Sari Gan a kind of folk song, sung especially by boatmen. It is often known as workmen's song as well. The name sari gan is derived from the fact that boatmen or crew usually sit in a sari or row while singing such songs. It is also popular among workers as it redeems the tedium of work and keeps up the tempo.
The first mention of sari gan can be found in poet vijay gupta's book Padmapurana, where the word sari has been used to denote song. Later on, during the Mughal Period when boat races became popular in rural Bengal, this type of song became common. With the passage of time it was adopted to accompany various other activities such as ploughing, weeding, cutting etc, and much later to the beating of roof-tops. Nowadays, sari gan is no longer only a worker's song but is also a source of entertainment and forms a major component of many competitions.
These songs are usually sung by a male chorus. But in recent years, with women forming part of the workforce, women sing these songs as well. The performance is led by a bayati or lead singer, who sings the main part of the song and directs the refrain or chorus (dohar). Basically rhythmic by nature, such songs can be fast-paced or slow, depending on the strokes of the oars or hammers. When these strokes are slow, the pace of the song is slow and when the strokes are fast, the pace of the song is automatically fast. Since the main aim of sari gan is to encourage work, eliminate strain, and entertain workers, the subjects of such songs are very diverse: they may be about radha and krishna or shiva and Parvati, as well as about human lovers or heroes. Their themes may be mystical, comic, or critical. Accompanying musical instruments are generally the dhol, mandira (cymbals), kartal etc.
Sari gan can be sung at any time and in any place: on terraces, rivers and large water-bodies, and in fields. They are very popular in the south-eastern lowlands of Bangladesh, locally known as the bhati area. They are also popular in Dhaka, Sylhet, Mymensingh, Faridpur, Pabna, Rajshahi, Rangpur, Dinajpur, Jessore, Khulna and Barisal. [Momen Chowdhury]