India’s association with magicians goes back thousands of years. Hindus believe that the god Indra used magic to defeat evil, and the Atharva Veda (c. 1000 BCE) contains hundreds of exorcisms, healing hymns, and charms. Jugglers, yogis, and fakirs dazzled the courts of Hindu maharajas, and Mughal emperors. As Britain extended its dominion over the subcontinent, such magicians became synonymous with India and even travelled to Britain, sometimes remaining for decades. Western illusionists, threatened by these “primitive” practitioners, appropriated Indian attire, tricks, and stage names; Indian magicians fought back, earning the grudging respect of their European peers.
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 stage.
“John Zubrzycki has found the most wonderful story – the sort all writers look for and long for – and told it brilliantly. This is, quite literally, a book of marvels.”
“A fantastic and thoroughly engaging history of Indian magic.”
“A strange, deeply learned but consistently entertaining salmagundi of marvels, myths and outrageous cons.”
“With a pleasing sense of humour and an eye for the absurd, John Zubrzycki explores the history of magic rituals in India and the way they shaped western imaginations. He has mined a rich seam of anecdotal treasures.”
John Zubrzycki has worked in India as a diplomat, consultant, tour guide, and correspondent for The Australian. His background is in South Asian history and Hindi, and his doctoral thesis (University of New South Wales) concerned historical links between Indian and Western stage magicians. John’s previous books include The Last Nizam and The Mysterious Mr Jacob.