Introduction of Esraj in Nepal
It is believed that the first Nepali to discover the Esraj was painter Chandra Prasad Maskey. He brought the Instrument to Nepal when he returned from Calcutta in 1982 after studying art and learning the Esraj there. But the instrument was formally played and promoted in Nepal by Late Badya Shiromani Ganesh Lal Shrestha and Mohan Prasad Joshi.
Later Badya Shiromani Mohan Prashad Joshi introduced this instrument and taught the skill of playing Esraj to my Guru Santosh Bhakta Shrestha. Today including the pioneer Esraj Players, there are only few Esraj Players in Nepal. These few Esraj Players are trying to trace the true History of this instrument in Nepal.
The 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. Having a strong semblance, with slight difference in structure, to the Dilruba, the Esraj was originally an instrument of Afghanistan and was said to have made its appearance in North India during the Pashtun rule. It is learnt, that both these instruments emerged, combining the features of Sarangi and Sitar, due to needs of the society during that period. Apart from the Sarangi, there were no other bowed instruments on the classical music scene during the 19th century. Moreover, the Sarangi was a difficult instrument to play and to master, while the frets on Dilruba and Esraj made it a bit easier to play them.
For stability and tone enrichment there is a gourd that is sometimes fixed to the top of the instrument. The Esraj is played with a bow. Countries like India, Bangladesh, Srilanka, Pakistan, Afghanistan & Nepal it is learnt, that the Esraj became popular about a hundred or two hundred years ago. This instrument, which had become almost extinct during the 1980s, was revived and used in Gurmat Sangeet. Known as the ‘Voice of the Sikhs’, it is learnt, that the Esraj was made and promoted by a sect of Sikhism – the Namdaris.The Esraj is generally used as an accompanying instrument (as in Rabindra Sangeet). It is also mostly performed as a solo instrument in Hindustani music mainly in the Vishnupur tradition. 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. Rabindranath Tagore made this instrument mandatory for all the students of sangeet bhavana of Shantiniketan. Esraj is the main accompanying instrument for rabindra sangeet in Shantiniketan.
The word “Tar” literally means “stringed” and ” Shehnai” means “South Asian music instrument”.The Indian bowed instrument also called ‘Esraj’, is well known with the name ‘Tar Shehnai’ whose sound is amplified by a metal horn attached to its sound board.Tar shehanai is merely a small mechanical amplifier that has been added to an esraj. The Tar shehanai is just a modified esraj and there are really no significant differences in technique or tuning.
How is Esraj physically made
There are various materials used to make this instrument. The structure of Esraj is made up from Tun, Sagwan or Rose wood. The solid wooden body is covered with leather made from Goat’s skin that acts as a resonance cover. To the middle of this parched goats skin, a horn bridge is fixed known as the Ghurach, to which playing four strings are fixed. The bridge is thin, similar to that of sitar and Sarangi. There are grooves made on the bridge on which the main strings rest. These strings are attached to the main pegs at the top of the instrument. There are sympathetic strings (15 -18 in number) that go through the holes drilled in the bridge. They are usually made of metal or partly steel and partly bronze.
To the side of the fingerboard is added an extra wooden strip for the tuning pegs of the sympathetic strings. In order to provide extra support to the leather that is under the bridge, there is an extra strap of leather that is fixed securely under the bridge and pinned on the corners of the sound box.
The Esraj is divided into two parts, the Dand or the fingerboard and the Pyala (sound box) that is round or oval-shaped. This is cut from the sides to facilitate bowing. The segment where the two parts are connected is called as the Gulu, which is an important joint that has to be fixed carefully. The fingerboard is long ,having around 19 – 21 frets made from metal resembling the Sitar. These frets are movable like that of the Sitar and can be shifted up and down as and when needed.