Read CHAPTER V of Indian Conjuring , free online book, by L. H. Branson, on


A surprising little trick was once shewn to me by a performer whose exhibition of magic was otherwise of a very low class.

He borrowed a “lota” or brass water bowl of one of the servants. These lotas are invariably so shaped that the circumference of the top is about half that of the widest part, thus:

He then borrowed some uncooked rice with which he proceeded to fill the bowl to its utmost capacity. While doing so he kept on bumping the bowl on the ground so that the rice was packed as closely as possible inside it, until finally one could see the last few grains in a pyramid on top.

He then borrowed a large table knife, and as it were, stabbed it into the rice down into the bowl. Little stabs at first, and then deeper and deeper until the whole of the blade of the knife was in the rice, and the handle alone remained to be seen. After an incantation and jadoo-music, he caught hold of the handle and raised the bowl and the rice slowly into space. He then swung it to and fro and eventually spun round and round, holding the handle of the knife while the bowl and its contents of rice clung tenaciously to the blade. Beginning to slow down, he at last replaced the bowl on the ground, extracted the knife and handed it to me for examination. He emptied the bowl pouring the rice into some paper laid out to receive it. The closest scrutiny revealed no trace of “gadgets” or of any artifice that had enabled him to thus lift the filled bowl.

A small bribe could not tempt him to reveal the secret, and in such cases I make it a rule to try the trick exactly as I have seen it done.

I took a similar bowl, filled it with rice, and stabbed it with a table knife. Gently at first and then more firmly. To my astonishment I found that after three or four stabs in exactly the same place, the rice below the blade seemed to get harder, until I pressed down the knife and found that I could not extract it with a straight pull! I lifted the bowl of rice, and could with impunity swing it round over my head just as one uses an Indian club. To extract the knife one has to twist the handle slightly, when it comes out immediately. Try it and see.

The Coloured Sands.

Occasionally our conjuring friend breaks out from the stereotyped programme already described, and one of the most common additions to his programme is the “coloured sand” trick.

He has a bowl of water on the ground, and from a number of small packets of paper he takes a corresponding number of different coloured powders. Let us say “Green, Red, White, Orange and Blue.” He pours all these into the bowl of water, which assumes a dirty blue colour when stirred up well.

Finally, from a box containing common sand he puts two or three handsfull into the basin of water and thoroughly mixes up the contents of the bowl.

He then asks his audience which coloured sand they would like extracted from the water. The reply may be “green.” “Wet or dry?” asks the conjuror. Let us ask for “dry.” He dips his hand into the water and grasping, apparently, a handful of the mixture, draws it out again, and squeezes out a shower of dry green sand, unmixed with any other colour! “Now what colour will you have?” asks the magician. Let us ask for “wet blue sand.” He dips his empty hand into the water, and draws out a handful of wet blue sand, for, when he opens his hand, a damp ball of blue sand falls on to the ground. He can deal with the other coloured sands in the same way, bringing out each colour separately, and wet or dry as desired.

How on earth is it done?

The different coloured sands or powders are put into the water in a fair and square manner. But the solution of the trick is to be found in the way in which he puts the common sand into the water. This common sand is kept in a box, and in it are little balls of prepared powders or sand of colours corresponding to those already put into the water. These balls are prepared by being mixed with a little water, rolled into a ball, which is smeared all over with grease, and then baked until dry. Each ball can then be immersed in water for a minute or so without crumbling or being damaged by the water. These balls are put into the common sand box, so that they are only just visible to the performer. He puts his hand into the box and extracts a handful of common sand, together with a ball of powder. He thrusts his hand into the bowl leaving the ball immersed, and notes its position. He again takes a handful of common sand and with it another ball which he places in the water. Similarly he places all the coloured balls into the water, under the guise of adding plenty of common sand, to make the trick more difficult and wonderful. He notes very carefully the position of each coloured ball as he puts it into the water, as when immersed they cannot be seen either by him or the audience, owing to the dirty blue-ishness of the whole mixture.

The audience now select the colour of the powder to be extracted. The performer remembers the position of the required ball and takes it out.

If it is to be poured out wet, he opens his hand and drops it on to the ground. If it is wanted “Dry,” by squeezing the ball, its baked shell is cracked and its contents pour out.

There is no difficulty in performing the trick. It is very effective and one that is included in the programme of many European conjurors, though their modus operandi is more efficient and needs less preparation.