A vibrant narrative of India’s magical traditions and their journey across the world
India’s association with magicians goes back thousands of years. Conjurers 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 stage.
‘In Empire of Enchantment, John Zubrzycki explores the history of magic rituals in India and the way they shaped western imaginations … The author … draws on the accounts left by travellers, merchants, pilgrims and missionaries. He has a pleasing sense of humour … and an eye for the absurd.’
Melissa van der Klugt, The Times
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‘John Zubrzycki’s Empire of Enchantment, a fantastic and thoroughly engaging history of Indian magic, is bristling with anecdotes … tales of conjurors, tricksters, illusionists, jugglers, and cunning conmen across the centuries.’
‘An amazing, brilliant, and incredibly erudite book. Zubrzycki’s knowledge is dazzling, and his discussions of Indian magicians and their Western imitators or denigrators allow him to tell marvellous stories about animal trainers, snake charmers, not to mention, thieves, Thugs, folk healers, spies, automatons, and about fascinating characters –Thurston, Sleeman, Sorcar – and many more.’
Lee Siegel, Professor of Religion, University of Hawaii, and author of Net of Magic: Wonders and Deceptions in India
‘Exceptionally well-crafted and brilliantly told, Empire of Enchantment brings alive the most enchanting tales and traditions from the history of Indian magic, packed with an extraordinary cast featuring emperors and politicians, street performers and thugs. Travelling with Zubrzycki from distant antiquity down to our own, more recent times, what this book offers is a universe of pure, unadulterated delight.’
Shashi Tharoor, author of Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
‘A strange, deeply learned but consistently entertaining salmagundi of marvels, myths and outrageous cons a surefooted survey of a vast terrain.’
‘Delightful and charming … an extraordinarily riveting social history of India, and of India’s encounter with the world.’
‘Empire of Enchantment is a remarkable feat of scholarship and showmanship. It is scrupulously researched, richly illustrated and highly entertaining — and readers will never watch a rabbit snatched from a hat in quite the same way again.’
Mandy Sayer, Weekend Australian