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  • Writer's pictureBright Wisdom

Korean traditional folk song Arirang 아리랑

Updated: May 27, 2023

Aegukga (Korean national anthem) is the official anthem of Korea, Arirang is a traditional folk song that is very popular and sung widely by Koreans that you can almost call it an unofficial anthem.

It is an evocative hymn for Koreans, that has the power to unite and enhance communications among the Korean people whether home or abroad.

Arirang is considered as a national treasure and is made as the outcome of collective contributions of ordinary Koreans throughout generations. The lyrics of the song vary depending on region and also it is sung in many different styles, including improvisation, imitation and singing in unison. Experts estimate that there are about 3600 variations belonging to about 60 versions. A great virtue of Arirang is its respect for human creativity, freedom of expression and empathy.

Korean Temple

One of the most popular and well known arirang is from Kyung-Gi region.

The main lyrics are as below.

아리랑 아리랑 아라리요 Arirang arirang arariyo

아리랑 고개로넘어간다 Arirang goge-ro neo-meo ganda

나를 버리고 가시는 님은 Nareul Beo-ri-go gashineun-nim-eun

십리도 못 가서 발병난다 Ship-ri-do motgaseo bal-byung-nan-da

English translation:

Arirang arirang arariyo

Crossing over arirang pass

The one who abandons me

shall not walk even 10-ri

before his/her feet hurt

*ri* = a unit for distance, 10 ri is about 4km.


Of the various interpretations on the meaning of Arirang, I really like the one from the book "World beyond world" by Woo Myung.

"Arirang refers to the name of a crest of a mountain. Finding our true self is like crossing the crest. People think that in order to find something there must be an actual place for us to search. When we say crossing over the crest in order to find out true selves, it means that we must find the God or Buddha within us."

"My lover who abandons me will not get far because his feet hurt so bad."

The verse means that one who abandons his true self no longer has a path to take.

From World beyond world, p124


Arirang songs often have the feeling of sadness and longing for a lost lover or home.

As I read the passage from the book, I feel the object of the lost lover actually means the true self, and also home is not referring to the place where our physical body was born, but the origin where we actually come from before our birth, the universe.

Here I found a Youtube video of a young Korean girl singing Arirang. Hope you enjoy!

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