Magic Shows

Stage magicians are actually illusionists.

Magic shows are laudable illusions if no live animals or birds are used as props. But, many include doves, white pigeons, canaries, white rabbits, gold fish, toads, dogs and even elephants.


It should not be forgotten that these creatures are trained and housed in a similar manner to circus animals. It matters not whether the magician is world class, or a roadside street performer.

Just like circuses, performing animals and birds used by magicians need to be registered with the Animal Welfare Board of India. In 2014 the Jadugar Karan magic show’s live vanishing elephant act was stopped at Chennai because it was not registered. Master of magic, Karan is hailed as Asia’s No 1 super fast magician and holds shows in India and abroad.

Magicians are known to use – rather abuse – birds, animals, and fish, for tricks or effects as they call them. Special equipment and attire that makes a creature hide, materialise, or disappear is used. The bottom line for all tricks is practice, practice and practice… if in the process living creatures are harmed or die, they are discarded and new ones take their place. Magicians always spend hours in front of a mirror performing the same trick over and over again till it is perfect, only after which they perform it in public.


Magician’s coats are black. Doves are white so the colour contrast shows up well. But this is not the sole reason why they are commonly used. They are easy to mishandle, and cheaper than other birds to replace.

The birds are dehydrated and stuck with double-sided tape inside a magician’s coat-sleeve between the shirt and coat fabrics. The sleeves may contain spring-loaders that throw out the hidden birds into the air. If not, the birds are trained to come out when subtly nudged.

A silk scarf is often used as an aid to grasp and throw up the bird so it flies.

Some times a flare is lit. Instinctively birds are frightened of fire and it could singe their feathers. This, the background music, and applauds from the audience, traumatises them. Dazzled and mesmerized by the bright lights, the doves freeze on stage and do not fly into the audience – in any case, if their wings are clipped they can hardly fly.

A magician from Mumbai who “removes 6 doves out of thin air” has publicly stated that for a 12 minute act it take 2 hours to set up the equipment. This clearly indicates that the doves are hidden in suffocating conditions for a long time.

The dove pan is another specially designed prop available in magicians’ supply stores in which a dove is hidden in a cramped position and made to materialise when the lid is slammed shut. Apart from the cruel fact that the dove is stuffed in the pan, it is a dangerous trick because if not performed correctly, the bird can catch fire and die a torturous death after writhing in pain. In fact, in 2014, children at a birthday party in Trujillo in Peru were shocked and horrified when a dove caught fire and died during the dove pan magic trick.


Canaries are far worse off. They have been known to be crushed to death to make them disappear. The ones that reappear elsewhere on stage are not the same birds.

The trick is performed with the vanishing bird cage or flying bird cage as it is some times called. The magician displays a wire rectangular cage, holding it between both is hands. It contains a bird. The magician then makes a sudden motion and the cage and bird vanish. An elastic cord attached to a corner of the cage runs up the sleeve of the magician’s coat so when the cage collapses it gets drawn up his sleeve and is hidden. The collapsing of the cage kills the bird.


Pulling a rabbit out of a hat is no great feat. This disgraceful act is accomplished in different ways.

The deception can involve the magician literally pulling out a live rabbit which has been forcefully hidden for long in an unseen compartment of a table on which a trick top-hat has been placed.

The rabbit is some times trained to sit still with its eyes closed in the hat or in another replacement hat. In any case, just before it needs to appear, the audience is distracted with magical chanting, sparks and smoke, or a lovely assistant lady suddenly materialises.

Gold Fish

The fate of the disappearing gold fish is horrible. A jar of water containing a small lonely fish is emptied into a fish tank over which a cloth is draped. Soon after when the cloth is taken off, the fish is no longer visible.

It was deliberately killed by the strong acid which had been added to the fish tank water. The fish suffered and died, and then its body disintegrated and merged with the sand on the floor of the fish tank.

Another fishy item: backstage, pins or magnets are inserted into the bodies of fish; on stage, they swim in the direction they are told because the magician controls them with a concealed magnet.

Fish feel pain like we do.


Dogs are given treats and just before they can reach them, they vanish right under their noses. It’s not clever, but cruel. The dogs are kept hungry, jump to catch the food. No doubt, this is a much lesser degree of torture than what is meted out to the other creatures, but torture nevertheless.

The Magician’s Oath

Specially made equipment like boxes, tables, buckets, wax, thread, etc. to make live animals vanish and/or reappear are manufactured. Several collapsing contraptions can discreetly crush a creature to death while another similar looking one promptly appears elsewhere on stage. Magicians never admit they have killed birds.

Well known magicians are all recipients of the International Magicians’ Society’s Merlin Award. The Magician’s Oath administered by the International Brotherhood of Magicians forbids them to reveal the secret of any illusion to a non-magician. It is therefore difficult to prove that animals have suffered or died on stage or even during practice. Practice involves performing the trick over and over again in front of a mirror till perfect.

India’s Magicians

They have stopped using endangered species so wildlife laws no longer apply – India’s legendary magician the late K Lal had introduced wild animals such a lion, panther, tiger, crocodile and elephant in his magic shows.


Maneka Sorcar the only Indian woman magician has been credited with creating illusions such as the disappearance of the Taj Mahal.

Poornima and Prahlad Acharya’s show is Maya Jadoo and by splicing drama with magic they call it “dramagic”.


In 2018 Magician Jitendra Raghuvir’s show completed 15,300 shows in 27 countries. They do not use any live animals or birds on or off the stage – no wonder they have been running for 4 generations! Their specialities are riding motorcycle blindfold, air levitation of a girl from the audience, Tubezac illusion, money rain on the stage, Houdini box and many more illusions.

Magic shows and jugglery are a part of Sonepur Mela too.

In 1995 magician Gopinath Muthukad founded the Magic Academy Research Centre at
Thiruvananthapuram. Here the Indian rope trick, the green mango trick, cups and balls, Indian basket and other heritage magic acts are learnt.

Gopinath Muthukad has used magic to spread virtuous ideals among masses via National Integration Magic Shows, Vismaya Bharatha Yathra, Gandhi Mantra, Vismaya Swaraj Yatra and Mission India.

Young magician Philip Tiju Abraham is following in his footsteps.

Luckily, animals and birds don’t appeal much to most of India’s new generation of magicians. “Sawing a person into half isn’t going to cut it any more – the audience is smarter than that” says Ugesh Sarcar who is known as an illusionist and mystician and has anchored a show on TV with some mind boggling tricks.

Rahul Kharbanda from Delhi calls himself a illusionist. His work involves modern gadgets primarily the iPad from which he can pull out playing cards or bring a glass and drink out by just drawing it on the iPad.

Karan Singh calls himself a psychological illusionist. His intuitiveness makes him penetrate people’s minds. For example, he asks his audience to think of Game of Thrones characters that he later correctly guesses.

Chanchal Lahiri (Mandrake) who drowned in the Hooghly in June 2019 while performing a stunt also called himself an illusionist. Magic has turned tragic for humans, animals and birds.

Beauty Without Cruelty feels magic shows with animals are far from magical and need to be boycotted in the same way as circuses with animals. Let’s applaud magic without animals & birds.

Page last updated on 26/06/19