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Dilruba detail.jpg
String instrument
Classification Bowed string instrument
Developed 17th century
Related instruments

The Dilruba (Punjabi: ਦਿਲਰੱਬਾ; also called the Esraj) is a Sikh string instrument found in two forms throughout the Indian subcontinent. It is a relatively young instrument, being only about 300 years old. The Dilruba (translated as robber of the heart) is found in North India, primarily Punjab, where it is used in Sikh music and Hindustani classical compositions. The Esraj is a modern variant of the Dilruba, differing slightly in structure.

The Dilruba and its variant, the Esraj, had been declining in popularity for many decades. By the 1980s, the instrument was nearly extinct. However with the rising influence of the "Gurmat Sangeet" movement, the instrument has been once again attracting considerable attention.


The Dilruba was created some 300 years ago by the 10th Sikh guru, Guru Gobind Singh, who based it on the much older Taus, which was the work of the sixth Sikh guru, Guru Hargobind.[1][2] The Dilruba was then produced to replace the previously heavy instrument, the Taus. This attempt was intended to scale down the Taus into what is now known to be the Dilruba, making it more convenient for the Khalsa, the Sikh army to carry the instrument on horseback.

Additionally, the Esraj is a more modern variant of the Dilruba that was made and promoted by the Namdharis. It has been recently adopted into Rabindra Sangeet by musicians from Bengal.

Construction styles[edit]

The Dilruba and its variant, the Esraj, have a similar yet distinct construction style, with each having a medium sized sitar-like neck with 20 heavy metal frets. This neck holds on a long wooden rack of 12–15 sympathetic strings. While the Dilruba has more sympathetic strings and a differently shaped body than the Esraj, they both have four main strings which are bowed. All strings are metal. The soundboard is a stretched piece of goatskin similar to what is found on a sarangi. Sometimes the instrument has a gourd affixed to the top for balance or for tone enhancement.


The instrument can be rested between the knees while the player kneels, or more commonly rested on the knee of the player while sitting, or also on the floor just in front of the player, with the neck leaning on the left shoulder. It is played with a bow (known as a "gaz"), with the other hand moving along the strings above the frets. The player may slide the note up or down to achieve the portamento, or meend, characteristic of Indian music.

A Sikh boy playing the Dilruba

Notable players[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Dutta, Madhumita (2008). Let's Know Music and Musical Instruments of India. Star Publications. pp. 22–23. ISBN 978-1-9058-6329-7. 
  2. ^ Dharam Singh (2001). Perspectives on Sikhism. Publication Bureau, Punjabi University. p. 158. ISBN 978-8-1738-0736-7. 

External links[edit]