How Indian magic captivated the world

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Magic in India has always been a blurring of boundaries between mythology, ritual, religion and performance, covering the gambit from snake charmers, rope dancers, astrologers and contortionists, and underpinned by the concept of maya, the very world as illusion. Magic in India goes as far back as 3500 BC, to the Harappan Civilisation, where people used talismans, amulets and charms.It was in the early 19th century that an enterprising English ship captain took a group of Indian entertainers to England, where they stunned audiences with their juggling, balancing, sword-swallowing and other tricks.Many early 20th-century Western magicians even adopted Indian (or Chinese) stage names, then created shows that capitalized on the glamour of the mystic East.Many Westerners pretended be Indian magicians — the most famous among them was Harry Houdini.

U.S. Fulbright Nehru scholar Dr Shreeyash Palshikar delivered a Talk on “Vanishing Mysteries: Magical Connections Between India and America” where he explored the history of magic in India and how it connects the U.S. and India.  In addition to speaking on Indian magic, Shreeyash performed some magic routines and a local magician Amazing David and local ‘Madaris’Bande Ali and Kalam Sha also performed. Amazing David is one of India’s premier Illusionists. With over 12 years of professional experience performing across the globe, he creatively blends optical illusions and psychological principles to create magic! He has performed for the Royal Family of Bhutan, performed 3 major Houdini like escapes and has been seen on major Indian television network including Star, Sony and Zee. Most recently he shared his ideas at TEDx.

Dr. Palshikar’s current Fulbright project examines traditional and modern Indian magic in a global context. It analyzes the decline of traditional folk magic performance styles that were once common. These were popularized in the West during the colonial era, and Indian magicians transformed the way magic was performed. Dr. Palshikar is also investigating modern forms of magic performance beginning in the mid-20th century. He is interviewing and analyzing performances of the last remaining traditional magicians, reading archival sources from modern Indian magicians, and assessing the current state of the art of magic in India today.

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