Left - Mohammed, a Hindu Magician Imported by Thurston.  Improves on the Basket Trick by Apparently Actually Stabbing the Boy

 

THERE are magicians in India-thousands of them-and they present certain mysteries which are baffling to the untrained  observer.  To a magician, however, their methods are simple, and the tracks they perform are far inferior to the illusions exhibited by American conjurers.

 

The magicians of India are not miracle workers.  Their tricks are easily detected by an expert, yet their magic is a real art.  The present generation of fakirs to them by their fathers.  Many of the appliances used are of crude construction and this adds to their effectiveness, as they do excite suspicion.

 

The "Mango Tree: is one of the most celebrated performances of Indian magic.  I have heard tales of mango trees which grew from tiny roots to ten feet high before the eyes of the spectators, but while I have seen the trick performed dozens of times, never did the tree exceed three feet in height.  That, in itself, would be rather miraculous if the tree developed in full view, but actually the trick is done under cover.

 

The fakir first takes three short poles and makes a tripod about four feet high.  He has a number of cloths lying about, and he uses one of these to drape about the poles, so that a miniature tepee is formed.  In the center of this is a small flowerpot filled with earth in which the magician plants a mongo seed.

 

He now plays some weird music on a flageolet and them removes the cloth from the little tent.  The mango seed has grown to a tiny sprig.  The cloth is replaced, and when it is removed again, the sprig has grown taller.  This procedure is repeated until finally a two or three-foot "tree" is developed.  Under the loose cloths which are on the ground, the fakir has hidden branches of a mango tree.  These he picks up under the larger cloth each time he forms the tent.  The tree is merely a branch from a large mango tree, and it is also concealed underneath a cloth close by, with its lesser branches folded together.

 

The secrets of many good tricks are quite simple; it is the method of performers that creates the mystery.  So it is with the smaller tricks of the Hindu fakirs.  They present their tricks with an air of mystery which causes the spectators to look for some complex solution, for example, the "Bowl of Rice"

 

The magician has a "lota," a bowl with bulging sides, and fills it to the brim with rice.  He takes a knife and inserts the blade into the rice, until the knife is buried to the hilt.  Then he calmly lifts the handle of the knife, and lo! up comes the bowl.  The fakir swings the knife around his head, defying the law of gravity.  The explanation is simple.  When the knife is inserted, the rice is pressed into the bulging sides of the bowl, and the blade is gripped so firmly that the whole affair can be lifted at once.  When the magician wishes to remove the knife, he gives the blade a twist.

 

One of the best tricks seen in India is the "Disappearing Bowl."  It is performed by only a few magicians in the Madras presidency.  A large earthen bowl, about eighteen inches in diameter and twelve inches high, is filled with rice.  The performer covers the bowl with a cloth and jumps upon it.  The bowl and rice disappear completely.  Then the magician calls attention to a tree behind the spectators, and there is the bowl of rice resting securely in the branches.

 

 An "Indian Mystery"  Which No Indian Has Ever Actually Produced Is Now Done on the American Stage - Right

 

The original bowl is merely a collapsible wire frame, covered with a soft clay, which is very thin: but, being covered with a varnish, it looks like an ordinary clay jardinière.  Just below the opening of the bowl is a tray containing enough rice to make the jar appear filled.  The magician takes two small cloths and holds them on the ground and puts the bowl upon them.  Then he covers the bowl with a larger cloth.  During this action, he knocks the soft clay from the bowl, but the wire frame remains upright.  When the magician jumps upon the cloth, the frame collapses, and it seems as though the bowl had magically disappeared.  In removing the large cloth, the magician takes away the uppermost of the two smaller cloths.  Thus the remains of the bowl are disposed of.  Before the spectators have recovered from their surprise, the fakir points dramatically to the tree, where his confederate has quietly placed a solid bowl filled with rich.

 

The "Spinning Shell" is a novel effect produced by Hindu magicians.  A fine straw is passed for examination and is planted in a piece of clay, so that it stands erect.  Then the fakir balances a small shell on the straw and pours water on the latter.  The balanced shell begins to revolve and keeps on spinning rapidly for a short time.  The trick lies in the straw.  The magician, upon receiving the examined straw, substitutes a similar straw which is identical in appearance.  The second straw, however, has been twisted and dried. Consequently, when water is applied, the straw swells and untwists, causing the shell to revolve.

 

I recently heard of a traveler, returned from India, who described a most wonderful trick wherein a fire was kindled upon a boy's head.  The details are as follows:  The boy is placed in a kneeling position, and an earthen cylinder, six inches in diameter, is set upon his head.  The cylinder is open at both ends.  The fakir fills the tube with paper, pieces of wood and rags, then he pours on a quantity of oil, and sets fire to the contents.  A cloth is tied around the boy's head, allowing only the earthenware cylinder to appear.  More fuel is added, and a great flame bursts forth.

 

Left - One of the Standby of the Indian Fakirs, the Man on the Bed of Spikes, as It Is Produced Nightly in the Theater

 

The boy screams for help, but the magician calmly increases the fire.  I witnessed this mystery while in India, and learned the secret.  There is a small shoulder inside the cylinder.  When the fakir puts in the paper, he drops in a round flat piece of iron forming a partition which keeps the fire from the boy's head.

 

The minor tricks of the Hindu conjurers are charming in their simplicity.  The "Shooting Arrow" is a typical example.  The magician has a wooden image, which holds a bow and arrow.  At a word of command, the image shoots the arrow and hits a target six feet away.  I have seen the arrow hit the mark at a distance of fifteen feet.

 

The left arm of the image is fixed, and the bow is held in the left hand.  The arrow is placed in the bow, the string being fastened in a notch on the side of the arrow.  The heavy end of the arrow is pressed into a hole at the right side of the image.  The hole contains adhesive wax, and after the arrow has been pressed into it, eight or ten seconds will elapse before the force of the bow will release the arrow and shoot it to the mark.  The magician watches the action of the arrow as it is gradually released, and, at the right moment, commands the image to let it go.

 

The street entertainers of India perform many interesting and varied feats.  I witnessed one of these men who plunged boldly into a tub of boiling water, and remained there for a minute or two.  Then he emerged, uninjured by the hot water.  The secret lay in the fact  that the tub was quite deep, and that it had previously been partly filled with cold water.  Then kettles of boiling water were poured in while the crowd was gathering.  The performer plunged quickly through the upper layer of hot water and lay in the cool water beneath.  He kicked about and  caused the hot water to mix with the cold.  This reduced the temperature so that he could come out at his leisure.

 

I had heard many marvelous stories of the celebrated Indian "Rope Trick," supposedly the greatest of all mysteries.  Each description bordered on the miraculous; every story involved a master fakir, who took a coil of rope, tossed it into the air and caused it to remain there, suspended.  In some accounts, the end of the rope was said to have gone out of sight.  Then a boy was supposed to have climbed the rope and disappeared, followed by the fakir, who also vanished.

 

In the only trick of the kind I saw, the fakir took a coil of rope tossed it in the air, where it remained rigid like a pole, some six feet in length.  He balanced the rope for a moment then dropped it, and it immediately coiled itself when it struck the ground.

 

The rope, I soon learned, contained a pliable wire, which made it temporarily rigid.  As soon as the rope struck the ground, the impact caused it to coil, and it appeared to be an ordinary piece of rope.  I offered a reward of 5,000 rupees to the fakir who could perform the trick of the boy's disappearance, but the reward was never claimed.

 

Alleged explanations have been given of how the trick could be performed, but they are generally unsatisfactory and impracticable.  It has been suggested that the effect was created by hypnotic powers of the yogi.  That might be possible if only one witness were present, but in cases where several persons are said to have winessed the trick, the theory cannot readily be accepted.  Sutdents of hypnotism have declared the "group hypnotism" is an impossibility.

 

Just After the Seed Has "Sprouted," One of the Steps in the Mango-Tree Trick: the Picture Shows

the Multitude of Draperies Used to Hide the Various-Sized Plants until Needed.

 

Article - by Howard Thurston - Popular Mechanics - April 1927

 


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