The Air Brahmin
(People’s Magazine, June 14, 1833)
Most of our readers will recollect the celebrated Indian Jugglers, who a few years ago visited this country, and performed some very extraordinary feats at public exhibitions. One of them had acquired the astonishing and dangerous power of passing a naked metal blade into his stomach, or, as he himself termed it, of “swallowing a sword.” He fell a sacrifice to his temerity: in one of his performances the blade taking a wrong direction, wounded him internally, and he expired in violent convulsions.
Another person of this description, but of a higher native caste, has lately appeared in India. His performance, though of a no less astonishing, is altogether of a harmless, nature. By the kindness of a friend we are enabled to present our readers with an engraving, from the original drawing of an Indian artist, together with an account, which may be relied upon, of this singular person, as he appears when exhibiting this strange feat
The drawing was taken at the Government House at Madras, and represents the Cuddapah Brahmin, named Sheshal, in the act of sitting in the air, apparently without any support, an exploit which he performs with great address. When he is about to exhibit, his attendants surround him with a blanket so as to screen him from the view of the spectators till he his mounted; a signal is then given, the blanket is removed and he is beheld sitting in the posture represented in the sketch.
The only part of his body which appears to have any support, whatever is the wrist of his right arm, which rests upon a deer skin rolled up and fixed horizontally before him to a perpendicular brass bar. This brass bar is fitted into the top of a small four legged stool, near one end of it. While in this attitude he appears engaged in prayer, holding in his hand a number of beads, and having his eyes half closed. As soon as the exhibition, which usually continues only a few minutes, has ended, he is again screened by his attendants till he has dismounted and taken the whole of his apparatus to pieces, when he produces only the stool, the brass bar, and the deer skin for the inspection of the spectators.
In person he is a slender, middle sized man, and has attained a considerable age. He wears a long chintz gown, a yellow dyed turban, and a high waistband. Around his neck is suspended a row of large Pundaram beads.
Sheshal is frequently invited to the gardens of gentlemen residing at Madras, for the purpose of exhibiting his singular skill. By this means he obtains a considerable sum of money. A friend who has witnessed his performance, writes us the following account of it from Tanjore.
“He exhibited before me in the following manner: he first allowed me to examine a stool about 18 inches in height, on the sent of which were two brass stars inlaid, a little larger than a dollar; he then displayed a hollow bamboo two feet in length and 2 ½ inches in diameter. The next article was a roll of antelope skin, perhaps four inches in circumference, and two feet in length. The man then concealed himself in a large shawl, with these three articles and a large bag; after a delay of five minutes, during which he appeared very busy under the shawl, he ordered the covering to be taken off him, and he was discovered actually sitting cross legged on the air; but leaning his right arm on the end of the antelope skin, which communicated horizontally with the hollow bamboo, which again was connected perpendicularly with the stool immediately over one of the brass stars. He sat for more than half an hour, counting his beads in his right hand, and without once changing the expression of his countenance which was quite calm, and as if this new mode of sitting was no exertion to him.”
” I saw him exhibit four times, and each time tried my utmost to discover the secret but without success. A large bribe was offered to induce him to reveal his mode of performance, but he declined the explanation.”
“I account for it thus. The brass stars conceal a receptacle for a steel bar passing through the hollow bamboo; the antelope skin conceals another steel rod which is screwed into the one in the bamboo; other machinery of the same kind passes through the man’s sleeves and down his body, and supports a ring on which he sits.”