Empire of Enchantment
The Story of Indian Magic
Praise for The Last Nizam: ‘The sort of amazing, jaw-dropping and almost completely unexplored and unwritten story that writers of non-fiction spend their careers dreaming of.’
— William Dalrymple
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 heavily illustrated book tells the extraordinary, untold story of how Indian magic descended from the realm of the gods to become part of daily ritual and popular entertainment across the globe. Drawing on ancient religious texts, early travellers’ accounts, colonial records, modern visual sources, and magicians’ own testimony, Empire of Enchantment is a vibrant narrative of India’s magical traditions, from Vedic times to the present day.
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) concerns historical links between Indian and Western stage magicians. John’s previous books include The Last Nizam and The Mysterious Mr Jacob.
‘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