"Arirang" (아리랑; [a.ɾi.ɾaŋ]) is a Korean folk song, often considered the unofficial national anthem of Korea. There are about 3,600 variations of 60 different versions of the song, all of which include a refrain similar to, "Arirang, arirang, arariyo (아리랑, 아리랑, 아라리요)" It is estimated the song is more than 600 years old.
"Arirang" is included twice on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list. South Korea successfully submitted the song for inclusion on the UNESCO list in 2012. North Korea also successfully submitted the song for inclusion in 2014. In 2015, the South Korean Cultural Heritage Administration added the song to its list of important intangible cultural assets.
It is believed that "Arirang" originated in Jeongseong, Gangwon Province. According to one legend, the name is derived from the story of a bachelor and a maiden who fell in love while picking camellia blossoms near the wharf at Auraji (아우라지). In one version of the story, the bachelor cannot cross the Auraji to meet the maiden because the water is too high, and they sing a song to express their sorrow. In another version of the story, the bachelor attempts to cross the Auraji and drowns, singing the sorrowful song after he dies.
Other theories on the origin of the name "Arirang" point to Lady Aryeong, wife of the first king of Silla; "arin," the Jurchen word for "hometown"; and a Chinese song named "Airang."
According to prof. Keith Howard, "Arirang" originated in the "moutainous regions" of Jeongseon, and the first mention about the song was found in a 1756 manuscript.
The first known recording of "Arirang" was made in 1896 by American ethnologist Alice C. Fletcher. Fletcher recorded three Korean students singing a song she called, "Love Song: Ar-ra-rang," in her home in Washington, D.C. One source suggests that the students belonged to noble Korean families and were studying abroad at Howard University during the period the recording was made. The recordings are currently housed in the U.S. Library of Congress.
During the Japanese occupation of Korea from 1910 to 1945, "Arirang" became a resistance anthem against Imperial Japanese rule. Korean protesters sang "Arirang" during the March 1 Movement, a Korean demonstration against Japan in 1919. Many of the variations of "Arirang" that were written during the occupation contain themes of injustice, the plight of laborers, and guerrilla warfare.
The most well-known lyrics to "Arirang" first appeared in the 1926 silent film Arirang, directed by Na Woon-gyu. Arirang is now considered a lost film, but various accounts say the film was about a Korean student who became mentally ill after being imprisoned and tortured by the Japanese. The film was a hit upon its release and is considered the first Korean nationalist film.
Popularity in Japan
Japan experienced a craze for Korean culture in general and for "Arirang" in particular during its occupation of Korea. Over 50 Japanese versions of "Arirang" were released between 1931 and 1943, in genres including pop, jazz, and mambo.
All versions of "Arirang" include a refrain similar to, "Arirang, arirang, arariyo (아리랑, 아리랑, 아라리요)." The word "arirang" itself is nonsensical and does not have a precise meaning in Korean. While the other lyrics vary from version to version, the themes of sorrow, separation, reunion, and love appear in most versions.
The table below includes the lyrics of "Standard Arirang" from Seoul. The first two lines are the refrain. The refrain is followed by three verses.
- English translation
- 아리랑, 아리랑, 아라리요...
- 아리랑 고개로 넘어간다
- Arirang, Arirang, Arariyo...
- Arirang gogaero neomeoganda
- Arirang, Arirang, Arariyo...
- You are going over Arirang hill
- 나를 버리고 가시는 님은
- 십리도 못가서 발병난다.
- Nareul beorigo gashineun nimeun
- Shimrido motgaseo balbyeongnanda.
- My love, you are leaving me
- Your feet will be sore before you go ten li.
- 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.
There are an estimated 3,600 variations of 60 different versions of "Arirang." Titles of different versions of "Arirang" are usually prefixed by their place of origin.
While "Jeongseong Arirang" is generally considered to be the original version of the song, "Bonjo Arirang" (literally: Standard Arirang) from Seoul is probably the most famous version. This version was first made popular when it was used as the theme song of the influential 1926 film Arirang.
Other famous variations include "Jindo Arirang" from South Jeolla Province, a region known for being the birthplace of Korean folk music genres pansori and sinawi; and "Miryang Arirang" from South Gyeongsang Province.
Both South Korea and North Korea submitted "Arirang" to be included on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list. South Korea successfully submitted the song for inclusion in 2012. North Korea successfully submitted the song for inclusion in 2014.
In 2015, the South Korean Cultural Heritage Administration added the "Arirang" to its list of important intangible cultural assets.
Arirang, Lyrics in English Adaptation-2 by GSIT at HUFS in 2013. Adaptation of W. B. Yeats
' 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.
The U.S. Army's 7th Infantry Division adopted "Arirang" as its official march song in May 1956, after receiving permission from Syngman Rhee, the first president of South Korea. The division had been stationed in Korea from 1950 to 1953, during the Korean War.
In popular culture
- American composer John Barnes Chance based his 1962-63 concert band composition Variations on a Korean Folk Song on a version of "Arirang" that he heard in Korea in the late 1950s.
- The tune of "Arirang" is used for the 1986 Christian hymn, "Christ, You Are the Fullness."
- The New York Philharmonic performed "Arirang" for an encore during its unprecedented trip to North Korea on February 26, 2008.
- In November 2013, the student choir at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies performed "Arirang" in English, Chinese, Japanese, French, Italian, Spanish, German, Russian, Arabic and Korean.
- K-pop group BTS performed an "Arirang" medley at KCON France in June 2016.
- An October 2016 episode of South Korean TV music competition show Immortal Songs: Singing the Legend was an "Arirang" special, featuring famous musicians performing different variations of the song.
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