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While the ‘Aegukga’ (KR: 애국가; Hanja: 愛歌) is the national anthem of the Republic of Korea, there is a song Koreans tend to sing with more vigour than the song celebrating Korea: Arirang (KR: 아리랑). Time to take a quick look at what is perhaps the national song of Korea, a song loved by both the South and the North.

The Hidden Origin

The true origin of Arirang has been lost to the ages. Truth be told no one truly knows when the song first appeared. Some say the song appeared in the times of the Silla Kingdom, but that is merely a theory. It is, however, widely believed that the song originated Jeongseon (KR: 정선군; Hanja: 旌善郡).

What we do know is that the first mention of the song Arirang appears in a manuscript 1756 according to prof. Keith Howard. But, while the origin of the song is lost to us, the love for the song never left the hearts of Koreans. Arirang holds a special place in the hearts of Koreans, young and old, to this day.

Arirang Lyrics

When you ask the lyrics for Arirang to two different persons, chances are you will end up with two different versions. That is because this humble song has 60 different versions with over 3 600 variations combined. You will end up hearing a lot of different versions of the song everywhere. Koreans differentiate between the different versions of Arirang by adding a prefix. The prefix is typically a reference to the region of origin of that particular version. Koreans consider the “Jeongseon Arirang” (KR: 정선 아리랑) as the original version of the song. Meanwhile “Bonjo Arirang” (KR: 본조 아리랑), the Seoul version, is the most well-known version of the immortal Korean song. The lyrics here are but one variant of the “Bonjo Arirang” version.

Bonjo Arirang Lyrics
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The “Bonjo Arirang” Lyrics

Modern Arirang Rendition On KBS World

Of course, artists create new variants to existing versions or create their own versions of the immortal Arirang. I believe many popular Korean singers, if not all, performed their own interpretation of the song. Here is an example of Arirang Alone (KR: 홀로 아리랑) sung by the singer Kim So-Hyang (KR: 김소향).

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