is sung, the nature of the refrain, the overall melody, and so on. Titles of different versions of "Arirang" are usually prefixed by their place of origin or some other kind of signifier.

The original form of "Arirang" is Jeongseon Arirang, which has been sung for more than 600 years. However the most famous version of "Arirang" is that of Seoul. It is the so-called Bonjo Arirang, although it is not actually "standard" (bonjo: 본조; 本調). This version is more widely known simply as Arirang, and is of relatively recent origin. It was first made popular when it was used as the theme song of the influential early feature film Arirang (1926).[7] This version of the song is also called Sin Arirang (Shin; "new") or Gyeonggi Arirang, after its provenance, Seoul, which was formerly part of Gyeonggi Province. (The titles Bonjo Arirang and Sin Arirang are also sometimes applied to other versions of the song.)

Particularly famous folk versions of Arirangall of which long predate the standard versioninclude:

Paldo Arirang is sometimes used to collectively denote all the many regional versions of the song, as sung in the far-flung regions of Korea's traditional Eight Provinces (Paldo).

The American composer John Barnes Chance based his 1965 concert band composition Variations on a Korean Folk Song on a version of "Arirang" which he heard in Korea in the late 1950s.

Translation into other languages

Until 2013, the song's lyrics had not been translated into other languages into a song, forcing singers to sing romanized Korean lyrics. In the fall of 2013, a group of professional translators and interpreters from the Hankuk University, Graduate School of Translation and Interpretation at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies produced singable lyrics of "Arirang" in nine languages other than Korean. On 3 December 2013, professor Jongsup Jun directed a concert under the title of "Let the World Sing Arirang in their Tongues", in which a student choir sang the famous Kyunggi "Arirang" in English, Chinese, Japanese, French, Italian, Spanish, German, Russian, Arabic and Korean.[8][9][10]


The table below gives the refrain (first two lines; the refrain precedes the first verse) and first verse (third and fourth lines) of the standard version of the song in Hangul, romanized Korean, and a literal English translation:

Korean original
English translation
아리랑, 아리랑, 아라리요...
아리랑 고개로 넘어간다.
나를 버리고 가시는 님은
십리도 못가서 발병난다.
Arirang, Arirang, Arariyo...
Arirang gogaero neomeoganda.
Nareul beorigo gashineun nimeun
Shimrido motgaseo balbyeongnanda.
Arirang, Arirang, Arariyo...[11]
Crossing over Arirang Pass.[12]
Dear[13] who abandoned me [here]
Shall not walk even ten li[14] before his/her feet hurt.[15]

The standard version of Arirang (Seoul Arirang or Gyeonggi Arirang) has various verses, although other verses are not as frequently sung as the first verse. The lyrics are different from singer to singer:

Korean original
English translation
청천하늘엔 잔별도 많고
우리네 가슴엔 희망도 많다
Cheongcheonhaneuren janbyeoldo manko
Uri ne gaseumen huimangdo manta
Just as there are many stars in the clear sky,
There are also many dreams in our heart.
저기 저 산이 백두산이라지
동지 섣달에도 꽃만 핀다
Jeogi jeo sani Baekdusaniraji
Dongji seotdaredo kkotman pinda
There, over there that mountain is Baekdu Mountain,
Where, even in the middle of winter days, flowers bloom.


In all versions of the song, the refrain and each verse are of equal length. In some versions, such as the standard version and Jindo Arirang, the first refrain precedes the first verse, while in other versions, including Miryang Arirang, the first refrain follows the first verse. Perhaps the easiest way to classify versionsapart from melody, which can vary widely between different versionsis the lyrics of the refrain. In the standard and some other versions, the first line of the refrain is "Arirang, Arirang, arariyo...," while in both the Jindo Arirang and Miryang Arirang (which are otherwise quite different from each other), the first line of the refrain begins with "Ari arirang, seuri seurirang...." ("Arariyo" and "seurirang")

Miryang Arirang

Statue commemorating the Miryang Arirang near Miryang Station
Korean original
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 weak Bird has too many curves
Winding up, winding down, in tears I go.
Carry me, carry me, carry me and go!
When flowers bloom in Hanyang, carry me and go.

Bird Pass or "Saejae" is the summit of a high mountain, rising north of Moonkyung in the ancient highway, linking Seoul with Miryang and Tongnae (Pusan). Its sky-kissing heights are so rugged that in their eyes. This is a love song of a dancing girl from Miryang who was left behind by her lover from Seoul (Hanyang). She is calling him to take her with him to Hanyang. She believed that her own beauty was above all flowers in Hanyang. The words in the first line of the chorus are sounds of bitter sorrow at parting. This song was composed by Kim Dong Jin.

Gangwon Arirang

Korean original
English translation
Castor and camellia, 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 camellia, 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 camellia garden we'll meet, my love!

The highland maids would like to make up their hair with castor and camellia oils and go flirting instead working in the soybean fields. The mountain grape moroo and banana-shaped darae were precious foods to mountain folk. The song is sarcastic, but emotional to comfort the fair solitary reapers who go about gathering the wild fruits in the deep mountains of Kangwon-do.

Association with the United States

The South Korean government designated "Arirang" as the official march of the U.S. Army's 7th Infantry Division since 26 May 1956,[16] after its service in Korea during the Korean War, though the official Division song was the "New Arirang March," an American-style march arrangement of "Arirang" (the 7th Infantry Division was inactive and was reactivated as an administrative headquarters at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington on October 1, 2012 to provide more oversight and guidance for the base’s five combat brigades).[17]

On February 26, 2008, the New York Philharmonic performed "Arirang" for an encore during its unprecedented trip to North Korea.[18]

In popular culture

The tune is used for the hymn "Christ, You Are the Fullness".[19]

See also


  1. Stout, Mira (1998). One Thousand Chestnut Trees. New York: Riverhead Books. p. 278. ISBN 1-57322-738-2.
  2. "Arirang, lyrical folk song in the Republic of Korea". Intangible Heritage. UNESCO. Retrieved 25 February 2013.
  3. Chung, Ah-young (12 December 2012). "'Arirang' makes it to UNESCO heritage". Korea Times. Retrieved 25 March 2013.
  4. "UNESCO Puts 'Arirang' on Intangible Heritage List". Chosun Ilbo. 6 December 2012. Retrieved 25 February 2013.
  5. "Arirang folk song in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea". UNESCO Culture Sector. Retrieved 2009-09-07.
  6. According to an article on the pass from the Seoul city government's website (; in Korean only).
  7. See Yonhap News's article () for a discussion of the song's history and its connection to the film.
  8. "HUFS to hold concert featuring 'Arirang' in 10 languages". The Korea Herald. 19 November 2013. Retrieved 19 November 2013.
  9. "10개의 언어로 만나는 '아리랑' 노래". 연합뉴스. 19 November 2013. Retrieved 19 November 2013.
  10. "여러 언어로 번역된 아리랑, 가슴이 뭉클했다". OhmyNews. 4 December 2013. Retrieved 4 December 2013.
  11. "Arariyo" ("아라리요") has no meaning and simply helps the flow of the song.
  12. Pronouns are often omitted in Korean, but this refers to "nim" of line 3.
  13. Grammatical gender is often not conveyed in Korean sentences, so the gender of the singer and of the "dear" is not specified.
  14. Ten li are equivalent to about 4 kilometers, or 2.5 miles.
  15. "His/her feet hurt" ("balbyeong nanda"; "발병 난다") could be translated literally as "he/she develops a foot disease," but the sense being conveyed is that of having hurt feet after trudging over a mountain pass.
  16. 7th Infantry Division Assn Archived March 3, 2013, at the Wayback Machine.
  17. Fort Carson - 7th Infantry Division - Arirang; see also
  18. "New York Philharmonic Performs in North Korea", NY Times, February 26, 2008
  19. 큰돌 (25 May 2011). 미국과 캐나다의 찬송가에 실린 아리랑 - 편한 글판 - 큰돌넷. 큰돌넷 (in Korean). Retrieved 14 February 2015.

External links

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