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Dilruba boy.jpg
A Sikh boy playing the Esraj
String instrument
Other namesIsraj
Classification Bowed string instrument
Developed17th century
Playing range
5-6 Octaves
Related instruments

Esraj (Punjabi: ਇਸਰਾਜ (Gurmukhi); modern variant of the Dilruba (Punjabi: ਦਿਲਰੂਬਾ (Gurmukhi)) is a string instrument played with a bow originating from the southern region of Asia. It is a relatively recent instrument, being only about 300 years old; primarily found in traditional eastern Bengal (Bangladesh)—being the area historically where renowned literature, poetry and music arrived from and in Punjab, where it is used in Sikh music and Hindustani classical compositions, and in West Bengal. The history and origin of the instrument is often disputed.

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 attention. Despite the decline, it still remained popular in Bangladeshi music.


The dilruba was created some 300 years ago by the 10th Sikh guru, Guru Gobind Singh, who based it on the much older, and heavier, taus[1][2] This made it more convenient for the Khalsa, the Sikh army, to carry the instrument on horseback.

According to the folklore Esraj was created by Ishwari Raj. Musician lived in Gayadam.

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 carries a long wooden rack of 12–15 sympathetic strings. While the dilruba has more sympathetic strings and a differently shaped body than the esraj, Esraj has four main strings while Dilruba has 6 both which are bowed. All strings are metal. The soundboard is a stretched piece of goatskin similar to what is found on a sarangi. Occasionally, 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 over the frets. The player may slide the note up or down to achieve the portamento, or meend.

Notable figures[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]