What does 'Arirang' mean?
There are a number of versions of this popular folk song, depending on the area of the country one hears it. The literal translation appears to be "beautiful dear". Some say the name comes from a mountain pass. The origins have been lost in history, but the song represent yearning, abandonment, aloneness such as that of a lover left behind.
A bit more fancifully, "Ari" could be from the Korean word 아리따운 meaning "beautiful" and "rang" could be from "sarang" – "love". The most commonly heard version is a comparatively recent (older versions date back 600 years) Seoul Arirang, and the popularity of that stems from a 1926 movie titled (you guessed it) "Arirang". This was a strong anti-Japanese occupation film with the Samil (3-1) movement at the center of the story. All things considered, it's remarkable that the film was allowed to be shown, let alone become as popular as it did.
Another version of Arirang that was popular with Peace Corps volunteers (who were in Korea from 1969 to 1981) while drinking mokkoli with friends is the Milyang Arirang. Somehow that song just goes with friends and mokkoli.
Arirang does not mean just one particular song. It stands for any song containing a refrain with word such as arirang or arari.
Gyeonggi Arirang song lyric :
아리랑, 아리랑, 아라리요…
아리랑 고개로 넘어간다.
나를 버리고 가시는 님은
십리도 못가서 발병난다.
Arirang, Arirang, Arariyo…
Arirang gogaero neomeoganda.
Nareul beorigo gasineun nimeun
Sibrido motgaseo balbyeongnanda.
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. Some versions of Arirang mention Mungyeong Saejae, which is the main mountain pass on the ancient Joseon Dynasty road between Seoul and southeastern Gyeongsang Province.
There are apparently a number of passes in Korea called “Arirang Pass”. One such is a pass among some hills in central-northeastern Seoul. That Arirang Pass, however, was originally called Jeongneung Pass and was only renamed in 1926, to commemorate the release of the film Arirang. 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).
Arirang on Jazz versions : Kangwondo Arirang(Korean Blues)
Vocals: Youn Sun Nah