The Day I Fell In Love with Onara

No, don't think that way. Onara is not a human being. It is a song.

This song is closely associated with the globally-acclaimed Korean television drama series that earned so much respect, was dubbed in different languages, and whose theme song and soundtrack were adopted for grand operas and philharmonic performances.

Jewel in the Palace, starred by Lee Young Ai, is based on the story of Korean historical personality Dae Jang Geum (literally "The Great Jang Geum"), an orphaned palace kitchen maid who went on to become the king's first female physician. In a time when women held little influence in society, young apprentice cook Jang Geum strove to learn the secrets of Korean cooking and medicine in order to cure the King of his various ailments. It is based on the true story of Jang Geum, the first female royal physician of the Joseon Dynasty. The main themes are her perseverance and the portrayal of traditional Korean culture, including Korean royal court cuisine and traditional medicine.

When the TV series was released for the first time, people were so amazed and they thought Onara was a historical classic, too.

What does Onara mean?

According to, Onara is from a traditional korean genre called “pansori”. It’s very heavy and sad. The language used in this song is unintelligible to the majority of Koreans, as well as is in the form of an ancient Korean poem, and when Daejanggeum aired, people were perplexed as to what the song might mean.

There are a few explanations of the meaning of the song. One is that this is a sad song depicting the hearts of palace maids in Joseon Dynasty era in which they spend their whole lives hoping the king will notice each of them. The king cannot come and go as they wish, and each one feels sad that he does not know her love for him. It’s a regret for the maid since now she has to grow old all alone without ever having a relationship with the king. Most will never even get the king’s attention, they would tell themselves ‘oh nuh ra oh nuh ra ah joo oh ra’ (come come really come) as a good luck to themselves. [italics supplied]

Now, my turn. I got so fascinated with Onara (and of course with Dae Jang Geum, that my summers would not last without replaying the 54-episode series!), that I researched on the best renditions of the song.

Below is a variety of interpretations that captured my attention.

Solo Performance on Piano by Yang Song

Original Soundtrack performed by Baek Bo-Hyun

Chinese Youth Orchestra (No, they are not the hackers of UP website. LOL!). This is one of the most amazing performances I've ever seen -- and amazing because it is primarily composed of young musicians.

How the song was used in the TV series