Conjuring images of India in nineteenth-century Britain

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Abstract / Description of output

Over the nineteenth century, Indian juggling - the term commonly used to describe the mysterious feats of magicians and fakirs - became central to how the British imagined India and the 'mystic East'. This article describes how ambivalent representations of Indian juggling emerged - providing evidence of Indian ignorance, on the one hand, and of special Indian knowledge, on the other - thus reflecting images of both the primitive and the mysterious. It argues that such representations, despite ostensibly being about India, formed part of the domestic debate about spiritualism, and that the latter image - of India as mysterious and mystical - was less a product of, than a precursor to, the emergence of the Theosophical Society, that most influential of occult organizations. It also describes the dialogic nature of this encounter and the ambivalent relationship between Indian jugglers and their western counterparts, stage conjurors, and how these themes were exploited in the later creation and maintenance of the most famous of legends associated with India.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)308-324
Number of pages18
JournalSocial History
Issue number3
Early online date5 Jul 2007
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2007


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