Fakir Magic

Fakir Magic :  is the type of magic associated with Indian fakirs.  Some of the more well known feats performed by these fakirs include: charming deadly snakes in large baskets with musical instruments, lying near-naked on a bed of sharp nails without incurring any injuries, levitation and the infamous Indian rope trick. According to Dr. Karl P.N. Schuker in his book The Unexplained, a professor called Larry D. Kirkpatrick, a physicist at Montana State University duplicated the lying on a bed of nails trick in an experiment.  This was to find out how, and if, it was actually possible to do.  Whilst lying on his bed of nails he even permitted a well-built American football player to sit on his chest.  The experiment was possibly less about 'debunking' fakir magic, but a lesson in the relationship between weight distribution and pressure, i.e. the greater the number of nails that supported his body, the smaller the amount of pressure exerted by his body's weight on each nail (this number is directly proportional to the weight of the person lying on them), the amount of pressure that the body exerts on any given nail is not great enough to puncture the skin. 

Levitation, is another feat associated with Indian Fakirs that is possibly less easy to explain scientifically.  It has also tended to sit less comfortably with European religions which have deemed its performance as pagan. However in India any Asian youngster caught levitating, then becomes methodically trained up by experienced practitioners, in order to develop the youngster's powers further. 

One particular report that came out of Southern India in 1936 was depicted by a series of stunning photographs in the Illustrated London News (6 June 1936).  The photos featuring a fakir called Subbayah Pullavar were taken by an eyewitness called P.Y. Plunkett.  The event occurred around 12.30 pm and was watched by around 150 people.  According to Dr. Schuker:

"After pouring water in a circle around the tent in which he would be performing the levitation, the fakir stepped inside the tent where he remained hidden from view for a few minutes.  The tent was then removed and the onlookers saw to their amazement that he was suspended horizontally in the air, in a trance, resting his hand upon a cloth-covered stick about a metre (3 feet) tall, which he seemed to be using not for support but rather for balance."

Even though onlookers passed their hands underneath and, in and around the space surrounding the fakir, no wire, props etc. were ever found.  Apparently many photographs were taken and after around four minutes he was again shielded by his tent as he made his decent.  However Plunket, allegedly could discern his shape through the thin tent walls; and is said to have seen him gently swaying for a short time while still in mid-air.  He then slowly sank in a horizontal position to the ground which in total took around five minutes to complete.  As yet this incident has not been satisfactorily explained.  Perhaps the onlookers were experiencing some form of mass hypnosis or hallucination.  See also: indian rope trick, fakir, levitation, and snake charming.

Source:  Information for this article,  Dr. Karl P. N. Schuker, The Unexplained, Carlton Books Limited (1997) ISBN: 1-85868-384

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