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Esraj is a combination between saringda and sitar. The base of the instrument is like saringda while the neck and strings are like sitar. It gives a sound very much like
without being as difficult to play. This instrument is often confused with
. Both have a similar construction and technique. The approach to tuning is somewhat similar to the sitar. The esraj is popular in the Bengal area of India.It is a young instrument by Indian terms, being only about 200 years old. The
is found in the north, where it is used in religious music and light classical songs in the urban areas. Its name is translated as "robber of the heart." The esraj is found in the east and central areas, particularly Bengal, as well as Bangladesh, and it is used in a somewhat wider variety of musical styles than is the
The structure of both instruments is very similar, 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
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
. 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, 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.
The esraj is mostly used as an accompanying instrument. It is the accompanying instrument of choice for Rabindra Sangeet singing. However, it has also been used as a solo instrument to interpret Hindustani Classical Music, mostly in the Vishnupur tradition. Additionally, the esraj is a more modern invention from the
that was made and promoted by the Namdharis.
and the esraj had been declining in popularity for many decades. By the 1980's the instrument was nearly extinct. However with the rising influence of the "Gurmat Sangeet" movement, these instruments are once again attracting considerable attention.