Circus in India; The Art Form that Evolved, Shone and Eventually took the Back Seat (Sholoana Bangaliana Feature)


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Do you love going to the circus? Then knowing about the origins of the circus would interest many of you too. For those who have not gone to the circus, this exhaustive account of all that happens in the circus arena will surely spark some interest about this very interesting form of entertainment.

Circus shows are all about various acrobatics, jokers, stunts, jugglers, animas and many more such awe inspiring and breathtaking spectacles. Not just these, various items are often added and removed as per the changing tastes of the audience. The entrance of the circus tradition in the country is a debatable issue. Many historians believe that this art form was present in the society of the late nineteenth century. India with its rich cultural heritage had many traveling entertainers in similar lines to the circus artists which has gradually evolved and taken the shape of the present day Circus in India.

According to Philip Astley, the first Indian circus came into being in 1880. Philip Astley was an English riding master. Vishnupant Chatre was a multi-faceted individual who was in charge of the stables of the Raja of Kurduwadi. He used to perform various stunts on the horses. One must thank him as he was the initiator of the circus tradition in the country.

Chatre and the Raja of Kurduwadi had once visited the Royal Italian Circus which was popular for Chiarini, who was an Italian director. Though Chatre was impressed with the performance, he was angered by the comment that India at that time was not ready to have a circus of its own and will need another ten years to get an audience for the circus. Chatre along with his wife decided that they will start a circus of their own. The first show of the circus took place in 1880 and was shown before a select group of people including the Raja. Following the footsteps of Chiarni, Chatre’s, the Great Indian Circus traveled all over the country. This circus also visited other countries but came back as they could not match with the expertise and standards of the circus troupes over there. Chatre understood this and continued with his pursuit in the country.

In one of his visits to Kerala with his circus troupe, he met Keeleri Kunhikannan, a who was an expert in martial arts and was also an efficient teacher of the art. Chatre asked Keeleri to train acrobats for the circus. In the year 1901, Keeleri started a circus school in Chirakkara near Kollam. This school gained popularity and churned out good performers. Keeleri Kunhikannan is often referred to as the Father of Indian Circus. Many of his students like Kannan Bombayo gained great fame apart from becoming entrepreneurs themselves. India has many active circuses in recent times due to the efforts of these individuals.

The Ajanta Circus that was recently stationed in Kolkata is one such institution holding on to the tradition of the Indian circus in the country. The circus returned to the city after four winters at the Park Circus Maidan. The circus has a troupe of about three hundred artists with eleven gymnasts from Russia and Africa. The other countries from which gymnasts have come include Vietnam, Mongolia, Belarus and Ethiopia. Elephants, horses, exotic birds and dogs perform amazing feats to entertain the audience coming to this popular entertainment arena. The company owner Mr. B. N. Patra said “There is a good collection on the holidays like 25th December, 31st December, 1st January and so on. The ticket prices are also cheap and affordable for the audience. Sixty, hundred, two hundred and three hundred rupees are the ticket prices of the shows”. Apart from the regular acrobats, there are jokers, animals and stunts performers in the troupe who specialize in various forms of entertainment. This circus entertained Kolkata all the way till February 20, 2014.

Hence for those who have not yet visited the circus and have become interested in this art form, sit back and enjoy some interesting circus videos on You Tube till Ajanta Circus comes back to the city again.

Feature on Circus in India by:


Priyanka Dutta takes a keen interest in lifestyle and entertainment related news. She also enjoys interviewing celebrities and other renowned personalities. Priyanka holds a post graduate degree in English and Mass Communication. Journalism is her passion and she has reported for many a reputed international web portals.


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