EOn Sunday 16 th February at the Guruswamy Centre in Marredpally, I had the most unusual experience. I was told we were to listen to a live performance on an instrument called the Esraj: the name rang no bells . But when I saw the photograph put out by the centre, I was quite taken aback. This looked like a modified sarangi.
The predecessor of the esraj was the dilruba , which originated in the Afghan hills and later became an essential part of Sikh devotional music
Dilruba and esraj appeared on the Indian musical scenario in the nineteenth century. These two have the combined characteristics of the sitar and sarangi. These have long necks, frets and metal strings of the sitar, but unlike the sitar, they have a soundbox with parched skin and are played with a bow like the sarangi.
Ever watched a Rajasthani folk singer play his sarangi, with its cluster of tinkling bells at the end of the bow? He is a one man orchestra and provides rhythm and notes to his powerful voice.
We were early . The morning’s event was being tuned up! While Amit Bhushan played his tabla, Aexandre Jurain turned up his esraj.The person who was to play the tanpura was absent so another young French girl did the required strumming.
The performance was electric and very lively. Alexandre is indeed a master of his craft and did justice to his stay and study at Shantiniketan for the last nineteen years. As an introduction he told us all he knew about the dilruba and the esraj—-in his French accented English.
I came away with a warm glowing feeling—it took a Frenchman to bring home an Indian instrument to me. Once again, I thanked my long gone parents for awakening in me, an interest in Indian classical music. And I was truly appreciative of Alexandre’s skill and his contribution to the music of India.