India's association with magicians goes back thousands of years. Conjurors and illusionists dazzled the courts of Hindu maharajas and Mughal emperors. As British dominion spread over the subcontinent, such wonder-workers became synonymous with India. Western magicians appropriated Indian attire, tricks and stage names; switching their turbans for top hats, Indian jugglers fought back and earned their grudging respect.
This book tells the extraordinary story of how Indian magic descended from the realm of the gods to become part of daily ritual and popular entertainment across the globe. Recounting tales of levitating Brahmins, resurrections, prophesying monkeys and "the most famous trick never performed," Empire of Enchantment vividly charts Indian magic's epic journey from street to the stage.
This heavily illustrated book tells the extraordinary, untold story of how Indian magic descended from the realm of the gods to become part of daily ritual and popular entertainment across the globe. Drawing on ancient religious texts, early travelers' accounts, colonial records, modern visual sources, and magicians' own testimony, Empire of Enchantment is a vibrant narrative of India's magical traditions, from Vedic times to the present day.
Men walk on fire, assistants are stabbed before reappearing unharmed, and white magicians attempt to evoke the Orient in journalist Zubrzycki's (The Mysterious Mr. Jacob) underwhelming, Eurocentric history of Indian stage magic. The first half of the book delves into mythology and religious tradition, revealing that many of the tricks most associated with Indian magic have their origins in ascetic practices and religious beliefs. The second half examines the cross-pollination of Indian and Euro-American magic and their practitioners. Cultural appropriation and the Europeanization of upper-class Indians sped this process along, Zubrzycki says, until it culminated in the persona of India's best-known magician, P.C. Sorcar, who in the 1950s and '60s took "Indian magic where it had never gone before, presenting Western-style tricks in elaborate Oriental settings." Zubrzycki draws almost exclusively on British sources, repeating their views without interrogating their biases, and frames success in Indian magic in terms of acceptance by British and American magicians. He spends far more time on Sorcar's conflicts with Euro-American magicians than on his impact on Indian magic. Readers looking for an Indian perspective or India-centric cultural history should look elsewhere.