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Dilruba boy.jpg
A Sikh boy playing the Esraj
String instrument
Classification Bowed string instrument
Developed17th century
Related instruments

Esraj is an Indian stringed instrument found in two forms throughout the Indian subcontinent. It is a relatively recent instrument, being only about 300 years old. It is found in North India, primarily Punjab, where it is used in Sikh music and Hindustani classical compositions and in West Bengal. 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 attention.

The famous scientist Satyendra Nath Bose often played the esraj in a corner of his house in Kolkata.[1]


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.[2][3] The dilruba was invented to replace its heavier predecessor, the taus. This made it more convenient for the Khalsa, the Sikh army, to carry the instrument on horseback.

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 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, 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 over the frets. The player may slide the note up or down to achieve the portamento, or meend.

Notable players[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Vigyan Prasar - SC Bose". Government of India. Retrieved 14 June 2017.
  2. ^ Dutta, Madhumita (2008). Let's Know Music and Musical Instruments of India. Star Publications. pp. 22–23. ISBN 978-1-9058-6329-7.
  3. ^ Dharam Singh (2001). Perspectives on Sikhism. Publication Bureau, Punjabi University. p. 158. ISBN 978-8-1738-0736-7.

External links[edit]