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
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.
"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
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
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.
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
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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