Bharat Stories
Light of Knowledge

History of Circus in India

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Have you been to a circus before and felt entertained throughout the span of the show? If yes, you would be fascinated to know how circuses came to being in India. If no, you would still find it interesting as to what incidents led to the origins of the Indian circus and how.

When one talks of a circus, the first thing that comes to mind is a set of acts that include jugglers, jokers, stuntmen, acrobats, among others. Many additions and exclusions are done in the shows depending on the changing tastes of the audience to make sure that the circus is a hit!

When it comes to the origins of the circus, most people believe that this sector of entertainment came to surface in the late nineteenth century. Given the fact that India has always been an extremely rich cultural country, there was never a lack in numbers of people coming to India from all parts of the world, as entertainers, and also as circus artists.

According to an English riding master named Philip Astley, Indian circus came into being in the year 1880 and he cited the credit for the same to Vishnupant Chatre, who initiated the form of art and entertainment to have a foothold in India. He was a multi-talented personality who was in command of the stables of the Rajah of Kurduwadi. Back in those days, he used to also perform a varied set of stunts supported by the horses. It is believed that Rajah and Chatre had both gone to the Royal Italian Circus, where they met Chiarani, an Italian director who was performing at the same circus. While Chatre was really impressed with Chiarani’s skills, he was disappointed with a statement that the latter made wherein he said that India wasn’t yet ready to have a circus of its own and it would take at least 10 more years for the country to have its own circus.

It was then that Chatre along with his wife decided to start their own circus and thus, in the year 1880 the first ever circus happened in India, with only a selected set of people as audience, which also included Rajah.
Chatre’s brainchild, the Indian Circus thus began to spread all across India. However, Chatre was disappointed when after each of his foreign travels, he would return to India and realize he was still far from matching the standards of International Circus. Hence, he decided to continue with his pursuit within the country.

It was during this same quest that he came across a martial arts teacher named Keeleri Kunhikannan in the city of Telllicherry in Kerala. Chatre asked Keeleri to teach acrobats for his circus company and in the year 1901, Keeleri started a new circus school near Kollam. The school soon gained popularity and began to churn out a long list of performers who later went on to start their own circus companies.

A company worth mentioning here is the Kamala Three Ring Circus, as this small venture went on to become a giant American-style six-pole three-ring Circus, which was the first of its kind in the whole of Asia. It is precisely one of the main reasons Keeleri Kunhikannan came to be known as the Father of Indian Circus, helping so many people become successful circus artists in the country and elsewhere.

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