[Marvellous Tales]
[On Seven Sorcerers from Bengal]

But to descend to matters of less serious importance. At the period of which I am about to speak there were to be found in the province of Bengal performers in slight of hand, or jugglers,* of such unrivalled skill in their art, that I have thought a few instances of their extraordinary dexterity not unworthy of a place in these memorials. On one occasion in particular, there came to my court seven of these men, who confidently boasted that they were capable of producing effects so strange as far to surpass the scope of the human understanding: and most certainly when they proceeded to their operations, they exhibited in their performances things of so extraordinary a nature, as without the actual demon­stration the world would not have conceived possible; such indeed as cannot but be considered among the most surprising circumstances of the age in which we live.

First. They stated that of any tree that should be named they would set the seed in the earth, and that I should immediately witness the extraordinary result. Khaun-e-Jahaun, one of the nobles present, observed that if they spoke truly, he should wish them to produce for his conviction a mulberry tree. The men arose without hesitation, and having in ten separate spots set some seed in the ground, they recited among themselves, in cabalistical language unintelligible to the standers-by, when instantly a plant was seen springing from each of the ten places, and each proved the tree required by Khaun-e-Jahaun. In the same manner they produced a mango, an apple tree, a cypress, a pine-apple, a fig tree, an almond, a walnut, and many more trees, and this without any attempt at concealment in the operation; but open to the observation of all present, the trees were perceived gradually and slowly springing from the earth, to the height of one, or perhaps of two cubits, when they shot forth leaves and branches; the apple tree in particular producing fruit, which fruit was brought to me, and I can attest to its fragrance.

The fact was not however confined to the apple tree alone, for having made the other trees appear in the manner above described, they said that if I thought fit to order it, I should taste of the fruit of every tree, which did not fail to increase the astonishment already excited. Then making a sort of procession round the trees as they stood, and invoking certain names, in a moment there appeared on the respective trees a sweet mango without the rind, an almond fresh and ripe, a large fig of the most delicious kind, and so with the pine, and every other tree of which they had set the seed, the fruit being pulled in my presence and brought to me, and every one present was allowed to taste of it. This, however, was not all; before the trees were removed there appeared among the foliage birds of such surprising beauty, in colour, and shape, and melody of song, as the world never saw before; and the more to confirm us in the reality, the birds were observed to whisper to each other, and to flutter, and contend with each other in playful indifference among the branches. At the close of the operation the foliage, as in autumn, was seen to put on its variegated tints, and the trees gradually disappeared into the earth from which they had been made to spring. I can only further observe, that if the circumstances which I have now described had not happened in my own presence, I could never have believed that they had any existence in reality.*

Secondly. One night, and in the very middle of the night, when half this globe was wrapped in darkness, one of these seven men stripped himself almost naked, and having spun himself swiftly round several times, he took a sheet with which he covered himself, and from beneath the sheet drew out a resplendent mirror, by the radiance of which a light so powerful was produced, as to have illuminated the hemisphere to an incredible distance round; to such a distance indeed, that we have the attestation of travellers to the fact, who declared that on a particular night, the same night on which the exhibition took place, and at the distance of ten days’ journey, they saw the atmosphere so powerfully illuminated, as to exceed the brightness of the brightest day that they had ever seen. This also may be considered, I think, among the extraordinary things of the age.

Thirdly. The seven men stood close together in a group, and without moving either lips or tongue, produced between them such harmony and sweetness of modulation, as if the whole seven had but one voice, and that forming the most delightful unison. It was at the same time distinctly ascertained that the mouth and tongue had not the slightest share in the operation.* This also afforded subject of admiration.

Fourthly. They made for themselves about an hundred air-bolts* (teir-e-hawah), which they placed on an elevated spot at two bow-shot distance from the spot on which they stood, informing me that they would cause any one, or as many of them as I chose to order, to explode or take fire, without stirring from their place, in my presence. This they accordingly did, and I do not question that they would have set fire to ten at once if I had thought fit.

Fifth. They placed in my presence a large seething-pot or cauldron, and filling it partly with water, they threw into it eight of the smaller maunns of Irâk of rice; when without the application of the smallest spark of fire the cauldron forthwith began to boil; in a little time they took off the lid, and drew from it near a hundred platters full,* each with a stewed fowl at top. This also may be considered among things extraordinary.

Sixth. On a dry spot of ground they placed a particular flower, and having danced round it three times successively, an ebullition of water shot up from the flower, and instantly a shower of roses fell on all below, while not a drop of moisture touched the ground. When this miraculous fountain had continued to play for more than an hour they removed the rose, or whatever else it might have been, and not a vestige of any thing humid appeared on the spot where it had been placed. Again: they placed the same flower on the ground, and it threw up at this time, alternately, water and flower-shedding fire, and this for nearly two parts of a watch of the day.

Seventh. One of the seven men stood upright before us, a second passed up­wards along his body, and head to head, placed his feet upwards in the air. A third managed to climb up in the same manner, and planting his feet to those of the second, stood with his head upwards, and so alternately to the seventh, who crowned this extraordinary human pillar with his head uppermost; and what excited an extraordinary clamour of surprise, was to observe the first man, who thus supported on the crown of his head the whole of the other six, lift one foot as high as the shoulder, standing thus upon one leg, and exhibiting a degree of strength and steadiness not exactly within the scope of my comprehension.

Eighth. One of the men stood upright as before; another took hold of him by the hips from behind, and so on to the number of forty men, each laying hold the one of the other by the hips in the same manner. The first man put forth his strength, and contrived to force the whole of the others in train along the field for some time: a degree of bodily strength which could not be witnessed without considerable astonishment.

Ninth. They produced a man whom they divided limb from limb, actually severing his head from the body. They scattered these mutilated members along the ground, and in this state they lay for some time. They then extended a sheet or curtain over the spot, and one of the men putting himself under the sheet, in a few minutes came from below, followed by the individual supposed to have been cut into joints, in perfect health and condition, and one might have safely sworn that he had never received wound or injury whatever.

Tenth. They took a small bag, and having first shewn that it was entirely empty, one of them put his hand into the bag; on withdrawing his hand again, out came two game cocks of the largest size and great beauty, which immediately assailing each other, fought with such force and fury, that their wings emitted sparks of fire at every stroke. This continued for the full space of an astronomical hour, when they put an end to the combat by throwing a sheet over the animals. Again they withdrew the sheet, and there appeared a brace of partridges with the most beautiful and brilliant plumage, which immediately began to tune their throats as if there were nothing human present; pecking at worms with the same sort of chuckle (kakkah) as they are heard to use on the hill side. The sheet was now thrown, as in the other instance, over the par­tridges, and when again withdrawn, instead of those beautiful birds there ap­peared two frightful black snakes, with flat heads and crimson bellies, which, with open mouth and head erect, and coiled together, attacked each other with the greatest fury, and so continued to do, until, as it appeared, they became quite exhausted, when they fell asunder. The sheet was thrown over as before, and when finally withdrawn, there appeared not a vestige of the snakes or of any thing else.

Eleventh. They made an excavation in the earth in the shape of a tank or reservoir, of considerable dimensions, which they requested us to fill with water. When this was done they spread a covering over the place, and after a short inter­val having removed the cover, the water appeared to be one complete sheet of ice, and they desired that some of the elephant keepers might be directed to lead their elephants across. Accordingly one of the men set his elephant upon the ice, and the animal walked over with as much ease and safety as if it were a platform of solid rock, remaining for some time on the surface of the frozen pond without occasioning the slightest fracture in the ice. As usual, the sheet was drawn across the place, and being again removed, every vestige of ice, and even moisture of any sort, had completely disappeared.

Twelfth. They caused two tents to be set up at the distance of a bow-shot the one from the other, the doors or entrances being placed exactly opposite; they raised the tent walls all around, and desired that it might be particularly observed that they were entirely empty. Then fixing the tent walls to the ground, two of the seven men entered, one into each tent, none other of the seven entering either of the tents. Thus prepared, they said they would undertake to bring out of the tents any animal we chose to mention, whether bird or beast, and set them in conflict with each other. Khaun-e-Jahaun, with a smile of incredulity, required them to shew us a battle between two ostriches. In a few minutes two ostriches of the largest size issued, one from either tent, and attacked each other with such fury that the blood was seen streaming from their heads; they were at the same time so equally matched, that neither could get the better of the other, and they were therefore separated by the men, and conveyed within the tents. My son Khoorum then called for the neilahgâo, and immediately were seen to issue from the tents two of those untameable animals, equally large, fat, and fierce, which likewise commenced a furious combat, seizing each other by the neck, and alternately forcing one another backwards and forwards for the space of nearly two guhrries of time, after which they were also separated, and with­drawn into the tents. In short, they continued to produce from either tent what­ever animal we chose to name, and before our eyes set them to fight in the man­ner I have attempted to describe; and although I have exerted my utmost in­vention to discover the secret of the contrivance, it has hitherto been entirely without success.

Thirteenth. They were furnished with a bow and about fifty steel-pointed arrows. One of the seven men took the bow in hand, and shooting an arrow into the air, the shaft stood fixed at a considerable height; he shot a second arrow, which flew straight to the first, to which it became attached, and so with every one of the remaining arrows to the last of all, which striking the united sheaf suspended in the air, the whole immediately broke asunder, and came at once to the earth. This also it would be difficult to explain.

Fourteenth. They filled a large vessel full of water perfectly transparent, and placed it on the floor before me. One of them held in his hand a red rose, which he said, by giving it a dip into the water, he would bring out of any colour I chose to mention. Accordingly he gave the rose a plunge, and out it came of a bright yellow; and thus at every dip he brought it out of a different kind and colour; at one time a gûlaul, at another an orange blossom. In short, a hundred times repeated he would have produced at each a flower of a different kind and colour. They then plunged a skein of white thread into the vessel, and brought it first of a red, then of a yellow colour, and so of a different colour a hundred times repeated, if required so to do.

Fifteenth. They produced a bird-cage, of which the side that appeared next to me exhibited a pair of sweet-singing nightingales. They gave the cage a turn, and though there was no partition to divide it, there now appeared a couple of beautiful green parrots. Another turn of the cage, and they shewed us another sort of speaking bird of a scarlet colour: another, and we saw a brace of par­tridges beautifully mottled and coloured, and, what appears extraordinary, of most melodious song. Thus at every change of the four sides of the cage, there appeared a different kind of bird at every change, and the like if repeated a hun­dred times. This must, I think, have been attended with the greatest difficulty in the performance.

Sixteenth. They spread out a carpet of twenty cubits in length, and of very beautiful colours and pattern. They turned it upside downwards, and displayed a pattern and colours entirely different; and in like manner at every turn, if an hundred times repeated, the carpet would exhibit patterns and colours entirely different, ad infinitum.

Seventeenth. They brought a large ewer, which in my presence they filled full of water. They reversed the ewer with its face downwards, spilling the water to the last drop: they turned the vessel with its face upwards, and it appeared as full of water as at first. And this they could have repeated an hundred times over with the same effect; which I could not but consider equally curious and unaccountable.

Eighteenth. They produced a large sack, open at both ends. At one end of this they introduced a melon, which at the other end was brought out a cucumber. Then the cucumber at one end came out at the other a noble bunch the finest grapes. Again, they introduced the grapes at one end, and at the other out came a bag of apples, of the true abbas sort: and thus, in an hundred instances, if required, they would in each instance exhibit a similar change: all which could not but appear extraordinary to the eye.

Nineteenth. One of the seven men stood up before me, and setting open his mouth, immediately out came the head of a snake. Another of the men seized the snake by the neck, and drew it out to the length of four cubits. This being disposed of by casting it to the ground, another followed in the same manner, and so on to the number of eight, none of them less than four or five cubits in length. These being all cast loose upon the ground, were immediately seen writhing in the folds of each other, and tearing one another with the greatest apparent fury: a spectacle not less strange than frightful.

Twentieth. They took a looking-glass in one hand, and in the other a rose, or other flower of any colour at will. They held the flower for an instant behind the mirror, and bringing it forward again, it had assumed a different colour. Thus it became alternately changed by this sort of sleight, to green, and red, and orange, and violet, and black and white: very curious to behold.

Twenty-first. They arranged in my presence ten empty porcelain jars, all in attendance having witnessed that they were actually and entirely empty. In about half an hour they uncovered the jars, when, to our surprise, one was found to be full of wheat, another of preserves, another of sugar-candy, another of different sorts of pickles, another of ladies’-legs,* another of citron, and another of tamarind. In short, every one of the jars contained a different eatable of some kind or other, which was presented to me, and tasted by most of those who were in attendance. After a little space they uncovered the jars for the last time, and they were seen to be completely empty, and as clean as if they had been an hundred times washed in the purest spring water. This also was considered something strange and surprising.

Twenty-second. They brought the Koulliaut-e-Saady, or works of Saady, and in my presence deposited it in a small bag, of course previously examined. They drew out the book, and it had been transformed into the Diwaun of Hafez; and the latter being replaced in the bag, it was drawn out again as the Diwaun of Sûliman. This was repeated many times, and every time a work was drawn out different from that which was last returned into the bag.

Twenty-third. They produced a chain of fifty cubits in length, and in my presence threw one end of it towards the sky, where it remained as if fastened to something in the air. A dog was then brought forward, and being placed at the lower end of the chain, immediately ran up, and reaching the other end, immedi­ately disappeared in the air. In the same manner a hog, a panther, a lion, and a tiger, were alternately sent up the chain, and all equally disappeared at the upper end of the chain. At last they took down the chain and put it into a bag, no one even discovering in what way the different animals were made to vanish into the air in the mysterious manner above described. This, I may venture to affirm, was beyond measure strange and surprising.

Twenty-fourth. They placed before me a large covered basket,* having first shewn to my satisfaction that it was quite empty. Having claimed my attention, they now took up the cover, and the basket appeared brimful of the choicest viands, most delicious to the taste. They put on the cover, and again in a few minutes lifting it up, the basket now appeared full of fellouny,* raisins, almonds, and other dried fruits and aromatic herbs. [The third remove is indicated in a hand-writing so totally unintelligible in the Persian copy, that I have not attempted to render it.] In short, at every alternate removal of the basket-lid, though an hundred times repeated, a fresh display of delicacies would be pre­sented to the spectator, to our great admiration and surprise.

Twenty-fifth. They caused to be set before me a large covered basin, which they filled with water. They took off the cover to shew that it contained nothing but water; it was now replaced, but being again removed, there appeared in the water ten or a dozen green leaves. The basket was again closed, and, on being re-opened, there appeared three or four large snakes coiled together in the water. Another covering and removal, and there appeared in the water five or six koully khaur.* At the last uncovering of the vessel it was found to contain neither water nor any thing else, but was entirely empty.

Twenty-sixth. One of the men in my presence displayed on his little finger a ruby ring; he removed the ring to another finger, and the gem had taken the colour of an emerald; removed to another finger, and the emerald became a diamond; again removed, and the diamond became a turquoise: and this repeated for any number of times, terminated in the same result, every change producing a gem of a different colour and kind.

Twenty-seventh. A two-edged sword was set up, with the hilt strongly fastened in the earth, and one of the men brought his naked side to bear upon it in such a manner, as to excite the utmost surprise that he should have received no bodily injury from having brought himself into such contact with so keen a weapon. [This passage is so extremely ill written in the Persian copy, that it has been hardly possible to obtain the precise meaning.]

Twenty-eighth. They produced a blank volume of the purest white paper, which was placed in my hands, to shew that it contained neither figures nor coloured pages whatever, of which I satisfied myself and all around. One of the men took the volume in hand, and the first opening exhibited a page of bright red sprinkled with gold, forming a blank tablet splendidly elaborate. The next turn presented a leaf of beautiful azure, sprinkled in the same manner, and exhibiting on the margins numbers of men and wo­men in various attitudes. The juggler then turned to another leaf, which appeared of a Chinese colour and fabric, and sprinkled in the same manner with gold; but on it were delineated herds of cattle and lions, the latter seizing upon the kine in a manner that I never observed in any other paintings. The next leaf exhibited was of a beautiful green, similarly powdered with gold, on which was represented in lively colours a garden, with numerous cypresses, roses, and other flowering shrubs in full bloom, and in the midst of the garden an elegant pavilion. The next change exhibited a leaf of orange in the same man­ner powdered with gold, on which the painter had delineated the representation of a great battle, in which two adverse kings were seen engaged in the struggles of a mortal conflict. In short, at every turn of the leaf a different colour, scene, and action, was exhibited, such as was indeed most pleasing to behold. But of all the performances, this latter of the volume of paper, was that which afforded me the greatest delight, so many beautiful pictures and extraordinary changes having been brought under view, that I must confess my utter inability to do justice in the description. I can only add, that although I had frequently in my father’s court witnessed such performances, never did I see or hear of any thing in exe­cution so wonderfully strange, as was exhibited with apparent facility by these seven jugglers. I dismissed them finally with a donation of fifty thousand ru­pees, with the intimation that all the ameirs of my court, from the order of one thousand upwards, should each contribute something in proportion.

In very truth, however we may have bestowed upon these performances the character of trick or juggle, they very evidently partake of the nature of some­thing beyond the exertion of human energy; at all events, such performances were executed with inimitable skill, and if there were in the execution any thing of facility, what should prevent their accomplishment by any man of ordinary capacity? I have heard it stated that the art has been called the Semnanian (per­haps asmaunian, ‘celestial’), and I am informed that it is also known and prac­tised to a considerable extent among the nations of Europe. It may be said, indeed, that there exists in some men a peculiar and essential faculty which ena­bles them to accomplish things far beyond the ordinary scope of human exertion, such as frequently to baffle the utmost subtilty of the understanding to penetrate.*