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The Nehru Memorial Museum & Library


‘The Jumping Devils: A tale of circus bodies’ ,11th February, 2015 .


‘The Jumping Devils: A tale of circus bodies’


Ms. Nisha P. R.,
University of Delhi, Delhi.


Having watched the spectacular performance of Kannan Bombayo, a ‘dark’ acrobat from Malabar in a British circus touring Berlin, Adolf Hitler is said to have exclaimed, “The Jumping Devil of India”. In 1959, the King Pole magazine published from London wonders: “Today there are several really large Indian circuses whose artists are predominantly young girls, most of whom hail from a place called KERALA. Who are these girls and where do they get their training?” This presentation will trace the significant yet unexplored history of circus bodies, its spaces, techniques and transgressions that produced those renowned acrobats from Malabar who ruled the tents across borders in the first half of twentieth century. The trajectory of this enquiry will then move on to the contemporary shifts which have occurred in this itinerant topography. In the beginning of the twenty first century the circus body was caught up in a discourse of ‘cruelty’ that culminated in a ban from the apex court of the nation teasing open crucial questions regarding the dominance and legitimacy of ‘tradition’. The line of enquiry shall also take us to problematic livelihood issues and labor migration across boundaries today, within the frame of the wandering tents.


Ms. Nisha P.R. has recently submitted her doctoral thesis “A History of Circus and Circus Performances in Twentieth Century Kerala” at the Department of History, University of Delhi. Her writings have appeared in Economic and Political Weekly, Social Scientist and Indian Journal of Gender Studies.

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